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Is Google's PageRank algorithm changing?

Some of the most popular blogs have seen their PageRank drop almost overnight.

If you want to watch a bunch of A-list bloggers and business folks at big-name news sites go a little ape, I recommend observing them when their Google PageRank takes a hit.

According to blogger Andy Beard, a number of high-profile blogs and news sites have had just that happen to them in recent days.

Some examples, according to Beard, include Engadget, which saw its PageRank drop from 7 to 5; Joystiq, from 6 to 4; and SFGate, and, all of which had their PageRank drop from 7 to 5.

What's behind this?

Well, speculation in the blogosphere today has it that Google has decided to punish popular sites that accept paid links to lesser sites. As Valleywag puts it, "Google's bean counter, naturally, would prefer that you pay Google for sponsored links instead."

I'm working on getting comment from Google, but so far no luck. I'll update this post if I do get some comment.

Anyway, part of the buzz about this move is that some of the sites that are taking PageRank hits are the very sites (Search Engine Journal, Copyblogger, Search Engine Guide and the Blog Herald, among them) that cover search engine optimization issues, and some suspect that perhaps the search giant is punishing them for being critics.

Is that possible? Well, who knows?

But as Beard points out, not all the sites that saw PageRank losses engage in the practice of selling paid links. Instead, many of them are part of blog networks that have plenty of internal links between sites. For example, Engadget, which is part of the Weblogs Inc. network.

The guidelines that these sites may have abused? "Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to Web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the Web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links."

The real question is, what has changed? It's hard to imagine that all these sites suddenly changed their practices overnight. So for all these sites' PageRank rankings to have changed at once does indicate somebody over at Google is playing with slide rules or something.