PR0 - Google's PageRank 0 Penalty
By the end of 2001, the Google search
engine introduced a new kind of penalty for websites that use
questionable search engine optimization tactics: A PageRank of
0. In search engine optimization forums it is called PR0 and
this term shall also be used here. Characteristically for PR0
is that all or at least a lot of pages of a website show a
PageRank of 0 in the Google Toolbar, even if they do have high
quality inbound links. Those pages are not completely removed
from the index but they are always at the end of search
results and, thus, they are hardly to be found.
A PageRank of 0 does not always mean a
penalty. Sometimes, websites which seam to be penalized simply
lack inbound links with an sufficiently high PageRank. But if
pages of a website which have formerly been placed well in
search results, suddenly show the dreaded white PageRank bar,
and if there have not been any substantial changes regarding
the inbound links of that website, this means - according to
the prevailing opinion - certainly a penalty by Google.
We can do nothing but speculate about the causes for
PR0 because Google representatives rarely publish new
information on Google's algorithms. But, non the less, we want
to give a theoretical approach for the way PR0 may work
because of its serious effects on search engine optimization.
The Background of PR0
||Spam has always been one of the biggest problems that
search engines had to deal with. When spam is detected by
search engines, the usual proceeding is the banishment of
those pages, websites, domains or even IP addresses from the
index. But, removing websites manually from the index always
means a large assignment of personnel. This causes costs and
definitely runs contrary to Google's scalability goals. So, it
appears to be necessary to filter spam automatically.
Filtering spam automatically carries the risk of
penalizing innocent webmasters and, hence, the filters have to
react rather sensibly on potential spam. But then, a lot of
spam can pass the filters and some additional measures may be
necessary. In order to filter spam effectively, it might be
useful to take a look at links.
That Google uses link
analysis in order to detect spam has been confirmed more or
less clearly in WebmasterWorld's Google News Forum by a Google
employee who posts as "GoogleGuy". Over and over again, he
advises webmasters to avoid "linking to bad neighbourhoods".
In the following, we want to specify the "linking to bad
neighbourhoods" and, to become more precisely, we want to
discuss how an identification of spam can be realized by the
analysis of link structures. In particular, it shall be shown
how entire networks of spam pages, which may even be located
on a lot of different domains, can be detected.
BadRank as the Opposite of PageRank
The theoretical approach for PR0 as it is presented
here was initially brought up by Raph Levien
(www.advogato.org/person/raph). We want to introduce a
technique that - just like PageRank - analyzes link
structures, but, that unlike PageRank does not determine the
general importance of a web page but rather measures its
negative characteristics. For the sake of simplicity this
technique shall be called "BadRank".
BadRank is in priciple based on "linking to bad
neighbourhoods". If one page links to another page with a high
BadRank, the first page gets a high BadRank itself through
this link. The similarities to PageRank are obvious. The
difference is that BadRank is not based on the evaluation of
inbound links of a web page but on its outbound links. In this
sense, BadRank represents a reversion of PageRank. In a direct
adaptation of the PageRank algorithm, BadRank would be given
by the following formula:
BR(A) = E(A) (1-d) + d
(BR(T1)/C(T1) + ... + BR(Tn)/C(Tn))
previously discussed modifications of the PageRank algorithm,
E(A) represented the special evaluation of certain web pages.
Regarding the BadRank algorithm, this value reflects if a page
was detected by a spam filter or not. Without the value E(A),
the BadRank algorithm would be useless because it was nothing
but another analysis of link structures which would not take
any further criteria into account.
- BR(A) is the BadRank of page A,
- BR(Ti) is the BadRank of pages Ti which are outbound
links of page A,
- C(Ti) is here the number of inbound links of page Ti and
- d is the again necessary damping factor.
By means of the
BadRank algorithm, first of all, spam pages can be evaluated.
A filter assigns a numeric value E(A) to them, which can, for
example, be based on the degree of spamming or maybe even
better on their PageRank. Thereby, again, the sum of all E(A)
has to equal the total number of web pages. In the course of
an iterative computation, BadRank is not only transfered to
pages which link to spam pages. In fact, BadRank is able to
identify regions of the web where spam tends to occur
relatively often, just as PageRank identifies regions of the
web which are of general importance.
Of course, BadRank and PageRank have significant
differences, especially, because of using outbound and inbound
links, respectively. Our example shows a simple,
hierarchically structured website that reflects common link
structures pretty well. Each page links to every page which is
on a higher hierachical level and on its branch of the
website's tree structure. Each page links to pages which are
arranged hierarchically directly below them and, additionally,
pages on the same branch and the same hierarchical level link
to each other.
The following table shows the
distribution of inbound and outbound links for the
hierarchical levels of such a site.
As to be
expected, regarding inbound links, a hierarchical gradation
from the index page downwards takes place. In contrast, we
find the highest number of outbound links on the website's
mid-level. We can see similar results, when we add another
level of pages to our website while the above described
linking rules stay the same.
is a concentration of outbound links on the website's
mid-level. But most of all, the outbound links are much more
evenly distributed than the inbound links.
assign a value of 100 to the index page's E(A) in our original
example, while all other values E equal 1 and if the damping
factor d is 0.85, we get the following BadRank values:
all, we see that the BadRank distributes from the index page
among all other pages of the website. The combination of
PageRank and BadRank will be discussed in detail below, but,
no matter how the combination will be realized, it is obvious
that both can neutralize each other very well. After all, we
can assume that also the page's PageRank decreases, the lower
the hierarchy level is, so that a PR0 can easily be achieved
for all pages.
If we now assume that the
hierarchically inferior page G links to a page X with a
constant BadRank BR(X)=10, whereby the link from page G is the
only inbound link for page X, and if all values E for our
example website equal 1, we get, at a damping factor d of
0.85, the following values:
case, we see that the distribution of the BadRank is less
homogeneous than in the first scenario. Non the less, a
distribution of BadRank among all pages of the website takes
place. Indeed, the relatively low BadRank of the index page A
is remarkable. It could be a problem to neutralize its
PageRank which should be higher compared to the rest of the
pages. This effect is not really desirable but it reflects the
experiences of numerous webmasters. Quite often, we can see
the phenomenom that all pages except for the index page of a
website show a PR0 in the Google Toolbar, whereby the index
page often has a Toolbar PageRank between 2 and 4. Therefore,
we can probably assume that this special variant of PR0 is not
caused by the detection of the according website by a spam
filter, but the site rather received a penalty for "linking to
bad neighbourhoods". Indeed, it is also possible that this
variant of PR0 occurs when only hierarchical inferior pages of
a website get trapped in a spam filter.
The Combination of PageRank and BadRank to PR0
If we assume that BadRank exists in the form
presented here, there is now the question in which way BadRank
and PageRank can be combined, in order to penalize as much
spammers as possible while at the same time penalizing as few
innocent webmasters as possible.
implementing BadRank directly in the actual PageRank
computations seems to make sense. For instance, it is possible
to calculate BadRank first and, then, divide a page's PageRank
through its BadRank each time in the course of the iterative
calculation of PageRank. This would have the advantage, that a
page with a high BadRank could pass on just a little PageRank
or none at all to the pages it links to. After all, one can
argue that if one page links to a suspect page, all the other
links on that page may also be suspect.
Indeed, such a
direct connection between PageRank and BadRank is very risky.
Most of all, the actual influence of BadRank on PageRank
cannot be estimated in advance. It is to be considered that we
would create a lot of pages which cannot pass on PageRank to
the pages they link to. In fact, these pages are dangling
links, and as it has been discussed in the section on outbound
links, it is absolutely necessary to avoid dangling links
while computing PageRank.
So, it would be advisable to
have separate iterative calculations for PageRank and BadRank.
Combining them afterwards can, for instance, be based on
simple arithmetical operations. In principle, a subtraction
would have the desirable consequence that relatively small
BadRank values can hardly have a large influence on relatively
high PageRank values. But, there would certainly be a problem
to achieve PR0 for a large number of pages by using the
subtraction. We would rather see a PageRank devaluation for
Achieving the effects that we know as PR0
seems easier to be realized by dividing PageRank through
BadRank. But this would imply that BadRank receives an
extremely high importance. However, since the average BadRank
equals 1, a big part of BadRank values is smaller than 1 and,
so, a normalization is necessary. Probably, normalizing and
scaling BadRank to values between 0 and 1 so that "good" pages
have values close to 1, and "bad" pages have values close to 0
and, subsequently, multiplying these values with PageRank
would supply the best results.
A very effective and
easy to realize alternative would probably be a simple stepped
evaluation of PageRank and BadRank. It would be reasonable
that if BadRank exceeds a certain value it will always lead to
a PR0. The same could happen when the relation of PageRank to
BadRank is below a certain value. Additionally, it would make
sense that if BadRank and/or the relation of BadRank to
PageRank is below a certain value, BadRank takes no influence
Only if none of these cases occurs, an actual
combination of PageRank and BadRank - for instance by dividing
PageRank through BadRank - would be necessary. In this way,
all unwanted effects could be avoided.
A Critical View on BadRank and PR0
How Google would realize the combination of
PageRank and BadRank is of rather minor importance. Indeed, a
separate computation and a subsequent combination of both has
the consequence that it may not be possible to see the actual
effect of a high BadRank by looking at the Toolbar. If a page
has a high PageRank in the original sense, the influence of
its BadRank can be negligible. But if another page links to
it, this could have quite serious consequences.
even bigger problem is the direct reversion of the PageRank
algorithm as we have presented it here: Just as an additional
inbound for one page can do nothing but increasing this page's
PageRank, an additional outbound link can only increase its
BadRank. This is because of the addition of BadRank values in
the BadRank formula. So, it does not matter how many "good"
outbound links a page has - one link to a spam page can be
enough to lead to a PR0.
Indeed, this problem may
appear in exceptional cases only. By our direct reversion of
the PageRank algorithm, the BadRank of a page is divided by
its inbound links and single links to pages with high BadRank
transfer only a part of that BadRank in each case. Google's
Matt Cutts' remark on this issue is: "If someone accidentally
does a link to a bad site, that may not hurt them, but if they
do twenty, that's a problem."
However, as long as all links are weighted uniformly
within the BadRank computation, there is another problem. If
two pages differ widely in PageRank and both have a link to
the same page with a high BadRank, this may lead to the page
with the higher PageRank suffering far less from the
transferred BadRank than the page with the low PageRank. We
have to hope that Google knows how to deal with such problems.
Nevertheless it shall be noted that, regarding the procedure
presented here, outbound links can do nothing but harm.
Of course, all statements regarding how PR0 works are
pure speculation. But in principle, the analysis of link
structures similarly to the PageRank technique should be the
way how only Google understands to deal with spam.
||PageRank and Google are trademarks of Google Inc.,
Mountain View CA, USA.
PageRank is protected by US Patent
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