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Google has officially proclaimed that it doesn't like webmasters trying to hawk their lofty PageRank status to other sites.

In an update to its Webmaster Guidelines, the world's largest search engine says that any attempt to "pass PageRank" could result in a PageRank plummet.

"Some SEOs [search engine optimizers] and webmasters engage in the practice of buying and selling links that pass PageRank, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites," the update reads. "Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google's webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results."

PageRank - essentially a measure of a site's importance to the web at large - is an integral part of the way Google orders search results. A site with a high PageRank can often boost the status of a less-popular site simply by linking to it. As a result, popular sites often provide such links in exchange for cash.

But in late October, Google appeared to lower the PageRank of many high-profile sites in an effort to crackdown on the sale of links. At the time, the company wouldn't acknowledge this was case, but Google search engine guru Matt Cutts said as much in a brief email conversation with Search Engine Journal.

Now, the company has made it official. But it points out that not all paid links violate its Webmaster Guidelines. "Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results," the company continues. "Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such." Webmaster are instructed to add a identifying tag to paid links or redirect them to a page that's blocked from search engines.

In a post to Google's Webmaster Central blog, Cutts explains that all this is an effort to make its search results more accurate.

"Our goal is to provide users the best search experience by presenting equitable and accurate results," he goes on to say. "We enjoy working with webmasters, and an added benefit of our working together is that when you make better and more accessible content, the internet, as well as our index, improves. This in turn allows us to deliver more relevant search results to users."

Paid links, he explains, can damage search results by creating:

- Inaccuracies: False popularity and links that are not fundamentally based on merit, relevance, or authority

- Inequities: Unfair advantage in our organic search results to websites with the biggest pocketbooks.

Cutts also says that if webmasters want to continue selling links, Google's not stopping them: "Webmasters are welcome to make their sites however they like, but Google in turn reserves the right to protect the quality and relevance of our index." ®

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