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In the battle to maintain the quality of its SERPs, Google is increasingly tweaking its algorithm. Since there are only so many on-page ranking factors for Google to consider, it's logical to expect that off-page ranking factors will only become more numerous and important over time.

At least one website operator believes these off-page factors may now include email reputation. Jake Ludington, who runs JakeLudington.com, noticed a drop in his traffic in April, and after looking at his website, came to the conclusion that his email newsletter must have caused the drop.

He explains:

When my traffic at JakeLudington.com suddenly dropped in early April, I thought I’d made some kind of change that was resulting in a technology failure. I was wrong. Everything appeared to load as it should. So why the sudden drop? I called around to a handful of friends and discovered I was not alone.

Early April was the second round of Panda algorithm changes. With some additional digging, I got a tip from someone at Google who indicated Google was penalizing JakeLudington.com with some new measurements that penalize email behaviors for domains. In talking with a number of other online publishers who were also hit with a stiff penalty, including LockerGnome, it appears that one common theme is that we all have email newsletters.

Obviously, it's worth being a bit skeptical about "a tip" from an unknown "someone at Google", and according to Google's Matt Cutts, correlation is not cause here. On Hacker News, Cutts states in no uncertain terms that "this isn't true."

But could that change? Perhaps. After all, given that Google operates one of the most popular webmail services on the internet, it is conceivable that Google could create some sort of email reputation factor.

If it determines that a particular domain is sending spam or otherwise 'less desirable' emails, why wouldn't it factor that into the ranking of the sender's domain?

Following the Panda update, Google issued a list of suggestions for "building high-quality sites." Some of the questions it asked of publishers are highly subjective:

  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

If Google is really trying to answer these sorts of questions algorithmically, it's going to have to look at a lot of ranking factors in an increasingly sophisticated way.

Given how widely used email is by some publishers, email reputation might very well become one of those factors. So even if Google isn't looking at email reputation today, publishers should probably add 'Google might one day' to the list of justifcations for adhering to email best practices.

Patricio Robles

Published 1 June, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2381 more posts from this author

Comments (16)

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Scott McLay

I don't think Google would ever implement this, especially using data from Gmail becasue if they are just using one source how would they penalise companies that have their own mail servers or shared email servers from hosting companies?

At the end of the day there is no fair way to implement this and based on that Google could never use this as a factor within its algorithm.

about 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

I think Scott makes a great point. If Google were to penalize other mail servers, it looks like they are trying to take down the competition. I can't imagine too many e-mail marketing companies would take kindly to this.

about 5 years ago

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James Robertson

Am I the only one that finds this more than a little creepy and further evidence of Google's monopolistic hyper-dominance and paternalistic arrogance?

I mean - if your newsletters are well written and sent to people who explicitly asked to receive them - and they have a prominent unsubscribe link on them (in other words you are going out of your way to follow best email marketing practice and not annoy your subscribers) - then what business is it of Googles whether you send one or one billion outbound emails?

about 5 years ago

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Caroline whyatt

Interesting thought... It raises the question 'what should publishers do about newsletters ?' Especially when users are more likely to click junk, than go back to a site and unsubscribe themselves from a newsletter.

about 5 years ago

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Jamil

James, relax!

Google haven't said they are looking to implement this, it's the blog authors own speculation that Google 'may', 'at some point', look to start using these off site factors as a ranking algorithm.

No need to berate the Big G even further for something they've not even thought of yet!

about 5 years ago

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Lady Kate

Hi,
Emails are very important for your Google ranking factor. If you have already a good website in Google ranking than every mail that is delivering from the same email address, will be more important in increasing ranking. Google is relatively focusing on emails reputation and its a nice step taken by the Google`s team. The information provided by you is useful Patricio.

about 5 years ago

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William King

Yes I agree Patricio, I have a deep interest in Marketing and that is why I normally subscribed with many blogs by providing my e-mail address there. But few blogs were just sending me e-mail of their previous articles again and again. Although now I have unsubscribed, but that was really nasty to receive an email that is forcing you to do a work which you have already done.If Google is taking a step against it then that will be very soothing, and if it is a prediction, then I wish they implement it as soon as possible.

about 5 years ago

Ray Buckler

Ray Buckler, Project Director at Retail DNA

There is another simple way of getting information on the quality of the site via email addresses. I mentally downgrade ecommerce sites I visit if the declared email addresses for further information etc. are ..companyname@hotmail, gmail or other generic email addresses. If an ecommerce company has not worked out how to use their own domain for email then I am less likely to buy from them.

about 5 years ago

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GrumpySEO

Sorry but this is just nonsense. Google have more than enough ways of shafting businesses already but this just doesn't make any sense at all. Not a shred of evidence.

about 5 years ago

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Riak

I don't see how this can work, especially if the people your sending emails to aren't using Gmail. There's nothing to worry about :)

about 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

I hope this rumour squashes quickly. I'm not sure the headline here will help. For every 10 people who read "is email reputation a ranking factor?" via twitter, I wonder how many will click through & read down to paragraph 5? (possibly not many, as evidenced by the confusion in comments here!)

about 5 years ago

Steve Harvey-Franklin

Steve Harvey-Franklin, Director at AttercopiaSmall Business

One of the scourges of the internet is the incessant, bad low quality spam that annoys us all. If Google hid the sites that the Viagra & Fake Rolex watches go to then they get my vote, If they do consider this, they should set the threshold high to catch the main offenders. But in truth this alone will not stop spammers, and they will probably always find a way round.

I can see that click thrus from e-mails could be seen as a positive vote that Google could weight.

I'd be surprised if Matt Cutts would deliberately misinform, this would reduce his role and status.

Let's see

about 5 years ago

Corrie Davidson

Corrie Davidson, Social Media Manager at Sisarina, Inc

I'm with Dan - I think this is a bit misleading and possibly irresponsible. In the quest for clickthroughs, is econsultancy willing to bait people into reading an op-ed where the author even quotes the party being discussed saying "this isn't true"?

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I think the aim of the article was to discuss whether email reputation would be useful as a ranking factor, and I agree with the comments from Corrie, Dan and others that the headline is misleading.

about 5 years ago

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Adrian Yearwood

I currently think NOT and agree the headline is a little misleading, but with the IS changed for COULD, then i think it becomes a more interesting question.

I can see how Google could factor email, blog subscriptions, igoogle, search history etc into Social Search Results and use them as a rank boosting factor.
 
Putting Privacy issues aside, if exampledomain.com newsletter emails on a specific topic say “PPC” have a high Gmail subscriber base, a high open rate and high click-through rate, then why not consider it as factor and authority on the subject? Add to this some more… If my Gmail account shows I subscribe to the same exampledomain.com and I have a high open and click-through rate, why not boost their results were relevant for my searches? 
 
See example attached of Google Social Search using Twitter followers:  http://twitpic.com/55svz2

about 5 years ago

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Paul

I have a bulk email system (45k+ on the list) for my site and I hadn't used it in ages. Within a week of using it my sites traffic fell sharply and I've never used it again since. Inthe past that never happened.

almost 5 years ago

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