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.