There’s been a rather interesting development in Google’s algorithm in the last few months and it has come about as a result of Google Sitelinks appearing at position 61. This has lead many SEO specialists to claim Google has introduced a negative 60 penalty.
Google Sitelinks are the links you see from time to time below the first result in Google. Google claims that the algorithm for Sitelinks is independent of its other algorithms and that navigation is the key to getting Sitelinks to appear below your website’s listing.
However, the only thing that is known for sure when it comes to Sitelinks is that they only appear for sites that have a stable number one ranking for a particular keyword. So the fact that Sitelinks were appearing at number 61 meant that the Google Sitelinks Algorithm (independent of the ranking equation) thought the site did have a number one ranking, not 61.
It is this result that has lead those in the SEO game to reason that Google has introduced a -60 penalty to the ranking equation. What this means is that a site that would normally appear in position one is now appearing in position 61, and because the Sitelinks algorithm still thought it was number one, we can assume that it was just one factor that was added to the ranking equation, but wasn’t added to the Sitelinks algorithm. Google have seemingly fixed the problem with Sitelinks appearing at number 61, but the sites themselves that dropped by 60 places are still in that position.
So the question then becomes; what is it that these websites are doing that is so bad it is costing them 60 places in Google?
When the issue first came to the fore in February, numerous discussions broke out about why Sitelinks were appearing so low. Whilst no-one from Google officially confirmed a -60 penalty exists, some Google employees, including Matt Cutts (Google’s Head of Webspam), did comment on these discussion boards that Google was penalising sites for paid links.
So without directly saying so, it appears that Google is now penalising sites 60 ranking places if it deems the site is taking part in extensive paid referral activities (called site-wide-links).
So the message here for the moment is to stay well clear of paid referrals, or any linking techniques that appear as if they are for paid referrals. The penalty is too great to risk it.