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Is Google Stacking the Deck With Knol?

Knol logoGoogle's Knol, a user-generated encyclopedia that actually compensates its writers, is catching a lot of attention -- no surprise there. And a lot of the attention comes from Google itself, which apparently is pumping up the page rankings that determine how high up in Google's search results a site appears.

Within a few days of launch, a page created on Knol took just hours to out-rank a long-standing page that Google itself declared to be identical, from a highly-ranked, long-existing domain. PageRank isn't supposed to work that way, and it doesn't work that way for anybody else.
Someone even found that the day after launching, a third of the pages listed on the Knol home page ranked in top results after a single day of operation.
I was surprised to see a post covering how Knol's How to Backpack was already hitting the number three spot on Google. Really? I mean, how many links could this page have gotten already? As it turns out, quite a few. And more important, it's featured on the Knol home page, which itself is probably one of the most important links. While Knol uses nofollow on individual knols to prevent link credit from flowing out, it's not used on the home page -- so home page credit can flow to individual knols featured on it.
If this is accurate, Google is stacking the deck by attributing the Knol home page traffic to sites featured on that page. I think of it as the equivalent of arbitrarily printing money -- search inflation. Suddenly there are supposed to be all these page views, which would normally drive search results rankings, that don't really exist.

What's twisting people's noses is that such a move effectively redirects attention, and advertising revenue, away from sites that have built their ranks over time. The most potentially disturbing result is that even if not true, the perception creates mistrust of the page ranking system on Google, and that's dangerous for any publisher. Advertisers and business partners want the sense that things are more or less on the up-and-up. Shatter that illusion, and you take big chunks out of the foundation of your business, and risk being called the online equivalent of the Windows start page.

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