As a webmaster and SEO, one of the major focuses I have is on getting a site indexed and ranked. The focus will, undoubtedly, turn to what algorithms search engines use to rank sites and developing unique and powerful strategies to boost link popularity and PageRank.
Matt Cutts, known as the Google guy, recently answered a question at his blog about the nofollow tag:
if you sell links, you should mark them with the nofollow tag. Not doing so can affect your reputation in Google.
This statement caused quite a stir in the SEO community. Rand Fishkin comments:
Google should not have any influence on how markup is controlled. They are completely out of their jurisdiction in making this request.
“Nofollow” was created to say “I don’t have editorial control over this link or I can’t vouch for its quality.” It was not created to say “money may have partially influenced my decision to provide this link.” If that were the case, most of the link structure of the commercial web would be invalid.
Nofollow’s original design was to manage widespread blog spam where spammers would “drive-by” a blog and leave comments filled with links to their sites. This was a good practice since it was hard to manage comment spamming. The nofollow tag was never designed to isolate links as being paid. By stating that paid links should be clearly marked with nofollow, Google is acting as if it IS the web, when it clearly isn’t. The Internet is a medium where people exchange ideas, conduct research, and purchase products among other uses.
Google has no ability to track paid vs. unpaid links effectively. For every example folks are giving in the forums of how they might do it (banner ad sizes, common text link formats, etc.), there are 5 ways to have paid links they could never track down.
This is clearly the case as paid links become increasingly difficult to detect. Adopting presell pages which have been used successfully by affiliates for YEARS to promote themselves, their site, and their products, SEOs have used this same concept to create the “perfect” link. If these pages with well-chosen anchor text are placed well on highly relevant, high quality sites with decent PageRank, they boost the link popularity of the site being linked to. In essense, the site hosting these links would be offering a service to its visitors as well since the content on the hosted pages are highly relevant.
Promoting fear in your public relations to help keep your results of higher quality is a naive, short term solution. Google’s forte in quality has always been about engineering solutions algorithmically and not via public relations.
The inherent arrogance in telling web developers to modify their content to suite your whims can not have good long term results. Google is valued as highly as they are because of their brand’s goodwill. You can ask yourself whether this will help or hurt that goodwill.
Using scare tactics to provoke change will not only get Google nowhere, it’ll lead to more resentment by webmasters as they grow larger. By highlighting these weaknesses in their algorithm and promoting this nofollow nonsense, they only create a position of being powerless to combat these techniques.
They are not the only search engines around. Other search engines, Yahoo and MSN still drive a decent amount of qualified traffic even though they may not command the highest search engine market share. They’d best focus on fixing their algorithms to produce better results.
In order to be ranking competitively in Google in many, many spaces, you need to buy links. Anyone who’s done large scale link research in any niche will immediately identify dozens if not hundreds of directories, sites, membership-signups, etc. that provide high quality links (that are editorially given), but the require some type of fee. The Internet is not a commercial free, capitalists-shunned part of the world, and if you want publicity and recognition online, just as offline, you have to be prepared to spend.
The irony is that Google itself derives more the 99% of their current revenue and profit from online advertising. Without advertising, the company would have absolutely no business. The Internet is not free as directories like Yahoo Directory (which is encouraged by Google in their webmaster guidelines) and Microsoft Small Business Directory require a fee for review and submission. By stating that paid links should not be counted, Google contradicts itself further. Is it not fair for a webmaster to charge for the time required to review and if appropriate, list the site in his/her directory? What motivation would most webmasters have in maintaining a quality directory/site if there is no monetary incentive? Who’ll pay for the domain registration fees, hosting fees, and web design fees? Clearly, for the web to grow that way it has, methods of site monetization is a major driver.
At ThreadWatch, Aaron Wall adds Mozilla Developer articles use nofollow when referencing resources, Wikipedia jettisons Creative Commons, and Technorati uses nofollow on their own internal links. Some webmasters are so afraid to the point that they withold their vote for legitimate external resources when citing them, while others are even afraid to vote for their OWN sites.
Webmasters! Wake up and take back control of the Internet and stop this silliness being spread by Google. They don’t own the web. As long as you’re providing useful information and value to visitors, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with linking out to external sites. Link hoarding is simply unnatural and benefits no one except the search engines who are only too eager to have you participate in their contextual advertising programs.
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