The infamous Google spam czar Matt Cutts has fired another round at honest webmasters just trying to go about their daily work. In a recent blog post, He invited readers to report web sites buying or selling links that are not using the ridiculous nofollow tag on those links. Read: Google wants us to snitch on our colleagues. Turn them in. Rat them out. Become WWW stool pigeons for Google.
There is a host of issues surrounding this edict from Google’s pet spam fighter, all of them ugly.
Google’s nofollow tag is a non-standard bit of code, created by Google, supposedly to help combat link-dropping spam on blogs. At least, that’s what Google said about it when they first introduced this tag.
Then they expanded its “recommended” usage to telling us that we should put a nofollow link condom on all links that we can’t personally vouch for, or that we don’t want to pass link juice to.
During all of this, Google has been vague about exactly what nofollow does. Initially, Google told us that nofollow would simply cause a link to not pass link juice. The implication was that Googlebot would still follow the link and spider the target page:
“when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn’t a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted; it’s just a way to make sure that spammers get no benefit from abusing public areas like blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists.”
Then they told us that nofollow had the effect of the standard nofollow meta tag:
Meta tags can exclude all outgoing links on a page, but you can also instruct Googlebot not to crawl individual links by adding rel=”nofollow” to a hyperlink.
Then they told us again that such a link simply does not pass link juice:
The rel=”nofollow” attribute is an easy way for a website to tell search engines that the website can’t or doesn’t want to vouch for a link…. In an ideal world, nofollow would only be for untrusted links.
Then they told us again that it acts like the nofollow meta tag:
At a link level, you can add a nofollow tag on the granularity of individual links to prevent Googlebot from crawling individual links
Google can’t make up its mind what the nofollow tag even does — and now Google is instructing us that we are to use nofollow on all paid links — and asking us to snitch on our colleagues who might be in “violation” of Google’s “guidelines.” Mr. Cutts offered no explanation of what Google plans to do, or may do, with respect to sites selling such links, or buying such links. He offered no explanation with respect to what Google may do with the “paidlinks” reports he requested. Will Google ban the sites selling such links? Ban the sites buying such links? Devalue the link juice of the paid links? Devalue the link juice of all links on the “offending” site? How will Google itself verify whether a link is a paid link?
Further, Mr. Cutts made no distinction between links that are subject to editorial review versus free-for-all paid links that a site will sell to all comers. Google’s own webmaster guidelines recommend that we pony up the $300 yearly fee to Yahoo for a listing in Yahoo’s directory. Google says the Yahoo directory exercises editorial review and that you’re paying for the review, not the link. But what about Joe Blow’s directory, in which Joe Blow exercises editorial review before accepting a submission? What about trusted, authority sites that exercise extreme discretion in deciding what paid links to accept, only accepting those that the site deems to be worthy and of interest to the site’s readers?
Mr. Cutts offered no explanation of what Google might consider a “paid link.” A link can be “paid for” in any number of ways: An outright exchange of money for links. A trade of links for links. A trade of services for links. A link from a charitable organization in acknowledgment of a donation. A link in exchange for a discount on products or services. A link resulting from a paid review of a product. A link resulting from a free review of a product provided free to the reviewer. This list could go on endlessly.
Google is revealing an unsurpassed arrogance in expecting the world wide web to change its linking methods for all links on all sites that are paid for. To use non-standard code in order to satisfy Google’s failing method of ranking pages in search results. To use a tag that is shrouded in mystery, with no clear explanation of what it does, or what it is supposed to do, or what it might do in the future.
Google’s recommendation, in fact, is completely contrary to the original intent of linkage. Here is what Tim Berners-Lee wrote about links:
The intention in the design of the web was that normal links should simply be references, with no implied meaning.
A normal hypertext link does NOT necessarily imply that
One document endorses the other;
I say, Google, fix your algorithm, but don’t expect — or instruct with heavy-handed arrogance — the webmasters of the world to change their standard linking practices to make it easier for you to clean up your act. For shame, that a company whose motto is “Do no evil” would commit such an evil.