Following on from yesterday’s post on link buying and how it’s a legitimate practice in many circumstances…
I found a blog comment posted just a few days ago by Google engineer Matt Cutts (yes, I’ve been blogging a lot about him lately… honestly, I’m not a groupie!). Matt chimed in on a lively debate happening on Tim O’Reilly’s blog about the controversy surrounding the selling of link ads on the O’Reilly Network. Matt had this to say:
As others have noted, if you’re going to sell text links that pass reputation/PageRank, the way to do it is to add rel=nofollow to those links.
Tim points out that these these links have been sold for over two years. That’s true. I’ve known about these O’Reilly links since at least 9/3/2003, and parts of perl.com, xml.com, etc. have not been trusted in terms of linkage for months and months. Remember that just because a site shows up for a “link:” command on Google does not mean that it passes PageRank, reputation, or anchortext.
Google’s view on this is quite close to Phil Ringnalda’s. Selling links muddies the quality of the web and makes it harder for many search engines (not just Google) to return relevant results. The rel=nofollow attribute is the correct answer: any site can sell links, but a search engine will be able to tell that the source site is not vouching for the destination page.
So here’s Google coming out and admitting that they decreased the voting power of O’Reilly sites like perl.com and xml.com and downgraded the reputation value of some of their outbound links. And if you don’t want your site to suffer the same fate, you’d better tag your link ads with rel=nofollow so they don’t gain any PageRank. How do you like them eggs!
To me, that doesn’t seem quite fair to website owners. They work hard to build a content-rich destination site with good PageRank score. Google is diminishing their earning ability by insisting they cut off the flow of PageRank with a nofollow, thus decreasing the value of the link ads to the advertiser and ultimately the revenue likely to realized from that advertiser. Granted, you don’t buy links merely for PageRank, but of course it figures into the equation.
The problem lies in which link ads to vouch for. If I were the advertising manager for DailyItem.com, I certainly would not vouch for the advertiser of “Discount Vacations”, as the link points to a “doorway page” operated by Orbitz that links to a whole pile of other doorway pages (tsk tsk! Google warns against using doorway pages); on the other hand, I would vouch for the “Dancewear” advertiser, since that’s the company’s name and the link points to the home page of their ecommerce site.
Google, please give the website owner the option of vouching for some of their advertisers without demoting their site. A black-or-white approach just isn’t practical here. Signed, a devoted Google fan.