Google Dictating Nofollow For ALL Links From Compensated Content

As I had hoped, ( ) Ted Murphy had a chance to chat with Google’s Matt Cutts at Pubcon

It seems Google want all links within content that “wouldn’t exist without payment” to use nofollow, but seems to be focusing on services like PayPerPost, and not other forms of links which wouldn’t exist without compensation.

  • Matt Cutts frequently links to Google from his personal blog – if he wasn’t employed by Google, those links would likely not appear as frequently.
  • Google employees link to outside sites all the time, and they are frequently sites that are “flying the Google flag” in some way, prominent Adsense partners, large corporate partners etc.
  • Shareholders frequently link through to the companies they invested in (I wonder what Fred Wilson might think about not being allowed to link to Twitter)
  • I know Robert Scoble is leaving Podtech on 14th January, but Podtech have always had SEO friendly links to their sponsors, both on Podtech and on Robert’s own blog
  • Google themselves sponsor events such as Leweb3 recently, and for as long as I remember, links have always been part of event sponsorship packages, even before Google. Even attending an event or being an exhibitor, one of the “perks” is often some kind of profile online along with a link.
  • On many business directories, you get a free listing, but if you want a link to your website, you have to have a paid entry, whether the links are followed or not. Yahoo wouldn’t give me a free listing as this is a commercial blog – I wouldn’t honestly buy a Yahoo entry for $300 for the traffic
  • Techcrunch and many other sites still get away with thanking their advertisers with links that are followed, and many still have graphical advertising without nofollow
  • Search Engine Land and the SMX Events (and even Sphinn) wouldn’t probably exist in the same way without corporate sponsorship, very often by the large search engines. Should Danny nofollow every link in every post he mentions Google, Yahoo or Microsoft?
  • Rand has mentioned the occasional client within posts, and SEOmoz does have a clients page – should all links be nofollowed to clients? Should there be a difference between a $10, $100 and $10,000 client?
  • Carsten Cumbrowski when writing on Search Engine Journal has frequently tried to get clarification from Google regarding affiliate links that pass juice, to no avail.
  • Shoemoney has a great disclosure policy (blanket coverage like this is honest), stating that “You should assume I have motivation for linking to everything on this page and will benefit from it somehow.” – maybe he should now nofollow every external link?
  • In the past I have received income from both Google Adsense and PayPerPost – that means there is a certain amount of earned goodwill.

Should I now nofollow every link in this post because it is in some way previously compensated?

Just before Christmas I received a “Postie Pack”, with a few small trinkets that Tamar Weinberg would be proud to add to her collection of Schwag, so I am “double cursed” – lots of people earn similar (much more expensive) trinkets from Google every year.

Even worse, as I have hinted in the past I am looking at creating a startup that is affected at least partially by this issue, falling in the grey area of employees, stock holders, semi-automated contextual linking, affiliate links etc – I am triple cursed.

I couldn’t possibly include followable links in this post, so why bother linking to anyone?

A Review Is A Resource

When I write a review, I try to make it valuable content, often 3000 words or more, and I ensure I have editorial discretion on who I link to, not just to someone ordering a review, but also to other sites, whether they are competitors, or useful resources that are related to the review I am writing.
I also like to have the option of linking internally to related content.

Who you link to is likely looked on as part of ranking calculations used by search engines because it helps define the topical authority of a resource.

The compensation I receive from writing a review doesn’t cover the time I spend on them, so for a review to bring in search traffic and potential subscribers is important.

Technical Hurdles

This site being created using WordPress also offers a technical challenge that currently there isn’t a solution for. If I reference another WordPress blog post, it is most likely to receive a pingback. However spam detection software is likely to spot that I have nofollow on a link, and flag me as a pingback spammer.

Thus Google is forcing me not to link to blog posts from compensated reviews just in case I might get myself blacklisted as a spammer.

WordPress does not have granular control of pingbacks, and I doubt Google are going to fund the development of such control.

There is another problem of course, both Technorati and Google Blogsearch ignore links with nofollow, so even if I give someone an editorial link from a compensated post or paid review, they might not find out about it unless they set up specific Google alerts for their domain name being mentioned.

(note to Lucia: Don’t solve this one unless Google pays you)

Paid Content or Paid Links Are the Devil?

The next thing Google will dictate is that all compensated content should use Yahoo’s robots-nocontent class so that it doesn’t appear in the search engines at all.

This really is looking less and less about the quality of search results, and more about the failings of Google’s algorithms.

If Google paid me for a review of Google Reader, I should be able to link (without nofollow) to specific features of their terms of service, their faq, the Google Reader blog etc at my own editorial discretion.
I should also be able to link to other quality reviews of Google Reader, useful Greasemonkey scripts, Howtos etc, and above all competitors.

Those people didn’t pay for the review, I should be able to link to them without nofollow

I should also be able to link in an editorial manner to the site purchasing a review, as many don’t even request a link… seriously – but it appears Google have problems with the quality of links from anyone not in corporate employment.

This Is Different To The Webmaster Guidelines

Time to rewrite the Google webmaster guidelines yet again, and make everything abundantly clear exactly what classes as compensation and what is allowed – no fuzzy grey area that is biased against the self-employed, the small business owner or the less well off.

There is absolutely no way I can comply with these current new demands, I would have to stick nofollow on every link within some of my most popular and highly rated content.

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