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A Link Is Not A Vote, It’s A Pointer

Loren’s note about the article by Graywolf that talks about Google’s changing and unwritten policy on the usage of the nofollow tag got me thinking and leave a pretty long comment at Michael’s Blog. I thought that the premise is worth writing about in its own article. So here it is.

Everybody talks about that a link is a positive vote for another web page by the webmaster who adds the link to his site.

This might be true for the majority of links but can not be automatically assumed for any link. People also link to pages and sites they complain about. Maybe not you, the reader of the this blog, who thinks about stuff like SEO, Ranking, “Linkjuice” etc. , but the people that don’t know about this stuff. They link to the site they rant about to make sure that the reader is perfectly clear about who and what they are complaining about.

A better word for a link is “pointer” and not “vote”. Imagine that no search engines exists and think about what a link would be good for and what all links have in common. They have in common that they are relevant to the context they are being placed in.

Links that are the exception are untargeted advertising that is just slammed on the page based on general site demographics and similar criteria. This form of advertising is loosing effectiveness more and more and is by most teenagers of the “MySpace” generation ignored completely already.

Relevance does not mean recommendation. If search engines would understand the context and meaning of content like humans do, they would rank a bad service for example very high for negative keywords and phrases if a lot of post pointing to it are talking negative about it and rank higher services that are talked about in a positive manner.

The “Vote” or recommendation (which can be the recommendation NOT to use a service or buy a product) is completely independent from the link.

If you review a product and are compensated for doing it, not like it and criticize it, because of that, you might still post the review and include the link, if the Advertiser wants you to. In reality would you probably give the advertiser your opinion and may be even recommendations how to make the product better and suggest that you don’t publish it.

You would not pay back the compensation received, if you got it for the review, your time basically.  The fact that an advertiser reaches out and asks for reviews and listens to feedback is by itself already a positive thing which of course influences the review in a for the advertiser favorable way.

If you love the product or service you did a paid review for, you will recommend it honestly to your audience. Adding a nofollow to the link to the product or service would not reflect what search engines will understand because of the added nofollow. Instead of telling the search engines that you do a positive vote for the product are you telling them that it is not and your opinion was bought.

Sure, there are people that can be bought and promote something where they know that it is crap, but how long will they be able to recommend junk to people? Don’t you think that people will realize what is going on? A dishonest person will loose their reputation and trust or not build any, if they start lying right off the bat.

There are also the cases of a neutral point of view. A link would not be a vote about the product or service at all, but a simple pointer that makes aware of its existence, no more and no less.

This said, don’t add nofollow to affiliate links or links from a paid review. If you feel the need to add the attribute, don’t add the link at all.

Unfortunately is this not how Google see’s it and I use myself the nofollow tag in cases where I actually  recommend the target site, but added the attribute to make Google happy. This makes me sick, because it is a lie. I am an affiliate marketer, something a passionate blogger who wants to make his passion his profession should consider as basis to make a living.

There is nothing wrong with earning a commission for a referral of a reader you honestly recommend a product or service you like. Making a living via helping other people to find the right stuff to solve their problems is actually very fulfilling and positive. A fact that did not get around at the big search engines yet. Most people are actually good and yes, there will always be the people that abuse this system for their own short term financial benefits. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You also don’t put everybody in jail because there are a few criminals that break the law.

It’s late and I hope that I still make sense, but I think you get the general idea.

Carsten Cumbrowski
Internet Marketer and Entrepeneur – 2 more years to the green card.
Webmaster of Cumbrowski.com, the Internet Marketing Resources Portal, including affiliate marketing, SEM/PPC and search engine optimization.

 

 

e6149739a0ceadb8fde822225838bd26 64 A Link Is Not A Vote, Its A Pointer
Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and Affiliate Manager. Carsten has over 10 years experience in Web Development and 20 years in programming and computers in general. He has a personal Internet Marketing Resources site at Cumbrowski.com. To learn more about Carsten, check out the "About Page" at his web site. For additional contact options see this page.

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11 thoughts on “A Link Is Not A Vote, It’s A Pointer

  1. Great post, Carsten. I absolutely agree with you on this part:

    ‘This said, don’t add nofollow to affiliate links or links from a paid review. If you feel the need to add the attribute, don’t add the link at all.’

    You hit the nail right on the head.

  2. Okay, I’m with you on not adding the nofollow on affiliate links (because you obviously endorse them). For paid reviews, I think the nofollow should only be included if the review is negative.

    Google will not outright sell search rankings. This is good. Similarly, people shouldn’t be able to buy search rankings through traffic brokers (i.e. webmasters). This way, a company can dump loads of cash into advertising (re links), and automatically get a high search ranking. That would result in cruddy search results.

    Because the web emphasizes free information, it is a much more democratic space than most. Consequently, search ranking should be based on meritocracy. This is why paid search results are differentiated from the rest.

    I think that the nofollow tag is great innovation that’s well overdue. Furthermore, I think that the backlash against it is just a lot of people who are really good at what they do being scared over the changing marketplace.

    But good SEOs are good because they are smart. They’ve thrived under this relatively merit-based space, and I have now doubt that we’ll all adapt.

    I say that we shouldn’t make the same mistake as the tertiary publishing industry. We should be forward thinking, and instead of moaning over the change and trying to get some much bigger than us to meet us half way (like magazine charged for online subscriptions), we should be forward thinking. We need to be focusing on innovations that can help us adapt to the new order, because the old one is not only on the way out, but it makes sense that it is.

  3. “Everybody talks about that a link is a positive vote for another web page by the webmaster who adds the link to his site.

    This might be true for the majority of links but can not be automatically assumed for any link….”

    This was never true for the majority of links. When Larry Page and Sergey Brin concluded that citation-based analysis of linkage was a valid means of determining value on the Web, they were just tossing out another crackpot theory that flew in the face of reality.

    Today, things are pretty much the same. Google’s PageRank strategy has always been a crackpot theory and always will be a crackpot theory.

    But through their growing filtration technology, Google is bringing some semblance of sanity to the veneer of PageRank that actually is incorporated into their search results calculations.

    “Rel=’nofollow’” is just a part of Google’s filtering scheme. It won’t help the Web sites that are subjected to link spamming because link spamming has always encompassed more goals than just manipulating search results.

    Google has yet to acknowledge that it’s not all about Google.

  4. Carsten, I actually agree with you on a nofollow policy ;)

    Here is something that noone has really pointed out yet, but I am sure many thoughtful people realise.

    By introducing FUD, only a small amount of people have to start using nofollow within the content for it to be an immediate flag on all the other links in the previous month to the same site.

    I also wonder whether Google might sometimes just use RSS feeds instead of pages for a lot of their indexing. Whilst on a blog page there are frequently nofollow links, in a feed there are not.

    There are ways to keep links outside the RSS feed but have them appear on the page.

  5. “For paid reviews, I think the nofollow should only be included if the review is negative.”

    And a negative but unpaid or refunded review should not have a nofollow? How are the two different from a relevance perspective?

    The paid, but negative review is actually more relevant, because almost everybody starts with a much stronger opinion about the item to review if being paid, actually less the being paid part than the fact that you are offered compensation which is flattery and a compliment to your competence an/or influence and reach. And who is not more friendly towards somebody who introduces himself by making a compliment about you or what you do.

    If the review is still negative, then the flaws must be more severe, because all the positive attitude towards the product or service does not make the flaw seem negligible.

    I would in most cases offer the advertiser not to publish the review and provide him with the reasons why the review would be negative and make suggestions about how to improve on that.

    That is consulting and the compensation for the review should cover that, so no refunds necessary.

    PageRank is not about relevance regarding a users search (the intend, subject, search phrase) which is a weakness. It boosts the ranking of a page for the relevant positive terms and negative terms alike.

    Results would be more realistic and better, if there are different forms of PageRank with each being applied depending on the users intend.

    It’s much more complicate that the current way search engines rank, but it reflects much more how things are done in the real world.

    A service could end up not ranking at all for the phrase “buy service xyz” but rank high for “issues with service xyz” if a lot of people write negative about it (service would be in this case something general like “search engine optimization” and not a brand name).

    Nofollow is only for one side of the spectrum and there is no counterpart for the other. This causes an artificial shift towards one side which is not reflecting the actual reality. There is no black and white in my world. It’s shades of gray, always and without exceptions.

  6. “Results would be more realistic and better, if there are different forms of PageRank with each being applied depending on the users intend.”
    I definitely agree on this point as there are no such categories right now for the pagerank, it is general for the over all page. But I am not sure if it is possible or realisitc.

  7. “PageRank is not about relevance regarding a users search (the intend, subject, search phrase) which is a weakness. It boosts the ranking of a page for the relevant positive terms and negative terms alike.”

    PageRank isn’t about relevance at all. It’s about the likelihood (probability) that you’ll find a given page by randomly clicking on links, regarless of any page’s content.

    PageRank is not about searching through search engines.

    PageRank is not about topic, category, or intent. It’s solely and strictly an arbitrary (and extremely naive and misguided) measurement of relative value or importance within a community of documents.

    The SEO community has struggled to understand PageRank for years, and this lack of understanding has held back SEOs in so many ways.

  8. For better or worse, my interpretation of nofollow is like choosing not to visit the voting booths while sporting a partisan bumper sticker on your car. You can still make your point, but it won’t affect the system. I’m still not entirely keen on it’s reliance for search engine algorithms.

  9. Michael,

    I perfectly understand PageRank and what it does and what not.

    I also see the more and more reduced importance of PageRank in Google’s ranking algorithm for their search results and understand why that is.

    From your comments can I see that we seem to agree on what PR is and what not. I also seem to read between the line that you also believe that PageRank is flawed. It was much better than what we had before, no doubt about that, but it is also far from perfect. Correct me, if I read that wrong.

    Wouldn’t you agree that replacing PR with something that considers at least intent and may be even relevance to some degree would be a major leap forward in search?

    It would also make the stupid PageRank Bar in users browsers to what it actually is, obsolete.

  10. Great post Carsten!
    As an affiliate marketer I too feel like a liar with nofollow stuff.

    Also shouldn’t Yahoo! implement nofollow on links in their paid dirrectory?

    It definetely makes things uneven for little guy like myself.

  11. I totally agree with this. Why don’t Google use nofollow to judge that the link is to an untrusted site and use dofollow to judge that the link is a trusted site?