How to fix what is broken and not break what is not
I wrote in December that PageRank is Dead[i] and that something such as abusing the NOFOLLOW attribute for other purposes (The intention for NOFOLLOW were not what Google is pushing for today) would not save it. Around that time did Tetsuto Yabuki aka Halfdeck wrote at his blog at SEO4Fun.com why Google will not move away from PageRank[ii].
Two conflicting opinions to the same thing it seems. Are they really conflicting each other? I would say today that they are not, they are simply incomplete, both of them.
Things are heating up. Actually, they do that for over two years already, but I think we are getting closer to the boiling point and things might start getting ugly. Some might say that they already are.
I believe that most people would agree with my statement, that Google’s search results are getting worse more and more and that spam heavily pollutes them.
Back in Time – “Florida” Update Aftermath
Link spam[iii] became an increasing problem after Google did wheat out cross-linking schemes and link-farm swindles with their infamous “Florida” update at the end of 2003, rendering those methods of boosting a sites ranking virtually useless. The rise of blogs and social media aided this method of “gaming the search engines”. Comment and trackback spam did not only annoy the search engines, but the people that operate the blogs or community sites as well.
The Solution Called “NOFOLLOW”
Google introduced[iv] In January 2005 the NOFOLLOW attribute to the world as a solution to solve the comment spam problem, at least for Google. Other search engines followed and adapted the support of the attribute in similar fashion.
It did not take long for everybody to realize that the NOFOLLOW attribute does not work the way everybody hoped. Instead of admitting failure did Google started to change course and to zero in on other issues. The other issue is more of an issue for Google than it is for webmasters or users, but the NOFOLLOW attribute might comes in handy to take care of it. The issue I am referring to is Google’s problem with “Paid links”.
Change of Plans
Matt Cutts from Google made a comment[v] already on 14 August 2005 on Tim O’Reilly’s Blog where he suggests using the NOFOLLOW attribute for “paid links”, but it was not getting very much attention at that time. He mentioned it again[vi] a month later at his blog, which sparked a short but intense debate, which was, replaced soon after by something else that required more attention, another major Google update was just starting around the same time.
Interrupted by “Jagger”
The infamous “Jagger Update” started at end of 2005 followed by the, so-called, infrastructure update called “BigDaddy”. Both updates did little to stop the negative trend, but caused a whole lot of other issues instead. Who heard about duplicate content issues and penalties or knew what a canonical URL is back during the holidays in 2004? I did not even know the word “canonical” before early 2006, when Matt Cutts mentioned it at his blog. I only vaguely remember to have heard the German word “kanonisch” before, at some math lesson. I also did not spend much time in Christian churches to get a chance to pick it up there.
These new problems overshadowed the “paid links” discussions for the most part of 2006. “Paid link” where discussed and the NOFOLLOW attribute was mentioned in combination with it too. The discussion headed up again at the end of 2006.
Picking Up Again
Criticism for being hypocritical[vii] is only one complaint about Google’s position and intentions. The argument, that Google’s motto: “build websites for the user and not for search engines” is becoming worthless is not correct. Search engines play an important role in the internet economy and no business can afford to ignore them for too long. Creating the things “under the hood” which are invisible to the user, but visible to the search engines in a way that search engines can access and understand it, is something you should not simply neglect and not do.
Some things on a page can be ambiguous and it makes perfect sense to me, if webmasters have a way of telling search engines what they mean by it and what the intend and purpose is. Search engines cannot read your mind and ranking algorithms are not working based on artificial intelligence that are able to comprehend the content of page, understand the purpose of a site and know the person who created it.
Maybe they will one day, but that day will not be in the very near future. Until then is it necessary to work on alternatives to solve today’s problems. If the replacement of big general search engines for everything by niche oriented vertical search engines[viii] might happens along the way, fine with me. It is only one of various possible options, which I will not simply ignore.
Webmasters will help search engines to understand and to clarify ambiguities, if they will benefit from it and not being stabbed into the back instead. That does not necessarily mean getting more traffic, but more targeted traffic that converts better.
Google decided to take things a step further[ix] and encourage people to defame[x] other people that “misbehave”. I call it defamation, because reporting makes only sense in cases that are not obvious and thus already known to Google. Using defamation as instrument to control people and people using the instrument against each other for personal gain or self-protection is one of the not so favorable virtues of man[xi]. This one is different from the spam report form at Webmaster Central. The console allows only the report of spam in the search index that clearly violates Google’s guidelines. The idea there is to rid the SERPS from this clutter entirely. What is the idea behind the report of a paid link on one site that is perfectly fine, removing it from the Google index? You are kidding me, right?
Cumbrowski.com – Internet Marketing Resources
[vi] Matt Cutts (1. September 2005), “Text links and PageRank”, MattCuts.com
[vii] Michael Gray aka Graywolf (25. January 2007), “Google’s Policy on No follow and Reviews is Hypocritical and Wrong“, Wolf-Howl.com