Girl wagging finger to illustrate Google's guidelines on nofollow links for bloggers

What did we tell you about nofollow links? Not understanding, not remembering is no excuse.

Bloggers Pay Attention: New “Should-ing” and Finger Wagging from Google

Google has now given bloggers more guidance on how to treat backlinks to sites that have sent them any merchandise for free.  According to Google, the “best practice” to use in cases where bloggers have received free merchandise and then linked to the company’s website or social media accounts is to place a “nofollow” attribute in the link HTML.

Bloggers should use the nofollow tag on all such links because these links didn’t come about organically

— from Google’s recent blog post

Here’s what’s wrong with this, in my opinion.

What’s your take on this discussion?  Comment below or tweet me up (@rossbarefoot).

1) It forces bloggers and marketing people to be SEO techs

How many bloggers even understand what a nofollow link is?  I teach SEO workshops and we cover nofollow links.  When they come to the workshop most of my students, many of them successful webmasters and content publishers, are either clueless about nofollow links or so confused by the whole nofollow/dofollow discussion as to be dangerous to themselves and others.

Picture of wiring confusion to illustrate complexity of blogger need to implement Google nofollow back link guidance

Ask a busy, non-technical blogger to dig into their HTML and “nofollow a link” and this is what they see.

As for marketing people trying to get some digital ink for their product (or in the case of a digital marketing agency, for their client’s product), it’s tough enough to get bloggers to pay attention even with free product, much less having to learn, understand, and then explain to the blogger the importance of “nofollowing” that backlink.  (And remember that if they are using a vanilla installation of WordPress, they have to muck about in the HTML view just to create the damn nofollow.)

Think of a PR person trying to get testing done on a new product rollout.  Let’s suppose they contact 100 bloggers and ask them to try the product and then give it a review.  They may not even be in it for the link, but rather for the eyeballs, and yet heaven help them if they don’t know how to explain nofollow to the blogger who just wants to write the damn review and move on with her day.

2) It implies a penalty in case some company is not technically aware

As any professional SEO will realize, the language of Google’s “shoulds” has behind it the heavy stick of a Penguin penalty.  When Google decides that a link is generated “artificially” the website in question can be buried in search results.  Websites and business models have been trashed, some justly, some unjustly, by Google for such breaches of Google “best practices.”  And those of us who have dealt with sites laboring under Penguin penalties know how difficult it can be to repair the problem and recover.

Once again, Google makes this technical demand upon a whole universe of business people who simply don’t have the time to follow all the nuances of search.  Sure, there are plenty who will do it for the back link, but is that a fair reason to treat everyone promoting a product as guilty (of the horrible crime of “non-organic” linking, no less) until proven innocent?

3) It demonstrates Google’s entitlement mindset

I believe that this is one more indication of a powerful mindset at Google: if you “create” traffic to a commercial product or server, you’d damn well better make sure you do it using AdWords.

Google sometimes behaves as if they are entitled all of the Internet’s search traffic, organic or paid.  And that they deign to open the organic gate to only those that chose.  I know this gets into the whole notion of private enterprise (i.e. no one has to use Google search, Google created the search engine, Google can therefore do whatever they please with it), yet let’s face it Google is not simply another search engine.  They hold practical monopoly power over search traffic.  Of course like any monopoly, they come to think that the landscape that hosts the monopoly belongs solely to it.  And Google success is not simply built on their ingenuity and drive, it’s also built on the backs of the Internet infrastructure (which they profit from yet did not create) and the millions of websites without whose existence they would not exist.

Therefore Google should tread lightly, and they do not.  They tromp through the forest with big, heavy feet and care little for grass they trample in the process.

4) It prioritizes rule following over a quality mindset

So what if a link or anything else is “artificial”? as I’ve written elsewhere.  Shouldn’t the user’s experience be prioritized?  Shouldn’t quality be prioritized?  Anyone working hard to create links in the way Google is condemning is also probably putting a ton of effort into creating a quality site.  We all have to do that in SEO nowadays.

I’ve seen plenty of “organic” websites with “organic” backlinks that are pieces of crap.  Why give them value simply because they didn’t work hard to obtain links (read “recognition”) from other websites in their space? This whole thing smacks of hypocrisy and creates as it’s top priority Google’s single-minded obsession with “organic.”  And of course their interpretation of organic and artificial just coincidentally makes it much harder for any commercial enterprise to get the traffic they need without paying for an ad with Google.

The SEO bottom line

I will of course try and comply with Google’s guidance.  I will also teach my students to do the same.  Stuff like this is great to keep SEO trainers busy, because it’s one more reason that the average person cannot possibly hope to keep up with Google’s “best practices” without some guidance.  And yet, at the same time I recognize it as placing an increasingly heavy and unrealistic technical burden on business people and writers who already have a plate crowded with considerations designed to keep Google happy.

C’mon Google, even if you don’t want to lighten the load, do you have to keep making it heavier?