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Old 08-24-2005   #1
dannysullivan
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O'Reilly In Off-Topic Link Selling Debate

In case you missed it, O'Reilly Joins The Search Engine Spam Parade from Phil Rinalda accused publisher O'Reilly of search spam because of offtopic links that O'Reilly sells. Tim O'Reilly seems to have gotten a quick education about what's on his sites and some of the issues, making him want to dump the links, as he says in hist Search Engine Spam? post. My O'Reilly In Debate Over Link Selling article now up looks more at the issue, plus some of our own experiences with issues on off topic links (anyone notice the internet.commerce links went away last week?). What do you think about all this?
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Old 08-24-2005   #2
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Matt Cutts chimed in on that blog and requested a 1 on 1 with him about Googles point of view on that.

That would be a great conversation to eaves drop on
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Old 08-24-2005   #3
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Good commentary about the O'Reilly situation Danny. I noticed Matt Cutts mentions later that Google knew about the off-topic links years ago and discounted them on link-pop somehow.

Here's is my question: who is Google to say what is on topic or not? Maybe a link is targeting a certain demographic like TV commercials do. On TV, is a zit cream commercial on topic for a cop show?

Who is Google to say it isn't?
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Old 08-24-2005   #4
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Whether we like it or not I think the fact that when Matt speaks speculation and ify theories are either comfirmed or discredited...

...and newer techniques are born
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Old 08-24-2005   #5
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Here's is my question: who is Google to say what is on topic or not? Maybe a link is targeting a certain demographic like TV commercials do. On TV, is a zit cream commercial on topic for a cop show?
If *I* was running an SE (but I'm not) I would not penalize links because of exactly that. On the other hand, I might prevent link popularity from being passed if I could not determine relevancy according to my algo. You'd still get the target audience click throughs, but no "link love". It could make opening new markets a pain, but no one ever said it was easy.

I do strongly recommend that off-topic links not cause a penalty, though (unless you can show that it's a link farm etc - but then it's not really the topic that's the issue).

As an example I used once, a senior member of IBM once said that there was a worldwide market for maybe 11 computers, tops. I'm sure that guy would consider marketing computers to business to be "off topic".

Bill Gate's famous quote on 64k should be enough for anyone is another example of the times changing. At the time almost all computer use was business. Google (if asked) would have probably thought that marketing computers to homes was "off-topic"

It was. The point is that sometimes a topic gets old and needs a turn of conversation, or a new topic becomes more interesting. Progress should not be penalized.

Finally, if I had a product that was geared towards the elderly, I might target pharmacy, road vehicles, and gardening sites in order to connect with my target market. I dare Google to figure out why that's relevant using only algos, and I double dare them to tell me it's not.

Feel free to not pass on link wieght if you can't figure out the reason, but you should never *penalize* innovation and exploration - or common sense and customer focus.

The problem with search engines is that they are topic and page-centric, but marketers are audience-centric*. At the end of the day, it's the audience that truly matters.

My opinion,

Ian

*well, they are often profit-centric, too, which muddies up the waters a bit.
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Old 08-24-2005   #6
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Finally, if I had a product that was geared towards the elderly, I might target pharmacy, road vehicles, and gardening sites in order to connect with my target market. I dare Google to figure out why that's relevant using only algos, and I double dare them to tell me it's not.
I do wish everyone could get that through their thick heads

Zit cream is on topic for a cop show because cop shows are beloved of teenage boys with hormonal urges for fast cars, shooting things and acne outbreaks.
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Old 08-24-2005   #7
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(Question: if Google is opposed to this type of site, as many of those commenting on the issue claim, why is Google providing these ads?))
Absolutely! That said, if Google took down those sites, it would be like biting that hand that feeds you in order to not bit another hand that feeds you...

So confusing!

Good summary Danny, and interesting backgrouind on the removal of the text ads here. I actually hadn't noticed that to be honest, and it is good to hear some background on the topic, as too often every link is called out as spam in a micro community obsessed wioth Google.

All this hysteria over Link "Schemes", nofollow and PageRank reminds me very much of that old Freud Quote: "Sometimes a link is just Advertising".

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Old 08-25-2005   #8
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What do you think about all this?
I feel that this is a good sign that things are moving towards a better evaluation of links by G and the others. The rel=nofollow idea posed by Danny in a comment to Tim's "Spam" blog and reiterated by Matt Cutts as follows says it all:
Quote:
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.
Google is perfectly within its right to stop the gaming of its link algorithm by any means necessary. Non-topical links should be considered for "flagging" if indexed and followed.

My 2 cents, or better: "what he said," as they say.
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Old 08-25-2005   #9
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The nofollow tag is great, but most people selling links simply won't use it because they know they are getting money based on link relevance. I dare say that most online ads (outside of sponsored ads on search engines) are there not for the traffic they may bring but for the link value.

Just look at the sponsored links to the left of this site. SEW does not use a nofollow. Why would anybody else, when they know that will cut into their $$$ from advertisers.

As others have pointed out, I think it is very difficult for an algorithm to determine topical relevance. The most on-topic links would be links to and from competitor web sites and who does that?

This shows the problem with algorithms based on link relevance altogether. I think a better measure is to determine the context of how a link is used. Links pages become worthless, directory links can be devalued but worth something, links in advertising blocks can be devalued or excluded all together.

I think that money is better spent on technology to determine the context of a link (MSN supposedly uses this kind of block level link analysis) rather than the topical relevance. Any link used in context with the information on the page should be a good link. Period.
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Old 08-25-2005   #10
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Google is perfectly within its right to stop the gaming of its link algorithm by any means necessary.
IMO, Google has a conflict of interest in this: they are judge jury and executioner seeking to dictate terms over who links to what, while on the other hand they are an ad network with Adsense.

As Danny pointed out with the Jupiter "Internet.com" ads - those ads were around a long time before Google - why should everybody snap to attention because Google bops in at a later date and wants to co-opt linking and advertising on the web?
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Old 08-25-2005   #11
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I feel cheated with this nofollow addition.

They offered the spam problem up as a red herring. Spam was a solution that was solved already with other technologies.

The reality of it is they are trying to force us into viewing the web as they do. They do this making us view our websites through their eyes every time we want to add content to our site. Personally I am tired of having to look over my shoulder every time I link to something.


// edit
also this my first post here... hi!
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Old 08-25-2005   #12
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The most on-topic links would be links to and from competitor web sites and who does that?
actually that's one thing I think Google could take as almost concrete proof of link building activity - as you say - utterly unnatural if it's actually to competing sites.

One or two might be possible if they do different areas and have a loose co-operative (PPC and SEO companies for example) but if you find a page 10 reciprocal links to exact same topic sites then that's the closest to proof of links for SEO I think you can find for the average site.
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Old 08-25-2005   #13
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Clean link or pass

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His problem now is what to do. Many in the comments to his post, including Google's spam fighting chief Matt Cutts, have suggested that he add nofollow attributes to these ads if they are going to continue to run, as a way to prove he's not inadvertently messing with the relevancy of search results.
To me this is an issue. When, if I were to, buying a link for any reason I check the source code. Any redirect script? Any links encased in JS? Any links with nofollow attributes?

If any of these exist I move to the next site to review. Why pay hard earned cash for a direct link to have it obscured in anyway shape or form.

Be it for PR, Google finding my site, or any other reason I feel it dilutes my money spent on the purchase (Not that I would pay for PR).

IMHO of course.

Take care,

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Old 08-25-2005   #14
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I think for practical purposes, it is hard for many sites to make any kind of revenue from ads unless they can capitalize on their PR. They might not have enough page views to make ads pay, or they might be in too obscure a niche.

It is problem, one wants good content sites on the web, but nobody wants those sites to make a living.
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Old 08-25-2005   #15
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even if I don't care about direct links I'd much rather any I buy were JS rather than nofollow.

Until the SE's confirm exactly how they plan to treat nofollows I really don't want many of them pointing at my sites - if they're actually used 'properly' then they infer mistrust and if they start being used as a negative indicator by the SE's then in theory you could be hurting yourself worse by buying pure 'advertising' links as by buying the good old fashioned style ones which would at worst be devalued or ignored.

Perhaps if they're really upset by paid text links they need to introduce yet another tag for adverts?
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Old 08-25-2005   #16
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even if I don't care about direct links I'd much rather any I buy were JS rather than nofollow.
Same here. I want to sell ads - whatever ads I editorially approve (not Google) without worrying about being accused of selling PR. But I still reserve the right to sell a direct text ad to whomever I please on my site.

I'm not sure I trust this whole nofollow tag thing. I can see it's usefulness on forums, blog comments etc. where links can be placed by anyone, but I don't trust it for use with advertisers.
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Old 08-25-2005   #17
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Been in a Tizzy since SES

That was an awesome article Danny!! I thought is was pretty cool when the guy at SES came up with the question i.e. if Google says buying links is bad, why do they recommend purchasing the annual Yahoo Directory link for $299?

I have not seen much evidence of off topic paid links being devalued. If that happens i'll be pretty happy as my competitors will fall off the 2nd, 3rd & 4th positions on Google. I just love the nice collection of p**n links they have come up with. Even more specifically I just love their webrings.

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Old 08-25-2005   #18
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Seems to me G is a bit like Porsche, they insist on keeping an inherently flawed design, but trust their engineers will be able to make it workable...
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Old 08-25-2005   #19
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Originally Posted by mcanerin
Bill Gate's famous quote on 64k should be enough for anyone ...
That was 640k, Ian

I have mixed feelings about the off-topic linking thing. On the one hand, Google created the situation when they made link text the most important ranking factor. Simple linkpop was already on the go, but Google just about based their rankings on an improved version of it. If Google now doesn't like off-topic text link ads because people often use them to improve rankings, it's tough. It's up to them to sort it out, and without penalising any site for the ads. It's perfectly normal for advertisers to advertise unrelated things in media pages. Somebody said, "who is Google to make rules like that?" Google doesn't make rules like, and they never will.

On the other hand, Google do make rules for themselves, even if those rules wrongly affect some sites. No site wants to be penalised by the engines, and, if Google is bad enough to penalise a site for displaying perfectly good ads, then sites should grudgingly avoid it. It would be Google who is the wrong, and not the sites displaying the ads, or the advertisers.

But I don't believe that Google wants to penalise any site for perfectly good ads. I am sure they would like to devalue text links that are not genuine votes, and, in general, people wouldn't find fault if they did that. What they must not do is penalise for them, because they are unable to algorithmically determine the good from the bad. Devaluing any links that don't fit their criteria is fine, even if they devalue some genuine ones by mistake, but no way should an engine penalise for them.
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Old 08-26-2005   #20
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Originally Posted by Gurtie
even if I don't care about direct links I'd much rather any I buy were JS rather than nofollow.
Matt Cutts at SES, in (I believe) the Search Engine Q&A On Links session, made a very pointed hint that Google might be able to spider at least some javascript links. I have no idea whether this suggests that JS links, if spidered, are more or less liable to be scrutinized than nofollow links.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gurtie
Until the SE's confirm exactly how they plan to treat nofollows I really don't want many of them pointing at my sites - if they're actually used 'properly' then they infer mistrust and if they start being used as a negative indicator by the SE's then in theory you could be hurting yourself worse by buying pure 'advertising' links as by buying the good old fashioned style ones which would at worst be devalued or ignored.
I added my emphasis to the word "mistrust" in the above because Matt did relate nofollow links to lack of trust whenever he spoke of them. He didn't actually say "mistrust." It was more about uncertainty or not wishing to confer trust.

I thought after he mentioned it a couple of times that maybe the nofollow attribute was designed to let you link safely into bad neighborhoods. I don't believe that he ever mentioned PageRank. If someone else who was there remembers his wording, it might be helpful.
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