An Open Letter To Matt Cutts

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Matt,
First I want to point out that we have a strict no-follow policy for all links we provide through SocialSpark.

http://socialspark.com/code_of_ethics

If there were any no-follow violations on the Kmart campaign I can assure you they were unintentional. These six posts were done manually outside of SocialSpark but adhered to the same code of ethics. The only reason any of those posts may have had PR passing links is the blogger added them on their own accord without any instruction whatsoever. The only link provided to the bloggers was a DART link that does not pass PR. This clearly was not about SEO, if it was we would have told the bloggers where to link to and what anchor tag to use.

In retrospect we should have forced every single link to be no-follow, regardless of destination and we will do that in the future. We will do this not because I believe in the concept of no-follow, we will do this because bloggers fear Google.

I still believe the concept of no-follow is absolutely ridiculous. There is NO WAY Google can possibly determine paid links from unpaid links, even if you could where does it stop? I work for IZEA, they pay my salary. I link back to them solely because they are my employer. Should that be no-followed? What about parent companies linking to subsidiaries and brands? Vendors linking to clients? Bloggers who get “review units”, free trips, tickets, etc.

If you are going to try to enforce rules tied to “paid links” you need to look at the very fabric of all inks and the commercial relationship between sites….and guess what? You can’t.

Not only is no-follow a lost cause, it is also enforced sporadically and unevenly. When I mentioned TechCrunch using PR passing links to you (on several occasions) you reached out them personally, you didn’t penalize them. In your recent post you point out an article on RWW, a PR 8 site. Guess what? RWW passes PR on sponsored posts!!

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What’s the solution? Should Google go slap RWW? NO. It’s a great site that simply linked off to some content that they felt was relevant, which is EXACTLY what the Kmart bloggers you called out in your post were doing. If you are going to slap the bloggers that participated with Kmart I expect to see the same applied to RRW- Publicly.

Don’t do it. It’s wrong. None of these sites should be penalized. These are all good bloggers trying to follow Googles rules.

Fix Your Algorithm & Take Responsibility

Here’s an idea. Instead of trying to enforce rules on bloggers and other publishers why don’t you fix your algorithm? Don’t blame the publishers. Don’t make publishers do things differently because your search engine needs help. Buck up and take responsibility, it is the ONLY way Google can win.

While IZEA has agreed to use no-follow it will never be used by the masses and you shouldn’t expect it to be.

26 Comments

  • Loren Baker says:

    My biggest concern with Matt’s post is that he states :

    “The Forrester report discusses a recent “sponsored conversation” from Kmart, but I doubt whether mentions that even in that small test, Google found multiple bloggers that violated our quality guidelines and we took corresponding action. Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.”

    Dude, if they did link out to Kmart.com, using an organic link that has the anchor text “KMart”, how the hell does this result in misleading the Google algorithm and those blogger losing trust.

    Color me perplexed.

    This really makes no sense to me. It’s not like the links had the anchor “discount hardware” or “christmas shopping”

  • Ted Murphy says:

    @Loren Baker:
    “Dude, if they did link out to Kmart.com, using an organic link that has the anchor text “KMart”, how the hell does this result in misleading the Google algorithm and those blogger losing trust.”

    Agreed. This was not an SEO play in any way. I don’t know why Matt called these posts out.

  • Great response Ted.

    Honestly? most bloggers I know have absolutely no idea how to even implement a nofollow link – so Google’s just shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t adjust their algorithm.

  • Ted Murphy says:

    @Lucretia Pruitt:
    That is why we code it into the links we provide bloggers in SocialSpark. We do our best to make sure every link we provide on any sponsored post is both disclosed and no-follow.

    The concept of no-follow is still wrong.

  • graywolf says:

    Google’s two tiered justice system with selective enforcement is well known. For example techcrunch.com has been running sponsored posts with straight links to advertisers for quite some time without a penalty here’s an example

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/10/17/thank-you-techcrunch-sponsors-5/

    NewTeeVee part of the giga om network one of the links here is straight as well

    http://newteevee.com/2009/02/27/thanks-to-our-newteevee-sponsors-2/

  • Feydakin says:

    I just find it a real shame that Google is forced to outsource solutions to failings in their algorithm to webmasters that they don’t pay.. No follow, canonical, etc, things that Google can’t figure out how to solve so they push the responsibility off to people who are generally untrained an incapable of fixing the problem..

    And they do it not with a carrot, but rather a large stick..

  • Ted – great points.. Don’t blame the publisher.

    If you cant determine the relationship between links than you cannot determine if they are paid links or not.

  • hubs says:

    I see what your saying. I agree if google wants to win they’ll have to adjust their algorithm. But…

    I see Google doing us the favor of indexing our sites. And if we want to have priority in their algorithms then we best abide by their rules.

    I don’t think google is shooting themselves in the foot. True, some of these rules can be complicated, but ignorance of the rules is no excuse. If a blogger is hoping to receive incentive then they should be careful and learn about what they are doing, right? Isn’t nofollow in place to remove abuse and incentive from paid link directories and other spammy links? I think that’s a good thing.

  • I never understood why Google had such a problem with sponsored content. We don’t take opps that don’t fit our blogs, we don’t write about stuff that would hurt or is bad for our visitors or would otherwise scam them.

    If I happen to freaking think the XShot is cool or that KMart has cheaper prices, I can’t write about it if they also happen to be paying me to express what I like? And I understand that could be a conflict of interest, but that’s why we have disclosure. But all of that is no different than Fox News doing a piece on Rock Band or Wired featuring a web site or Tom’s Hardware Guide doing reviews on video cards they get sent for free.

    I’m with you Ted, equitable and fair treatment, which in reality is just doing away with this no-follow bullcrap.

    Google, you say “Don’t be evil,” but there’s no addendum that says “to just certain people, particularly those who have Adsense accounts.”

  • Tim says:

    “I see Google doing us the favor of indexing our sites.”

    Actually, Google indexes your site so they can run Adsense on the search result pages. There is no altruistic intent, just a plain old profit motive.

    Well-said, Ted.

  • Matt Cutts needs to disclose that he has a financial interest in seeing other sites honor Google’s PageRank guidelines.

    Matt Cutts needs to disclose that Google’s guidelines are designed for Google’s financial gain and not for the greater good of the World Wide Web.

    Matt Cutts needs to disclose that paid links existed before Google existed and that they are an accepted normal part of the Web economy,

    Matt Cutts needs to disclose that Google is only serving its own interests in demanding that people use “rel=’nofollow’”.

    Matt Cutts needs to disclose that Google is not the only search engine, that Google does not speak for the Web, and that Google does not decide how the Web shall be shared.

    Google needs to disclose Supplemental Results in it search listings.

    Google needs to disclose which Web sites are being awarded favored status over more relevant content in its search listings.

    Google needs to disclose which sites are being penalized or banned for violating its guidelines.

    Google needs to practice what it preaches or stop preaching.

  • Stuart says:

    Excellent point – most bloggers couldn’t manage adding nofollow links to their posts unless *all* their links were nofllowed by the software… and what would the point in that be?

  • hubs says:

    @Tim: “Actually, Google indexes your site so they can run Adsense on the search result pages.”
    Then we both benefit – they run adsense and I get indexed. That’s the hallmark of a fair business transaction.

  • Jeremy says:

    Ted – I love you, this is exactly what Matt needed a dose of non “hubris” logic. Seriously, more and more Matt is trying to label “SEO” as “manipulation” – keep it up, you have a awesome style.

  • Andy Moore says:

    Google’s algorithm is as old an inefficient as MS Windows operating system.

    And still they have the cheek to tell webmasters, bloggers, and publishers to fix it for them or else..

  • John Raser says:

    After reading through this, I was left wondering one thing. Why didn’t you open the post with, “Dear Matt, Please bend over then keep reading”?

    Great points you raise here, Ted. You are a visionary and ahead of the curve. You should stand proud while breaking norms and challenging the status quo. It’s called progress and innovation and I think it is somewhat revolutionary.

    Remember, you can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can NEVER please all of the people all of the time! Kudos.

  • Eric Marden says:

    @Tim:

    AdSense may be part of it, but that leaves out the real value of the search results themselves. They index so they have something to show you at all, not so they can just send you ads.

  • Eric Marden says:

    @Michael Martinez:

    Matt Cutts needs to disclose that paid links existed before Google existed and that they are an accepted normal part of the Web economy…

    I’d hardly call paid links an “accepted” or “normal” part of the economy of the internet. Some of the first paid link schemes were the link farms of yore, and they didn’t provide any f’n value. At least the sponsored links discussed in this thread provide some. The normal, accepted economy of the web, as envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee, and mostly codified by the idea of PageRank in the first place is that people will link to content that matters. And while many bloggers may do that, sponsored or not, that sir is the true economy of the web.

  • Eric Marden says:

    @Andy Moore:

    And what site do you use for searching the web?

  • [...] Ted Murphy says Google cannot identify a paid link, and many would agree with [...]

  • I personally use nofollow links in blog comments so that they are not given the PR and hopefully to reduce spamming.

    Beyond that, why should my POSTS be nofollow? If I decided to post about something, then I am already having some investment in it.

    Yeah, the Brain Surgery one is semi-relevant. The KMart posts are not.

    But if I am thinking about having Brain Surgery I am going to check the person out that posts something. And I am not going to KMart for brain surgery.

    Are they going to block all of Yelp? Wikipedia?

    Should Yahoo Answers be blocked?

  • Chris Miller says:

    Google is unfair in most of what they do. Unfair not because they do things I disagree with, but because they fail to do things consistently across the board. This is true with most of their products… you should see how bad it is in Google Base / Products.

  • Ted I’m going to be nice cause your Irish, But dude you are lame you don’t care about any bloggers or their page rank. You don’t care when they get a Zero in exchange for the 10 bucks they get or whatever. Google’s just as big a hyporcrite as they are the BIGGEST link sellers online.
    I dont think bloggers should get penalized cause their desperate for money and loss the little page rank they had. You know what time it is and are only speaking to protect your OWN interest so pipe down Google runs the show not YOU. Every link on my site is Followed and I expect to be blessed accordingly on the next update which as we know will be around St Patty’s DAY :)
    PS I do give you credit for having the nerve to speak your peace ;)

  • Quqa says:

    Ted, have you heard from Cutts? I would be pleased to see his response to these comments. Would be great to publish them.

  • Ryan Born says:

    Great post Ted. You conveyed my thoughts exactly – “Fix Your $200 Billion Algorithm or STFU”. Hope to catch you again at DFJ CEO summit again this year.

  • Jimtreales says:

    What I want to know is what would google do if all links on the web became nofollow? Not likely, I know, but if it did what would happen to their algorithm?

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