I Link, Therefore I Spam

There is an editorial choice behind every spam link. Think about it. Links don’t just magically appear out of thin air. Someone makes an effort to create links, even if that effort consists only of sending a robot out to hammer blog comments with irrelevant link content.

Editorial review is a very thin behind which to hide when it comes to links. Every link to Wikipedia, for example, is a link to a bad neighborhood for a variety of reasons. Wikipedia has been repeatedly criticized for excising authoritative, accurate information from its index on the basis of administrative interpretations of what is appropriate; Wikipedia now uses rel=’nofollow’ on every outbound link; the head of their arbitration committee was outed as a fraud; and the site is loaded with thousands of pages of deliberately misleading content.

As well-documented as Wikipedia’s flaws are, one has to ask why search engines would promote known sources of false or inaccurate information rather than authoritative source materials that contradict both the search engine comments and Wikipedia.

Google’s link spam to the bad Wikipedia neighborhood is acceptable to Google only for one reason: a human being manually embedded the link in the primary text of the page. In other words, link spam has nothing to do with the quality of the content being linked to. Clearly, Google itself endorses false and misleading information. So does Ask.com, which prominently features Wikipedia articles above its organic search results as often as possible.

While these serious failures of human judgement are legitimate cause for concern, the deliberate and willful acts of misleading visitors to their sites (the pen in the picture is not the same as the replacement Google sent to Ask) demonstrate just how little we can trust search engines to be honest in their representations.

One would hope that instead of expanding their Picassa service Google would want to be improving the integrity of their search results. Seems Google may be a bit confused on what “integrity” really is, but then, apparently the whole of mankind has yet to figure that one out.

Still, I have to take exception to one Googler’s claim that search engine robots are incredibly polite. Not by my standards they aren’t. They never come when called, they take up to 12 hours to leave when you try to get rid of them, and they have been known to hammer my servers so hard people could not get into the Web content.

My idea of “polite” is a bit different from Google’s. For example, as a courtesy, I am linking to several Google blog posts to let their visitors know that Google encourages me to spam.

I get no money from the link spam I casually drop into other people’s blogs. You see no ads on this blog (ON EDIT: When it was a corporate blog in 2007 that was true — things changed in late 2011), and I hope you’ll take my word that I’m on salary so even if someone who reads this blog signs up as a customer I won’t get a commission or any sort of bonus. So why should I spam?

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Maybe I want to draw people’s attention to a more worthy cause, such as the fact that Internet radio has been forever marred by a nonsensical royalty standard. So let me introduce those of you who are fuming over the fact that soon you won’t be able to listen to free (even though commercial-laden) music over the Internet to those of you who are fuming over the fact that Google encourages me to spam their blogs.

Linking is a dangerous practice. Time was, I would link out to anyone who asked for a link. “I want to be a great resource,” I told myself. But then I found myself having to deal with endless emails from sites like AskMen, Britannica, Yahoo! Internet Life, TV Guide, and other publications who wanted me to link back to them because they had featured links to Xenite.Org (or maybe written about me or something).

The heck with that, I decided. I don’t have time to manipulate search engine results with these reicprocal links. I just want to share knowledge about great children’s literature from reputable sources of information and not have to worry about who is linking to whom.

But that wasn’t good enough for Google. They decided that editorial choice has to be exercised to the extent that they don’t want to index replicated data (directory.google.com), sites that don’t provide original content (www.google.com/reader), and pages that are simply collections of links (www.google.com/bookmarks). These are “bad neighborhoods” that in one or more ways violate Google’s Webmaster guidelines and we really don’t want to link to those kinds of sites (UPDATE: Had to remove the links because Google took down those services).

Which leaves me in a bit of a spot. The mere act of linking out to other people’s content may cause their pages to automatigically link back to me; or they may notice I am linking to them and decide to link back; or I may become so well-known for linking out that they’ll come running, asking me to link back to them with special graphical images — how can I avoid falling into the reciprocal trap and linking to bad neighborhoods?

I could use rel=’nofollow’ on all my links, I suppose, but then people might think less of me for caving in to Google’s bullying. After all, if they didn’t pay people to spam their index, Google probably wouldn’t have half as much trouble with link spam today as it does.

When I place a link on your Web site, I want someone to click on that link, or maybe I want a search engine to follow that link and crawl my brand new page that really offers neat content. So I fill out your stupid canned online profile scripts, join your silly forum, set up a signature and post to Google Groups, build Google Pages, or comment on your blogs (from my blog — I really do hope that Digital Ghost is okay).

Everything I do violates Google’s Webmaster guidelines in some way, because I guarantee you that Google not only links to ‘free ringtones’, ‘omega-3′, and ‘seo contest’ pages, they flagrantly warn other people not to do this even though they use some of the most advanced scraper technology in the world to produce automated content.

Did you see the ads lining the margin on that Google page? Spammers. All of them. And what is sad about this whole state of affairs is that Google chooses to spam.

I should have nofollowed those links….

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Post By Michael Martinez (995 Posts)

Michael Martinez of SEO Theory is the President and co-founder of Reflective Dynamics. He was previously the Director of Search Strategies for a Seattle area startup and Senior SEO Manager for a Bay Area company. A former moderator at SEO forums such as JimWorld and Spider-food, Michael has been active in search engine optimization since 1998 and Web site design and promotion since 1996. Michael was a regular contributor to Suite101 (1998-2003) and SEOmoz (2006). Michael Martinez is also the author of the SEO Theory Premium Newsletter, a weekly publication loaded with "how to" articles and in-depth SEO analysis.

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