Michael Gray (Graywolf) writes an excellent post highlighting two areas of hypocrisy currently practiced by Google – the nofollow tag and paid reviews by bloggers. He points out that Google is using fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to corral web publishers to their way of thinking. No doubt that when Google is responsible for 50% or more of your web traffic they can easily bully webmasters into submission.
First of all Michael looks into the history of how the nofollow tag evolved in the first place and reminds us that its original intention was to combat blog comment spam. From the official Google blog, January 18, 2005:
If you’re a blogger (or a blog reader), you’re painfully familiar with people who try to raise their own websites’ search engine rankings by submitting linked blog comments like “Visit my discount pharmaceuticals site.” This is called comment spam, we don’t like it either, and we’ve been testing a new tag that blocks it. From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn’t a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted; it’s just a way to make sure that spammers get no benefit from abusing public areas like blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists.
A few months later we find Matt Cutts making the following statement:
As others have noted, if you’re going to sell text links that pass reputation/PageRank, the way to do it is to add rel=nofollow to those links. Tim points out that these these links have been sold for over two years. That’s true. I’ve known about these O’Reilly links since at least 9/3/2003, and parts of perl.com, xml.com, etc. have not been trusted in terms of linkage for months and months. Remember that just because a site shows up for a “link:” command on Google does not mean that it passes PageRank, reputation, or anchortext. Google’s view on this is quite close to Phil Ringnalda’s. 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.
What happened from the first time the nofollow is mentioned to the statement made by Matt Cutts 8 months later? Michael claims, “it was the start of a grass roots campaign by Google to alter the way the web worked to suit it’s own agenda. The main tool in this campaign, creating fear, uncertainty and doubt or FUD in the minds of webmaster and web publishers across the globe.”
Secondly Michael points out the hypocrisy Google demonstrates over paid reviews. On December 20, 2006, Matt Cutts makes the following comment on the Ramblings About SEO blog:
I think you put this pretty well, Eric. Search engines want links to be real: editorial votes based on quality and merit. With Yahoo, you’re paying for the reviewing service; Yahoo rejects plenty of submissions.
However a month later, we get Matt’s comments on a new paid review service offered by Text Link Brokers:
Yet another “pay-for-blogging” (PFB) business launched, this time by Text Link Brokers. It should be clear from Google’s stance on paid text links, but if you are blogging and being paid by services like Pay Per Post, ReviewMe, or SponsoredReviews, links in those paid-for posts should be made in a way that doesn’t affect search engines. The rel=”nofollow” attribute is one way, but there are numerous other ways to do paid links that won’t affect search engines, e.g. doing an internal redirect through a url that is forbidden from crawling by robots.txt.
Michael elaborates further on these two issues as well as sheds light on some additional hypocrisies related to Google webmaster guidelines. A most excellent read.