Matt Cutts was gracious enough to respond to my previous post regarding no-follow links. I am still hoping to hear back from some of the other engines, but I recognize that many people may still be out for the holidays. I want to address his comments one by one.
I approached you at PubCon because I wanted to talk more beyond the conversations we've had over email, and I thought that discussing it in person might help. As I recall, you were interested to hear whether Google was consistent in taking action on sites, so I mentioned several of the larger sites that Google had taken action on to demonstrate that we were willing to respond to PageRank selling by big sites.
First, I want to say thank you for approaching me at PubCon. The line after your keynote was crazy long, so I decided to take a seat near the line and work while I waited. I was going to approach you after you were finished but to my surprise you came up to me first. It is refreshing to see how open you are despite our difference of opinion on some topics. I hope we can maintain that openness, my goal is to help define some standards everyone can be happy with as the leader in our space.
My objective in our conversation was to revisit some of the questions I had asked via email and gain further clarification and color. Email can easily be misinterpreted. Some of the responses didn't make sense to me and some of my questions were never answered.
I was indeed interested in understanding why there hasn't been a uniform application of PR penalties for sites with paid pagerank passing links. We talked about TechCrunch in particular, as well as some other sites like them. Unfortunately, your response in the P.S. confirms that there is indeed a double standard when it come to enforcement of Google's policy. Let me explain why.
I first brought TechCrunch and other sites to your attention (if you weren't already aware of them) on November 20th via email. We later discussed TechCrunch again at PubCon and you said that they were indeed in violation. After our conversation I waited to see what would happen to TC, a silicon valley insider and a blog who makes Google a pretty penny. I wish I could say I was surprised that nothing was done.
Now, almost a month later TC decides to add a no-follow to their most recent thank our sponsors post and you commend them in your comment. You were clearly aware of the situation. You said it was a violation. Why didn't TC suffer the same punishment as the smaller bloggers that were hit with a PR0? Why is there a double standard? What about the previous thank our sponsors posts that still don't have no-follow?
It is this double standard that makes it very difficult for us to enforce policies on linking. Competing businesses are not held to the same standard.
Then we talked about PPP's policy on nofollows. While it's great that in the future, required links will be nofollow'ed, I mentioned that I fully expected people to try to use "recommended, but not required" links as a another way to try to buy PageRank-flowing links. That view appears to echoed by some of your own advertisers, e.g. http://boards.payperpost.com/viewtopic.php?t=9722&start=12 mentions "I've been active as both an advertiser and a postie for several months. As an advertiser, I really only see value in PPP as an SEO tool..."
Some advertisers clearly don't understand our value proposition. Just as some advertisers probably bought a mini solely to get a link from Google, or a sponsorship badge to get a link from TechCrunch, we have some advertisers who are just interested in links. We have over 13,000 advertisers and I can assure you that this is not the case with the majority. If it were we would be foolish to require no-follow in SocialSpark.
I think quoting me as saying "ALL links inside of any sponsored post should carry the no-follow tag period, regardless of whether they are required, not required or even link to the advertiser paying for the post" is different than our conversation. I believe that I said that adding nofollow to all links in paid posts would certainly be safe. Then I asked if you were going to require nofollow on required links, why not put them on all links in paid posts? I think you replied that your business model didn't support that, but I may be misremembering.
I may be misremembering our conversation, but this is what you said in an email to me: "Google (and probably all search engines) will consider all links in a paid post to be paid. If a link were truly editorial, someone wouldn't have had to pay for a review to get that link--the PageRank seller would have made the link on their own, without any payment involved." This email response is what prompted me to gain further clarification on the subject at PubCon as it left me confused. I think my recount of the conversation and the above email snippet are aligned.
As I see it you are saying that unpaid editorial content is the only content that should be passing PR. Why? Because it is the only content that would exist on its own without payment involved. ALL other content is compensated in some way. Or is some paid content ok... so long as it isn't a sponsored post? If so why?
If Google's stance is different than what I gathered from the initial email or our conversation please comment and let me know.
As a company that does paid posts (or as a postie), I support your right to do whatever you want in your paid posts and on your site. But in turn, Google reserves the right to protect the quality and relevance of search results. And this is not a Google-only stance; every major search engine has come out against selling links that affect search engines.
And I support Google's right to protect the relevance of search results. However, just because someone does a sponsored post doesn't mean that person is selling links. I support No-Follow for any links required by an advertiser, but why should a blogger be forced to no-follow any other link? The blogger is not selling those links. You are making some sweeping assumptions.
Regards, Matt Cutts P.S. I'm not sure if you noticed, but it looks like in its recent "thank you sponsors" post, TechCrunch did nofollow their links: http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/12/21/techcrunch-sponsors-5/ And as we talked about earlier, Google does a pretty good job of recognizing banner ads, even those 125x125 ones.
I already tackled part of this above. But the 125x125 ads are another animal. You say that Google's algorithm does a good job of detecting ads that pass PR. Great, but why isn't the same PR penalty applied to those blogs that use them and don't adopt no-follow? Instead you decide to simply ignore these links. So if a PR passing link is hard to detect you penalize, if it is easy to detect you simply ignore. Again, this is another double standard.
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