What is With the rel=nofollow Penalty

Text-Link Ad Screen ShotNow I know I am not the most seasoned engineer, programmer, or any type of SEO professional (as I am none of those), but I can read. I have spent quite a bit of time reading and re-reading the information on the issue regarding rel=nofollow and paid links, so follow me through this logic if you can. After all this reading I came to only one conclusion. I don't have a clue as to what is considered to be good standard practice all the way down to what is considered black hat operations done by well meaning individuals that didn't even know there was such a term, or knew about the whole payola issue, or that this guys great link contest had screwed up his rankings royally (or his royal rankings). Didn't blogging use to be about saying what you think? Not when it comes to making a living I guess, and I understand that.

From an outsider thought, it is bordering on paranoia, but I know it has its merits. At this point I am not sure if I should even link to the posts I am going to refer to, but I will anyway as my traffic rankings are unimpressive right now anyway. My background and work is not in SEO but in small online businesses, so SEO is important for many reasons of course, but the companies I work with want to see a steady increases in their sales from day to day, but they could care less about some href relationship code, if they can even get that far.

What is important to them is sales. I know that SEO can have a direct impact on sales, but it is of less importance to the small business owners, the ones I know anyway, than seeing an actual product move off the shelves. I do think it is important to know all I can know about current issues, so as I said in the beginning, I started reading. There is the Forbes article, Google Purges the Payola, where they talk about the downfall of linking and selling links:

Search engines hate this kind of paid-for popularity. Google's Webmaster guidelines ban buying links just to pump search rankings. Other search engines including Ask (nasdaq: IACI - news - people ), MSN, and Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ), which mimic Google's link-based search rankings, also discourage buying and selling links.

Among many other points the article made, it went on to talk about how much money some of these questionable sites are making, some charging more than $600,000 a year for link farms. At those fees it would be hard to keep people who don't care about what color the hat is, away.

Then you have the Matt Cutts blog on How to Report Paid Links. Matt seems to be the authoritative view on the subject since his job at Google has to do with making sure the search listings yield relevant results. His post is very interesting and does shed some light on the issue but I still walk away confused, and I guess some others do as well as he states some Q&A's:

Q: Now when you say “paid links,” what exactly do you mean by that? Do you view all paid links as potential violations of Google’s quality guidelines? A: Good question. As someone working on quality and relevance at Google, my bottom-line concern is clean and relevant search results on Google. As such, I care about paid links that flow PageRank and attempt to game Google’s rankings. I’m not worried about links that are paid but don’t affect search engines. So when I say “paid links” it’s pretty safe to add in your head “paid links that flow PageRank and attempt to game Google’s rankings.”

From that, it tells me that Google is really more trying to get rid of those attempting to game Google (a verb I guess). Those of use who are just trying to make back a few dollars (or more like pennies) to off-set the cost of running the site, hosting, and so on, shouldn't be penalized for that, but I don't guess those this low on the totem pole really are?

After-all, Google's main revenue source is ad-revenue, right? Shouldn't we be allowed the same benefit, or is it only through Adsense that it is acceptable? Don't get me wrong, I love Google and all it does, so I guess what I should be asking is what is taking them so long to just buy Text-Link Ads (TLA) already.

Then I came across David Airey's blog and read his great post on How I Reversed My Google Rank Penalty and left glad he fixed it and confused as to how a seemingly well meaning person ended up on the Google hit list (better than being on eBay's hit list). He did have some great points, and Matt seemed to be able to help him out, so all is well that ends well I guess. A few pointers from that post:

Why I actually got penalised by Google

First, however, and according to Matt Cutts himself (head of the Google spam team), my Google penalty was imposed for two main reasons:

  1. Having paid links to bad neighbourhoods
  2. Trying to game my search engine rankings with black hat SEO

steps to avoid a Google penalty

  • Don’t participate in any form of black hat SEO
  • Add the rel=”nofollow” tag to any paid links on your website
  • Be careful not to link to bad neighbourhoods

Did I forget to mention the bad neighborhoods? Sorry, you can check that out too, it is worth a look. I live out in the boon docks now thank goodness, perhaps I don't have to worry about the neighbors too much.

So, after all this, I was wondering about my own site's future and those I work with. I did setup another blog with a Text-Link Ad widget that sold two links. Uhhh ohh. The death blow for my $6.28 earned last month. :) Our traffic is still climbing nicely for now, but what's the old saying, "something from nothing is something".

Well, why not take a more direct approach. I decided to just contact TLA directly and ask them how and where I could add the appropriate nofollow links into the widget code I was using. I really didn't expect much of a response anyway, but you can see from the email screen shot above, it was brief and to the point.

You may not add nofollow to the links

Well, that clears it all up. I suddenly realized what their stand on the issue was, no surprise, they want to sell more links, which means Google and the paid link companies have decided to put a bullseye on... us... either way you go it seems you are in the wrong. If I was a better programmer I could just add them in the widget somewhere, but there is only time for so much.

So, I emailed them back again and asked them for a further explanation. The very prompt and kind response was a link to a blog post for further reading. Oh great I thought, like I haven't read enough. It was a SEOmoz post, The "Google Payola" Issue Isn't Going Away Anytime Soon, which I actually hadn't read, probably because it was published about 30 minutes before I emailed TLA.

Although the article did get some flack from SEO Refuge on their post, Rand & SEOmoz: Unprofessional and Irresponsible Actions, it did have some good points, but it wasn't really all that pro-TLA, never-the-less, they sent me the link? Well, I think I hit everything (oh, I forgot to mention something about John Chow, oh well, sorry), and I probably broke and kept every rule of blog posting all at the same time. Where does one go from here. I am sure from all the SEO errors in this post it will never be seen, so, I think I will go back and look at one of my own posts, Simple Steps to Increase Blog Traffic and Pagerank, and read step number 10.

Have fun and be positive - if you get as far as a top ten list, number ten for me is always have fun. No one likes to read or hear negatives all the time, it gets tiring, so try something new, have a contest, give something away, do something fun.

I didn't make it as far as number 10 in a list of anything here, but I think it is needed at this point. Is there a Google penalty for going to sleep? Maybe that is why the Yankee's can't seem to beat the Indians, oh, and I still don't think that kid from Michigan hasn't made that field goal yet but no one at The Big House cares about that now. I am sure Google had something to do with it.