There is a culture of fear, uncertainty and doubt, fed, in part, by Google’s vague and sometimes contradictory proclamations about the nature of links.
If only citation was as pure as the driven snow, eh. But it isn’t. It isn’t pure in academic circles, and even less so on the web. Humans are messy. Nepotism, back-scratching (or should that be backrub-ing), payola, favors, exchanges, and vague networks of association often get added to the mix.
Graywolf has a very good post concerning Google’s stance on links. You may have problems accessing it, as Graywolf appears to be on the receiving end of being cited by Digg.
Graywolf paid me huge $$$ to link to his post.
Actually, he didn’t – I just made that up. But how would anyone really know? The truth of the matter is that I really liked his article, and I thought you might be interested in it, too. It is also true to say I have a connection with a company that is linked to from a page that is linked to from that article, but that also isn’t the reason I linked to it. Although, come to think of it, on some level, it might be…
Phew! Disclosure, eh.
What is a paid link?
If you’re paid to write about something, and link to something, is that a paid link?
If it is, then aren’t all the official Google blogs engaged in paid linking on a daily basis? The writers are employed and paid by Google.
Anything wrong with that?
Not really. We’d hardly expect them to spend their days blogging about MSN. MSN doesn’t pay them to do so.
Are the Google bloggers using nofollow?
I guess they’d argue it is fine to pump your own stuff.
What is a natural link?
Is a link to a site owned by a friend a paid link? What if that friend asked you to link? You didn’t really think your friends article had merit, but hey – what are friends for! Share the “love”.
Is a link to an article written by a business associate a paid link? Does money need to exchange hands? At what point? What about favors? What about undisclosed interests? I know of one very popular site which contains a lot of editorial that is paid, although you’d never know it by looking at it. The site doesn’t disclose their business associations. How many Google fanboys own Google stock?
I think the type of link Google is really looking for is the link that says “Hey! I genuinely thought this was a really good article, and I have no association with that article, or the person who wrote it, other than the fact I just stumbled across it, and thought it so important that I just had to tell others about it”.
How a machine manages to decipher that from the scenarios I’ve illustrated above, I do not know. I’m not even sure most humans could do so when examining just one site, let alone millions of them. Appearances can be deceptive.
At the end of the day, a link is a link. Follow me, I’ll show you something interesting.