This is perhaps one of the more left-field posts I am likely to write this year, however with much of the debate at present focussed on Matt Cutts comments on the recent Forrester comments on sponsored conversations it seemed somewhat apt. The paid links debate and the solution developed by Google in particular has long been debated within the industry, by both black hat and white hat SEO’s alike – however I would suggest that most search marketers would agree the current remediation (of the single nofollow) is not fit for purpose in the modern day environment.
Given the boom in search engine optimisation over the last couple of years, it is slightly naive in my opinion to believe that the nofollow attribute is going to be used in the way it was designed for. SEO is increasingly a results driven business, and as such is increasingly competitive in nature. As a white hat SEO, there is always the ‘Anakin Skywalker’/dark side conflict going on, as supposedly unethical practises are missed and rewarded by the search engines. Organic search has never been a quick turnaround channel and as such, the process of managing such a process is increasingly difficult.
One of the main issues is establishing intent. Intent in terms of link acquisition is not something that can often be definitely identified, (certainly it is easier to identify some more than others) however there is no way a search engine (or search engine robot) can in *most* cases 100% say that a link is definitely a paid link. As such, I can’t see how you can make a decision (on a whim) that could potentially cost an organisation (or individual) hundreds/thousands/millions (delete as applicable) of pounds.
I have always felt the one brush fits all approach is limited in scope and certainly given the number of potential linkage channels, is certainly not scalable, particularly given the drive towards a semantic web. Many of the current management protocols are based on decade(plus) old technology, which in IT terms is a significant period of time, in which time the internet (and internet behaviour) has changed significantly.
Given the emergence of XFN relationships I can’t help thinking that a more logical and applicable framework couldn’t be developed which took into account different facets of the current online environment, perhaps providing a level of context to the search engines currently beyond the straight nofollow that currently exists.
I will admit much of the rationale above is fairly raw in my own head, however I can’t help thinking that Google need to readdress the way they deal with link relationships whether they be paid links, social media (lets not forget Twittergate), or sponsored conversations in order to provide itself a scalable long term solution.
[This blog post contains the personal thoughts and musings of Peter Young, and not necessarily those of his employers]