No-follow attribute & the power of no-google

by Ruud Hein September 14th, 2007 

168397120_c0503da0c4_m A quick recap. Google is a multi-billion dollar US-based company which derives the majority of its revenue from advertisement on the web. These ads are shown on property outside of Google's control as well as alongside search results which lists snippets from content Google doesn't own.

In 2005 Google introduced an attribute webmasters were free to use on links of their choice to help flag that link as "not trusted" or "possible spam". This attribute is called "no-follow".

Anno 2007 the situation has evolved to the point where Google, or its unofficial spokesperson, are trying to make the use of "no-follow" obligatory on links outside of their control, embedded in content they don't own. Several consequences for not doing so, all related to how and where you web site's pages rank, have been alluded to. It goes as far as suggesting the US' FTC might be concerned.

Google Created Web Spam Links

It's logical that Google strives to provide its search users with an optimum experience by returning the least amount of web spam. Before Google web search was an art form, hindered by the huge amounts of spam returned for even the most innocent queries.

Google solved that by ranking, or sorting, pages based on how many others linked to that site. It called this PageRank and concluded that it is "an objective measure of its citation importance that corresponds well with people's subjective idea of importance. Because of this correspondence, PageRank is an excellent way to prioritize the results of web keyword searches".

bernerIn turn this has changed links from mere references to something worth having and therefor worth pursuing — up to the point of paying for them.

Google's citation-based ranking solution goes against the concept and intent of links on the web as expressed by the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berner-Lee, in Links and Law:

"The intention in the design of the web was that normal links should simply be references, with no implied meaning.

A normal hypertext link does NOT necessarily imply that one document endorses the other [...] the existence of the link itself does not carry meaning."

For Google to demand from web site owners that they solve a problem Google created by assigning never-implied meaning to hyperlinks is not only stepping away from their own responsibility; it is demanding unpaid work in order to increase its own profits.

Google Compounds Web Spam Link Need

Although making links the engine, the reason, behind sorting search results already had proven to create a huge link-based problem where links and PageRank had become a commodity, Google did not fix their problem nor did they steer away from the model itself.

Instead, in 2006, in an update dubbed "Big Daddy", Google redesigned the way it crawls the web and generates its index. Now apart from using links to decide relevance it also started using links as a way to prioritize what, how and when gets indexed and crawled.

Matt Cutts from Google's Search Quality & Webspam:

At the 2007 SEMNE, Dan Crow, director of crawl systems at Google, "let us know that having high-quality links is still one of the greatest factors towards being indexed and ranked".

To give you an idea about the challenge site owners face, consider that at the time of writing there are 135,166,473 known web sites: 7.2 million more than last month.

To expect all of these sites to acquire sufficient links simply by people stumbling upon the site is ludicrous. That an increase in paid links is a result was to be expected — and the burden for that problem should not be passed on to site owners other than Google Inc.

Matters of Principle & Anti-Trust

As a player in paid links advertisement, Google should not be given an overly easy way of tracking all other paid links on the World Wide Web.

Finally, Google should by now realize it doesn't own other people's content and has to pay for it if it wants to do something with or to it.

In indexing the web Google is allowed to describe the web — not to prescribe to the web.

Google Market Dominance Our Power

gde But what can one do in the face of a multi-billion dollar company which powers the majority of searches on the web? We can only comply, can't we? Grudgingly — but still complying.

Oh?

Way I see it, the very amount of users and queries Google's answers is only due to us site owners. A "we are the people" kind of thing.

What would the impact be of a No-Google attribute day? A 24 hour period during which sites en masse reject traffic which has Google as a referrer? What would happen with a search engine which can provide search results, but the results themselves lead nowhere?

It is said that another search engine is only a click away: if needed we can provide that click.

Recommended reading:

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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2 Responses to “No-follow attribute & the power of no-google”

  1. I'm with you 100%, Ruud. You describe the situation very cogently. Perhaps the 'Do No Evil' folk want to face up to the reality they have created.

  2. [...] the Internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, which had appeared a few months prior to their own. (Thanks to Ruud Hein for this reference.) Entitled Links and Law, its Abstract includes the following: Normal hypertext [...]