A lot, an awful lot, has been said about The No Follow Issue but one thing I miss so far is Trust.

With what feels like sleight of hand, Google has done away with a huge chunk of Trust in the relation it is trying to build between itself and webmasters.

Google Webmaster Relationship Loss of Trust

The relation that they are trying to build is one where they are perceived as at least meaning no harm. How they go out of their way to give regular folks, webmasters, small business owners, yes everybody, the information and tools and knowledge to achieve their very best in Google without crossing The Line.

And much of that is achieved by making everybody's life so much easier, so much simpler.

Don't know how to set your canonical domain? No problem! Just log into Google Webmaster tools and "set your preferred domain".

Can't figure out how to be relevant to a specific country? Log into Google Webmaster tools, tell Google which country you target and let them do all the work! Ain't life grand?!

Never heard of Information Architecture or smart internal linking? Who needs to! With the Google invention of machine-readable site maps no site needs to be well structured ever again! Get every page on your site indexed! New — now with improved priority setting!

Avoid duplicate content using a smart site structure, some intelligent blocking or lightweight server-side scripting? Nay, why would you?! Didn't you know Google has the canonical tag, you silly!

And while you're at it make your 404 pages more useful — not with a WordPress or Drupal plug-in but with a Google widget.

And host your conversations on Google Wave.

All this can be achieved through simple "set it and forget it options" or copy and paste code. New features and changes are clearly communicated and explained through official and unofficial Google blogs, Google groups as well as Google video's.

Life is beautiful, there's nothing to worry about and you can now go home and enjoy your shoes.

Foul!

Except we can't go home and enjoy our shoes as Google has turned out to be an unreliable partner. In fact, many of us will have to start to do a lot of work to undo the reliance on Google promises versus best practices Web development supported by solid SEO.

The SEO community thought it had seen everything when just two days after implicitly supporting no follow for page rank sculpting a prominent Google employee invalidated what the video suggested about how the no follow tag works by pointing out that the tag in question no longer works that way at all.

But not long after, Google added insult to injury by stating they made this change as far back as one year ago.

More than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.
Matt Cutts, Google

That's one year of total silence. 52 weeks of pretending nothing happened. 365 days of not saying anything — on purpose.

This from the people who have "user experience" plastered all over their guidelines.

And why didn't they say anything? Because "we figured that site owners or people running tests would notice" — oops, sorry…

Nobody in his right mind leaves communicating potentially business-critical information up to "we figured". That's just not smart. And I have a very hard time believing that the people at Google are not smart. That leaves; not trustworthy.

Oh Irony!

In the same post where I get explained how they pulled one over me the author starts an answer with "I wouldn’t recommend closing comments" — oh sure, because your other recommendations have turned out to be such solid ones, right? I mean, you wouldn't say one thing one day and then two days later at an SEO conference something completely different, now would you?

You wouldn't provide information that something works one way while in fact it works in a completely different way — at the very least for 365 freaking days in a row… Right?

Right…

On With The Basics

So it was a nice experiment.

You gave us the tools, we used them.

You were consistent, we started to rely on you.

Bad idea.

We Figured You Would Notice…

Tin Foil Hat angles dismissed for this post but included for your perusal and, possibly, entertainment.

  • Nofollow use has been marginal at best – with Google admitting to profiling SEO's, has nofollow been a helpful identifier?
  • As we still see so much duplicate cr*p turning up, does the canonical tag even work or is this another dummy placeholder?
  • With there being no way at all to spider the whole web, sitemaps or not, what is the real reason behind sitemaps?
  • Two words: Google Analytics?
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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19 Responses to “Doing Things The Right Way — or The Google Way (was: How To Lose Trust)”

  1. Great post, Ruud. The problem is that the Google PageRank measuring stick only works if people do not know how it works. Otherwise we all adjust to be as high on the totem pole as we can.

    The only approach that Google could have taken is that all is secret and they reveal nothing. Then we could trust them. This in-between behavior they exhibit is bound to be seen as a sign of untrustworthiness as you said. They are clearly on the horns of a dilemma with no obvious solution.

  2. Jill Whalen says:

    As far as I know, PageRank sculpting was never something officially sanctioned or offered in Google's Webmaster tools like the other things you talk about at the beginning of the article.

    So I really don't see how you can compare it.

    Matt Cutts typically says he's not speaking officially for Google when he posts in his blog, so everything he says there should be taken as such.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      The comparison comes from our reliance on Google doing what it says it does with certain settings and tags. From our trust that if we target a specific region, that actually helps. Or that if we add a canonical rel to our page, that will work the way Google says it does.

      For example… is a non-canonical page tagged with the right canonical information taken out of the PR calculation? Whatever answer you point to, it has become useless because it's information I can't rely on.

      That, to me, is a trust issue.

  3. CJ says:

    Ruud you might like Piotr Cofta's paper on the Googleplex. I covered it a while back (formatting is off due to migration, sorry):

    http://www.scienceforseo.com/search-engines/the-gooleplex-serious-issues/

    I really don't think Google owe any of us anything at all. Matt Cutts job is not to help SEO develop!

  4. Ruud Hein says:

    @Barry — it isn't about page rank or about how page rank works. It's about Google introducing the use of a tag on the World Wide Web, detailing what effect the tech has and how it works… and then suddenly changing that after three years without communicating that change but for 365 days later.

    I'm not a crybaby; I simply recognize improper behavior when I see it.

    @CJ Nobody *owes* anybody anything anytime — yet we *give* respect to a senior.

    That nobody owes anybody anything at any time and that we can do with our toys as we wish should never be more than a descriptive statement; we wouldn't want to prescribe our children to grow up like that, to be like that, to aspire to that model of behavior.

    For me this is a lot about common courtesy. It has caused me to look different at our webmaster relations with Google.

    Had there been doubt about the canonical tag before, it's now superseded by complete skepticism.

  5. Thank you. That's been my point as well. I never really engaged in PR sculpting, and I'm not crying about the rules change, but what bothers me is that Google sanctioned a tag/technique, well-meaning webmasters followed that advice to play nice, and then Google came along and said "Sorry, just kidding".

    This isn't like an algo change – we all know Google makes the rules, we try to divine those rules, and we roll the dice. Nofollow was introduced for perfectly good reasons, people used it in good faith, and now we're being told it's not what we think it is. Google warned us about PR sculpting along the way, sure, but they never said that they were essentially disregarding nofollow (at least, in an SEO sense) until now.

    Does it change how I work with my clients or practice SEO? No, at least not much. Does it change how likely I am to adopt or evangelize Google's next mandate? Absolutely.

  6. Doug Heil says:

    Peter wrote:
    "Google warned us about PR sculpting along the way, sure, but they never said that they were essentially disregarding nofollow (at least, in an SEO sense) until now."

    Yes they did. They warned that anyone not expert at PR and this sculpting stuff should probably fix their site structure/architecture instead. Also; the nofollow thing will continue to work as it always worked. You sell links; use nofollow. You don't trust an outgoing link; use nofollow. I'm not sure what you mean by "disregarding" nofollow.

    Google's biggest prob is giving the SEO industry too much info over the years. The industry always wants more and more and then yet some more. It's never enough. Why would that benefit Google? It doesn't as we now clearly see. I questioned Google about that fact quite some ago. Why do SEO's need to know the parts of the algo and why does Google feel the need to say anything at all? Figure things out yourselves, I say. And Google; shut the heck up from now on.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      " fix their site structure/architecture instead" doesn't come close to saying it doesn't work as advertised, implied or suggested. Not even a little bit, Doug.

      Likewise, saying Google's problem is giving out too much information when we're discussing a tag *they* introduced and for which implementation *we* are responsible makes no sense. At all. None. Unless of course this is how you work. That someone calls you and say "hey dude, you should add rel="disregard" to your links" … and you just do that because, well, asking too many questions would be useless since none of us have to know how anything works at all.

      Hmmm…

  7. @Doug – Although I think it goes much deeper than nofollow, as Ruud suggested, let me try to better explain the technical side of my point. I don't see this as just about PR sculpting – it gets at the very heart of using nofollow to indicate trusted links.

    Let's take the blog comment example and say that we're using a plug-in or code to selectively follow comments (trusted sources are followed, unknown sources are nofollowed). Previously, link juice would flow to the followed sources, as it should, because we want to give them a vote of confidence. This isn't PR sculpting; it's at the heart of how the algo is supposed to work. Now, those trusted links are essentially being penalized, as a large portion of link juice gets distributed to the nofollow'ed links and then evaporates.

    Here's another example: Let's say you have a "Print this page" link on your website. For numerous reasons, including dupe content issues and spider control, you nofollow that link. It has no real value to Google. Now, you're essentially leaking PR to that page. Is this a huge problem? Maybe not, but why should you be penalized for a practice that benefits both Google and users?

    I don't want to blow nofollow itself and this change out of proportion. I just think there's a fundamental difference between when we as SEOs deduce a tactic from the algo and engage in it, and when Google endorses a tactic that then gets applied by a wide audience (including many non-SEOs). There's a different level of accountability involved, and Google fell short this time around, IMO.

  8. [...] Doing Things The Right Way — or The Google Way (was: How To Lose Trust) I wrote how aside whatever technical workings of the rel=nofollow attribute there is a lack of [...]

  9. [...] Doing Things The Right Way — or The Google Way (was: How To Lose Trust) I wrote how aside whatever technical workings of the rel=nofollow attribute there is a lack of [...]

  10. Harvey Kane says:

    I'm still confused as to what's wrong with PR sculpting anyway. Diligent webmasters have spent hours going over their websites with their pink nofollow sticker, trying to make Googlebot's experience through the site a good one. Surely this human input from the webmaster makes Google's job much easier?

  11. James says:

    The Google Way of doing things:
    "Yep folks, we dammed that river up a year ago. Figured it was for the best. Oh sorry your crops are whithering and dying as a result"

  12. Tvents says:

    What Google does is unpredictable. But I like to learn how the SEO make a decision based on the analyze of Google results. There are many steps in SEO which can be followed at least to estimate the habits of Google.

  13. Cool Gifts says:

    You are definitely correct Ruud. It seems like we can been using as a crutch and trusting that they will always support us and have our best interests in mind. In reality, it's best to always be questioning the powers at be, and making sure you don't get use to them always steering you down the right path.

  14. Well… been around just too long to take anything any SE says as anything but a convenient way for them to get those who don't have a clue to do their bidding. I posted on SEG when sculpting surfaced that it would be a big red flag… sure enough.

    I mean come on… that has a footprint the size of bigfoot! Nobody bothered to read the RFC to find out what "nofollow" as an attribute of an element does/says. It says basically the the author doesn't trust the content… so basically all the stooges who thought they were gaming Google were actually saying what? Hey I don't trust my own content… how could someone not see that ends badly or is not very effective? They might want to think more about how they use links as nav and then you don't need to use sculpting do you. Isn't that actually the best way to fix the problem if it ever was one?

  15. Toronto SEO says:

    If they lost any trust it was with SEO's not really webmasters…and I don't think it matter much to them.

    Also Jill, "Matt Cutts typically says he's not speaking officially for Google when he posts in his blog"

    I don't believe that for a second, maybe the official part whatever that means but I am pretty sure everything he writes is given a green/red light from the powers-that-be at Google

  16. [...] out there that have duplicate content on their own sites, but don't even realize it.  Canonical links won't always help with those [...]

  17. [...] Please, please, please, let us keep our toys – they don't do anything bad to you but make us feel f…. messed over when taken away just like that. Please don't tell us there is a Right Way and a Google Way. [...]