When did hypertext links become the enemy? Google's PageRank began a burgeoning search engine optimization link building industry that now seems to be out of control. What's the deal with text link ads? Isn't a link just a link? Not really, at least according to recent blog and forum posts.

In the Beginning There Were Links

A simple concept, hyperlinks connected the websites within the world wide web. Linking is what the world wide web is about. This certainly didn't start with search engines, but rather with hyperlinks created with HTML code. The rules for producing viable websites joining the world wide web sprang from this language. So why is there so much power allotted to search engines and their rules about linking? Sad to say but the past linking between sites voting for quality have gotten muddled in the link building frenzy. Search engines have created their own linking monster.

What Is This rel="nofollow" Tag Anyway?

Much of the search engine forum discussion started with Google representative Matt Cutts suggesting that O'Reilly Media use the rel="nofollow" tag to keep off topic links O'Reilly Media sold to essentially "not count" when search engine robots came across the links for indexing purposes. The idea is that this tag can be used to negate the power of the link vote for link popularity when the webmaster is linking to what is often called a "bad neighborhood". This may be seen as a suggestion by Google, or it could be Google's way of popularizing the nofollow tag so it is used by webmasters for their own paid text link ads on webmaster websites. Only time will tell.

Matt Cutts Comments On Reputable Sites & Link Selling

The recent flurry of posts regarding O'Reilly Media's text link ads has produced some interesting comments from Search Engine Watch Forums members and Threadwatch members:

O'Reilly In Off-Topic Link Selling Debate

Google Admit Problems with Text Link Ads

Danny Sullivan offers an explanation of this new tag in his Search Engine Watch Blog:
Google, Yahoo, MSN Unite On Support For Nofollow Attribute For Links

Definition Of The rel="nofollow" Tag:

"By adding rel="nofollow" to a hyperlink, a page indicates that the destination of that hyperlink SHOULD NOT be afforded any additional weight or ranking by user agents which perform link analysis upon web pages (e.g. search engines). Typical use cases include links created by 3rd party commenters on blogs, or links the author wishes to point to, but avoid endorsing."

The original idea behind this tag was focused on decreasing link and comment spam, particularly for blog sites. When you purchase text link ads webmasters should be aware that the rel="nofollow" tag may be present in the link page source code, thus the link may end up being worthless in terms of ranking.

The Real Problem

How do the search engine algorithms differentiate between a simple text link and a paid text link ad? The real problem may lie in the probability that Google and other search engines are unable to differentiate between regular links and paid links, such as text link ads, within their current algorithms.

This creates a great deal of work on the search engines part to track and understand the true motivation for a link on a page. Certainly the issue may be raised that webmasters who sell text link ads may cut into the business model of the search engines text ad programs.

The Real Solution

The linking problem was created by the emphasis on the need for link voting to improve link popularity and search engine ranking. This originated primarily through the creation of Google's PageRank. If the search engines created the situation, shouldn't the search engines then also provide the solution? Instead of suggesting webmasters add the rel="nofollow" tag to their pages to make the search engines job easier, wouldn't it make sense to create better search engine algorithms? Maybe it is time to get rid of the toolbars and change the way search engines value linking. From every comment I've seen on this subject it certainly seems to be the right choice to make.

September 27, 2005

Daria Goetsch is the founder and Search Engine Marketing Consultant for Search Innovation, a Search Engine Promotion company serving small businesses. Besides running her own company, Daria is an associate of WebMama.com, an Internet web marketing strategies company. She has specialized in search engine optimization since 1998, including three years as the Search Engine Specialist for O'Reilly & Associates, a technical book publishing company.

Search Engine Guide > Daria Goetsch > What's The Deal With Search Engines And Text Link Ads?