Some wars can't be won. We've spent a week wrestling with Google's stance on nofollowing advertising and what actions we should take. We believe strongly in our principle that site owners should not have to make changes that do not benefit their users simply to remain in Google's index. We've struggled trying to balance our stance on principle with our desire to remain in Google's good graces and their index.

Jennifer felt it was important for me as the publisher to make a follow up post to my original message last week explaining our situation. As much as I hate writing, I knew she was right. We decided it would be easiest if I'd compose a letter to our advertisers explaining what we planned to do. Then, I would simply publish that letter so our readers could be brought up to date as well.

This reminded me of a post Matt McGee made on Sphinn asking us, and other publishers, to be open with our decision making process and to share what we planned to do regarding this situation. I think Matt has a good idea and being open with our decision may help other publishers. So, I've taken a step back and I'd like to share some of what we've been through the last week making our decision and composing my letter.

Jennifer and I communicate throughout the day using instant messaging. You may find it ironic that we use Google Talk. I like Google Talk and we use it to record all of our IM conversations which can be archived and searched later. Anyway, what I've decided to do is share some of our instant messages over the past few days. I don't know how to be any more open and transparent than sharing IM messages. It also has the added benefit of making my job writing this easier. Keep in mind this isn't polished writing, it's quickie messaging with non-relevant parts of our conversations removed.* Other than providing the dates, I'll let the conversations speak for themselves.

Sunday, October 28:

me: you there?

Jennifer: yep, what's up

me: we have to make a final decision on what we plan to do.

Jennifer: ok, what's our decision?

me: I think we're going to have to comply with Google demands.

Jennifer: this entire issue makes me want to bash my head into a wall

me: it's not a big deal. i'll email the advertisers, we'll take a hit, life goes on. it will be over and done with in a week.

Jennifer: it IS a big deal. it's a big deal anytime someone else dictates how we run our business. I'm fine with doing what we have to do to stay listed and to minimize risk but let's not fool ourselves into think this isn't a big deal.

me: look, it's time to be pragmatic about this. Just because we are right, doesn't mean we can win. What's that quote... um.. "cowardice is the better part of valor" I'll write something up and you can approve, k?

Monday, October 29:

me: I decided the best approach was to just get to the point. short and sweet and take whatever arrows people choose to shoot at us.

Jennifer: ok, so...

me: check it out

"Regardless of my opinion on the situation, it's Google's index and we have to abide by their rules if we want remain in their index. I want us to remain in their index."

"Therefore, effective immediately, we will be nofollowing all advertising on Search Engine Guide and our sister sites. We surrender."

Does that sound ok to you? the surrender part waas just to lighten things up a bit.

Jennifer: no

me: no, there are speling errors... or no, you think I need to change a sentence.... or no, you don't like any of it? can you expand upon this "no" a bit

Jennifer: What I see is you, on your knees going...

"oh mighty Google overlords, take my ads, take my firstborn, take anything you wish. By the way, give me a minute to bend over and here's some lube to make it easier on you."

me: ah, ok. i thought is was perfect... short and sweet... everybody knows our stance.. we move along with our lives... apparently I was wrong

Jennifer: uh yeah, you were wrong. Try again please. :)

Later that evening:

me: geeze, what's with you women today?

Jennifer: uh, what'd we do now?

me: Heidi just walked by and asked when I was going to be done. I told her it would be a while because I needed to get the message sent and then I needed to start adding nofollow to our links.

Jennifer: and?

me: her response to me... "Great. Are you going to email Google to have them come do your work while you do theirs?"

Jennifer: ROTFL - this is why I love Heidi

me: sigh.

Tuesday, October 30:

me: yo, you there?

Jennifer: yeppers

me: I have a new version of the letter for you to review. it's more "business-y"...

"After much thought and careful consideration of advice given by our panel of advisors, we've decided that we will concede to Google's demands and apply nofollow to text links. I would also like to express my appreciation to the search community for the thoughtful, and at times stinging, feedback they have provided over these past days."

Jennifer: who are you?!

me: sigh - not again

Jennifer: first of all, your dogs do not count as "a panel of advisors". second, it doesn't sound like us - it sounds like corporate spin

me: lol, you are actually kinda funny when you are mad.

Jennifer: i'm not mad, I'm actually in a great mood today.

me: lol, ok Grumper-stiltskin... you aren't mad but you aren't helping me either. I'm just trying to make the right decision and get the message out.

Jennifer: there's a difference between making a smart business decision and acting like an ant about to be smushed. Protect our site and our traffic sure, but anything that makes us look like wusses - it ain't flying with me

me: so we don't publish anything?

Jennifer: didn't say that .. just no rolling over for google

me: fine, you decide what to say because I'm obviously too much of a google fanboy

Jennifer: lol

me: seriously, you write it

Jennifer: "Dear Google, bite me!" There you go. Done.

me: headdesk look, how about I just send a message to our advertisers and leave it at that. we don't need to tell anyone else anything. I don't want to do a publicf post anyway

Jennifer: you know one thing I don't abide by is sending something out to 120 people and trusting that it will never get in front of "the public"

me: remind me why we work toegether again??

Jennifer: just put something together that says we are going to remove the front page text links. I'm ok with that anyway...having read comments from the industry, I'm more concerned about people viewing the links as a link farm than I am about Google. Perception is reality and many of our visitors don't remember the days when sites featured all their sponsors. They don't know we've had them there before Google, they think we have them there BECAUSE of Google. So I'm more than happy to give in on that one...So let's pull the front page links.

me: and that's it? I don't want to send something today and then have to turn around and email the advertisers again in a week with another update.

Jennifer: um, so what if you email them again?

me: advertisers are like asbestos... leave em alone and they are fine... you start messing with them too much and you get problems. :-)

Jennifer: lol

me: seriously, we are going to lose advertisers not because of pagerank, we'll lose some simply because they'll go, oh yeah forgot about that... Christmas is coming i need to save money so i'm gonna cancel

Wednesday, October 31:

me: any new thoughts on our nofollow situation?

Jennifer: I think it's a big fat load of crap

me: not exactly a NEW thought, but thanks for sharing. look, the clock is ticcking... let's just use what I originally wrote.. it's google's index.. blah blah... we'll be nofollow...blah blah ... we surrender. the end

Jennifer: only way you can do "we surrender" is if you include in the post....

"I had to wave my tightie whities to surrender because Jennifer wrestled me to the ground and took the white flag to keep me from giving up."

me: lol, ok so I'm cleared for that then?

Jennifer: as long as you put that line in there. wait and you have to find an image of white underwear on a flag pole

me: progress = none ... I'm going to take some meds and nap for a while. need to shake this gunk.

Later that day:

me: review new message?

Jennifer: sure

me: first paragraph...

"In light of where things are going with Google becoming stricter regarding text ads we've decided to make some changes with our advertising packages. As wonderful as Google is, they aren't yet able to discern intent when it comes to text ads. And in an effort to protect the quality of their results they are targetting anyone who buys or sells paid links."

Jennifer: "As wonderful as Google is" ? ... I think I threw up in my mouth a little

me: i don't actually mean they are wonderful .

Jennifer: Uh huh. Then don't say it. Hey...let's have a contest for our readers to see who can write the best letter of capitulation

me: sigh

Jennifer: no seriously, that'd be funny. we'll have the "What's Your Favorite Message of Surrender?" contest. but again, any post you make like that, has to have the tightie whities and state I stole the surrender flags to keep you from giving up. and the picture

me: clarification... does it have to be me wearing the tightie whities in the picture?

Jennifer: eeewwwwwww

me: yeah, that makes me feel good.

Jennifer: lol, it's not that I necessarily think it would emotionally scar the readers.. but... eeewwwww

me: and again, thank you

Jennifer: just kidding. I know you want to get this done so I wrote the message we can use for our advertisers and your blog post...

Hello,

In an effort to combat the impact of paid text links, Google has announced they are targeting anyone who buys or sells paid links. In light of this, we've decided to make some changes to our advertising packages.

While we firmly believe each business should make the choice of how to sell ads on their own sites, the reality of life on the Internet in 2007 is the need to maintain a position in Google's index. Because of this movement by Google toward actively punishing text ad sales, we've been discussing the best course of action with our advisers and analyzing traffic flow on our sites. We've decided to make two simple changes we feel will help keep us and our advertisers out of Google's cross-hairs.

First, we are going to move the marketplace directory listings to our small business resources directory. This will make the listings trackable by redirecting them through our ad server. Second, we are removing our home page text links that we've used to showcase all of our advertisers. Your remaining 300x100, 125x125 and text box ads won't need to change because they already use a redirect through our ad server.

Because this move will result in the loss of one of the five ads we sell in our Site Sponsor package, we will immediately begin to experiment with extra placements of your 300x100, 125x125 and text box ads to compensate for this change. In fact, we are certain you'll come out with greater exposure due to the fact that your larger ad units will be utilized in more places.

These simple steps will help keep us all in good standing with Google.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Kindest regards,

Robert Clough - Publisher

Jennifer Laycock - Editor in Chief

Search Engine Guide
http://www.searchengineguide.com/

me: wow, that's perfect. we make our final position known and explain why we have to give in to G's demands and we move on. thank you!!!

Jennifer: :-)

me: no wonder we are such a great team, I have the beauty and you have the brains. :-P

Jennifer: sigh

 

* Names, dates, events and conversations may have been fabricated - errr - "changed" to protect the innocent. No snuggly lava lamp loving G clones were hurt in the production of this article. Don't believe everything you read.
November 1, 2007





Search Engine Marketing Columnist






Comments(40)

That was hilarious. I never knew Jennifer was so tough. Well I guess I did - it is just funny to see it in action. I think it is sad that publishers have to make moves like this just "because Google says." They are becoming more and more like the Wal-mart and Home Depots of the world where they have their vendors by the balls regarding products they sell.

It would be nice to see public opinion turn against them so someone else could take their place. I know my Dad has already boycotted them because he thinks they are big brother. he's only one person but there is a start.

LOL, I'm with you David. I never knew I was that much of a smart mouth either.

I got like halfway through those conversations and thought "man, I really put Robert through a lot, it's probably a good thing I'm so amazingly brilliant or he probably wouldn't put up with it."

;)

Thanks for writing/sharing, guys. I think you've done readers and advertisers a service by letting us peek in on the discussion.

I'm with David - it is sad. What bothers me is that I like everyone I've ever met who gets a Google paycheck; they seem like some really great individuals. But for whatever reason, put 'em together at the Mountain View compound and the sum is much worse than the parts.

That was probably the funniest blog post I've ever read! Thanks for publishing that. You managed to make a serious (and sad) topic into a great discussion.

FLIPPING Hysterical!

The. Best. Post. Ever.

That's one funny post laced with just so many sentiments I agree with. Boo to the big bad wolf.

Yes. Thanks for sharing this.

Allow me to play the "opposite" of Jenn.

Let's see; where to start as there are so many things....

First off; When someone spams Google in "some" way like using invisible text or invisible links, etc... we call that search engine spam, right? Many out there know they are taking a risk if they spam a search engine like that, right? How about when they cloak a page? It's a also called spamming and the owner is taking a risk that Google will penalize/ban them, right?

So what is the difference in complying with Google on this nofollow issue then? When you cloak, it can said the cloaked page is for the "user" as well, right? I guess I'm confused why Jenn thinks this is bowing down to Google just because a site wants to follow the guidelines?

For that matter; forget the nofollow tag and simply use javascript to display the ads. Spiders don't follow that in most cases, and Google would be fine with it as well. No need to use nofollow if you did that.

I guess I'm really stomped why Robert was struggling with this issue. I see it as a no-brainer kind of thing.

Another thing I don't get with Jenn is why does Google have to be the enemy in most things with most SEO's in this industry? I would think that "any" site who gives another site free referrals... and highly targeted referrals at that, would be a site that you would want to comply with on "anything" at all, right? All you have to do with the site is follow the guidelines and allow your content to be indexed,... and walla, you can get free referrals. Sounds like quite a good gig to me.

I guess I did not realize you two were so pissed about having to use the no follow tag. I agree with you Jen on cutting the links on the home page...gives you a chance to freshen up so to speak.

Here is my real purpose for commenting...Robert you said you have to do this to remain in Google's index. Why? Who cares? Everyone already knows who Robert Clough and Jennifer Laycock are and they sure as hell know about Search Engine Guide...Screw Google and focus on your loyal readers that have been coming back to your site daily for months or years *cough cough like me*

You guys rock either way!

John said:

Everyone already knows who Robert Clough and Jennifer Laycock are and they sure as hell know about Search Engine Guide...

Well thank you for the kind words John, but reality is far different. Even as much as we've spent the years working to build up great direct link traffic, we still get more than a third of our traffic from Google.

Also, when you say everyone knows who we are, what you mean is "everyone already in the know in the SEO industry."

That's a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty percentage of the world. ;) Since our site educates small business owners, we'd kind of be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn't give them a way to find us via search, right?

In other words, you can't simply continue on in life with the customers you have. No matter how good you are at your job, you lose customers over time. That's why businesses are always working to find ways to attract new customers...hopefully to attract more new ones than the amount of old ones they lose.

When it came down to it, leaving those links on the front page out of sheer spite for Google seemed like a great way to not only shoot ourselves in the foot, but also in the leg, thigh, stomach and chest. ;)

I laughed, I cried, I literally spit water on my desk at the throw up in the mouth a little part.

Thanks for sharing that glimpse into your days and your discussions on this topic. The look into your relationship was amazing, and yes, no wonder you're a good team.

Robert, as hard as Jen was on you, you are very lucky to have someone to push you that way. That kind of relationship is precious and not to be taken lightly.

I am sad that it had to come to this for you both because I know how much you felt you shouldn't have to bow to Google's demands (and you are right, you shouldn't). All in all though, I guess you probably did make the right decision since it's hard to say what the Big G might do next. :(

Nice post. You guys did the right thing ;) and yes, it sucks.

Well, it seems we have entered the era where we don't have choice and we have to run our online business as Google instructs.

Excellent post and comments! I've been focusing developing good SEO practices - from the ground up - with small business web sites for 8 years and this is the best interaction/blog, I've run across.

Thanks for all the time you put into your endeavors, Robert and Jenn! I appreciate the Search Engine Guide newsletter and site very much.

Hey, by the way, I also appreciate the work that Jill Whalen does. :)

With best regards,
Carla

Hahahah...nice one there...you should post your IM messages more often, this is just brilliant :)

I enjoyed that read, but moreso the comment from Doug Heil, which I can fully agree with.

I like this approach best
Jennifer: "Dear Google, bite me!" There you go. Done.

This has become a chess match now with Google and the Google-roos to out think the SEM community and its players. How dare anyone think and figure things out and not be employed by Google. It's not good. It is influencing really good thinkers into not thinking because Google says so

OMG -- I was laughing so hard that Matt (in the other room) heard me and asked what was so funny, so I just forwarded this to him. This is priceless! Not only for the humor part, but for you showing us your thought process and the impact this has had on your business. Kudos to you for "opening the kimono" (to use an overused cliche). You guys rock! (But we knew that already!)

That was SO funny! It reminded me of a conversation I had with my wife last week. Which leads me to ask ... Are women less sacred of Google than men?

Anyway, this was great.. time to go bookmark it...

I'm one of your advertisers and I also have felt the furry of what G can do when you take links and do things with them that they don't like. This is their market and fairness has nothing to do with it. My own take is that G can't really monitor and control who's link selling/passing PR to advertiser very well, at least not yet in automated ways, so they have to take manual action by first the Matt Cutts warning and policy change, then manua penalty examples in order to scare everyone else into complying. So consider it a badge of honor - you've been targeted.

I hope you'll find that your site is stronger than you realize and that you'll adapt and look back at this as yet another thing that made you stronger. You have an insanely great audience and I want the eyeballs. I'll be sticking put. What I'm curious to see is if/when the PR will return and if it'll return in a dramatic lightswitch fashion.

Keep the controversy and discussion going.. good for the traffic. All the best.

jeff

Ooops, I meant "scared", not "sacred". In no, way, shape of form do I or my wife consider Google "sacred".

Jen Said:

Also, when you say everyone knows who we are, what you mean is "everyone already in the know in the SEO industry."

That's a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty percentage of the world. ;) Since our site educates small business owners, we'd kind of be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn't give them a way to find us via search, right?

Hey Jen,

I completely agree with what you are saying and as a business you guys definitely have to make the right moves to stay in the search results in this day and age. I just think it tough when companies are forced to change things up by force of industry. (You already know this....blah blah blah right?) Hopefully you guys don't have to change too much. Your design is easy to use and you're personality here is nowhere on other blogs. Robert posted your IM messages because he hates writing...you started and the Lactivist!...I love it!

I'm sure I just sound like a nutty reader, but keep doing what you're doing! There is a reason we keep coming back!

Thanks so much for your support Jeff. (The support from our advertisers has been really encouraging. :)

George, LOL at the typo...I don't know if it's a woman thing or that you're simply talking about women who don't bend over. ;) Heidi's a tough cookie. I try my best. Sounds like your wife might fit in well with us.

Hi,

You were not the only one penalised by Google, alot of sites mainly directories and Blogs were dropped in PR as well, which at the stroke of a button in some Google Office (Where a Brass Plaque hangs on the with the there famous Slogan about doing no Evil!)has savagely cut people's income from selling links and other forms of advertising on there sites. My Heart goes out to those people as I am one of them and was forced to sell my website as I could not afford with my advertisers dropping off so suddenly and the uncertainty in the market to put more revenue in to try and gain this vital PR which so many link buyers require.

All I can say is all the other search engines have never dictated how we should run are business and the old addage about Power corrupting certainly seems true in the eyes of the greedy google corporation who is now more worried about profits than the thousands of people affected by its greed.

It would be great if yahoo came out with its own Version of rating sites, and I hope google remembers that what goes around comes around and one of these days they will be yesterdays news.

T

Jennifer,

My wife is a mother of five (soon to be six), so she can't be a pushover... yes, she probably would fit in well...

Outstanding interaction!

I think you meant: SACRED

I have learned many things.

thank you all for sharing,

Daniel :-)

It's great to see the relationship dynamics behind Search Engine Guide; I think you guys could easily do a running column with these kinds of conversations. I know I'd read it!

Also, thank for being transparent. I think this will inspire other businesses struggling to adapt to Google's demands.

Thanks for a very entertaining exchange. Jennifer is even smarter than most folks recognized. You may have noticed how she dodged the invitation to write the letter herself. Very smooth.

One of the things I'm enjoying about Google is that its made up of knee-jerk liberals who gladly badmouth eeeevil "big" business and their predatory practices.

The joke is that THEY are doing the same things they deplore in others.

Now, who should we root for to replace Google? ASK? Yahoo!? It's an uphill battle since Google has the name and has developed a LOT of (often flawed) tools and a huge network of AdSense partners.

LOL - I don't think Jennifer was all that hard on you! Not that sarcastic either...it must be a chick thing - or a mom thing. So nice to work in a real environment eh you too? If you want to understand why Google comes up with things like this, even though as individuals they wouldn't - go spend a few years back in the corporate world where you can't work in your pjs and the tighty whitees, pants, and such really are tight. I spend a decade in Fortune 100 and boy it's nice to be your own boss and tell those around you the truth, with humor, and clarity!
Thanks for the laugh,
Melinda

PS Now if only I could get my teens to swith to Google IM so I could read their chats so easily!!!!

Now this is entertaining. Ha ha great post... and good luck with Google.

Robert/Jen that was an extremely entertaining post and just goes to show that the best content is "conversational" speak rather than "marketing" speak.

I enjoyed reading that and I thank you for sharing that with us. I am with Jennifer on the nofollow tag and do think Google are being numb nuts about the whole thing. Feels more like bullying than good business sense to me.

You know, not everybody is this spineless.

great post, bro.... you rock! i hope to read more posts like this - sensible, touching, intelligent.

Google is now treading dangerous waters, trying to leverage its search results by eliminating threats to the competition. Regardless of how it really is, the effects of this decision will likely begin to cascade into legal circles where Microsoft who similarly tried to leverage its platform in the 90's and received huge fines, lots of bad publicity, increased competition, and legal curtailment of its excesses. Result: it's stock price has gone nowhere in the last seven years (soon to be eight). This fate could happen to Google... but I doubt they care. After all, history never repeats, does it?

Thanks for sharing the process there.

Its sad to see so many good sites and webmasters roll over for google though...

Hey bloggers, here are some ideas for new posts:

1. How Google robs me of three hours of sleep every day

2. Why the barber asked me what was my PR before giving me a haircut

3. How Google discovered which shampoo I use

4. Why I'm going to start manufacturing and selling Google talismans

5. Will the next generation of cars run on Google?

ps: My other blog www.crisisandmanagement.com/blog dropped from PR2 to PR0 yesterday almost immediately after I put up the PayPerPost "Hire Me" banner :(

Wow, I consider myself lucky I came across this post! I just started work in a media organistaion here in India 2 months back (I'm 21) and there's this chick in my office who "corrects" me just the way Jennifer has been correcting Robert..and ohh I just love her! And I'm sure Rob loves you Jen :)

Coming to the point,Big G has been acting like a dictator lately...a dictator who's mesmerized by the power and hold he's got on the internet. The cookie shall crumble, sooner or later...keep your fingers crossed. I've stumbled this article; the more people read it, the better!

Thanks for posting about how you've dealt with Google's textlink expectations. Being new to the blogging world, I've found this post informative...and a tad bit humorous. Thanks.

I dont know what is up with the wolrd of internet marketing. You all seem blind to the fact that buying links (without no-follow) is the worst form of spam there is. It creates search engines that provide results based on how much companies are willing to spend. Google is absolutely right on its stance it's just not very good at implementing it. Still a funny read though.

That is a very funny post and discussion! Even though this is almost a year old, this is still a very valid post...the rule I still use is: NO PAID LINKS. Our websites and clients have done just fine by sticking to our white hat principles...

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Search Engine Guide > Robert Clough > Composing the Perfect Letter of Surrender