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October 13, 2008

Google’s Link Week

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Last week, amid the flood of information coming out of SMX East, Google hosted Link Week on the Webmaster Central Blog. It was a week of posts dedicated to the topic of links — specifically, internal, external and inbound links.

Since I began covering search tradeshows and reading industry publications, I’ve observed the obvious: links are equal to gold on the Web. I’ve seen the numerous posts regarding link building, PageRank sculpting, link bait (you get the idea) go hot on Sphinn. At shows, I’ve noticed that Google reps always get lots of questions about linking best practices, how rel=”nofollow” works, paid links (and on and on). Industry members are hungry for information on how to get rich in the link economy, and Google holds its cards close to the vest in order to avoid giving away any information that could be used to forge a fake check, if you will.

So when it was announced on the Webmaster Central Blog last Monday that the week’s posts would be aimed at clarifying Google’s recommendations for linking, I got excited. There are so many different channels that provide information on how Google values and measures link equity — even three different Google reps speaking on different panels at a single conference may provide varying information — so it’s always great to get the “definitive” word from an official source.

The post that got the most attention was the final post, Good times with inbound links. At Search Engine Land, Barry Schwartz talked about his disappointment in the lack of details while a post on Wiep.net theorized that a cover-up of inbound link building recommendations may be underway. On BlogStorm, Patrick Altoft wondered if Google was embarrassed about the role of links in the ranking algorithm, but I’d venture to say that the real reason is more akin to an argument of security: secrets must stay secret so the ill-intentioned don’t infiltrate the system.

Google recently removed a line from the Webmaster Guidelines that read “Have other relevant sites link to you.” It was replaced with the advice “Make sure all the sites that should know about your pages are aware your site is online.” I read this change as an attempt to modify the language from an active recommendation — to go out and solicit links — to the more passive suggestion — that the webmaster makes sure their site is known about. The second wording implies that if a site knows about your site, they will link to it if it has the kind of relevant and valuable information they’d like to share with their visitors.

When it comes down to it, though, Google has their hands tied. Telling SEOs and webmasters to solicit links goes against the best interests of the end users. Unless it’s a clearly labeled advertisement, a link implies a related page that will give a user more information on the topic they are looking for. If I know that some deal was conducted behind the scenes, it’s hard to trust that link will really be offering what I’m looking for. Hence the carefully crafted line: “when the links are merit-based and freely-volunteered as an editorial choice, they’re also one of the positive signals to Google”.

SEOs will probably never have the answers handed to them in a neat little package, or blog post or guideline for that matter. It would be much too easy to spam. But that part of you — the user that gets frustrated by rick rolls, comment spam or poor quality pages in the SERPs — that’s the part that’s got to appreciate the clever way that Google sometimes dances around the subject. On tip toes. In circles.

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One response to “Google’s Link Week”

  1. Darren Slatten writes:

    Hi Virginia,

    I noticed that one of the posts from Link Week (Importance of Link Architecture) included a question about whether or not it’s a good idea to “theme” your website, which is something that Bruce Clay, Inc. has endorsed and written about for several years now (i.e. “siloing”). The official response from Google was this:

    We haven’t found a case where a webmaster would benefit by intentionally “theming” their link architecture for search engines.

    I was quite surprised by that statement from Google, since it seems to directly conflict with Bruce’s well-known siloing theory. Does this statement from Google mean that Bruce Clay, Inc. will change its recommendations on siloing, or do you guys still recommend it?



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