In case you publish on the open Web you’re a spammer now.
The only spam-free alternative according to Google is using Google+ for publishing it seems.
What is a link really?
A hyperlink is a connection between two documents. It’s a technical (not “natural”) feature of hypertext to create multidimensional networks of texts. Without links there would be no Internet. Otherwise there would exist just a collection of online texts you can access independently of each other. The “inter” in Internet means that documents are actually interconnected with and interdependent on each other.
What is a link for Google?
For Google a hyperlink is an endorsement of another page. Google still largely depends on the original PageRank algorithm (after Larry Page, not the page) which in theory is based on the scientific publishing model. In science it’s publish or perish and authority is measured by the number of other scientific documents that cite you. That’s why some exceptional scientists who are too busy to publish are often less known and respected than those who publish mediocre things but do it all the time.
On the Web by far not every link is an endorsement. Some links are downright negative while most links are simply neutral. A link to a post on “SEO is dead” is usually inside an angry reply pointing towards another idiot who tries to enrage the search marketing industry for publicity. For Google such a negative link is an endorsement too though so that “SEO is dead” posts rank perfectly well because they have been “endorsed” by hundreds of angry SEOs.
What does nofollow mean?
A link using the “nofollow” attribute is by definition untrusted and/or SPAM. When Google and its allies introduced that attribute back in 2005 it was “to combat comment spam“. Despite this statement having been proven to be a smokescreen shortly after neither Google nor WordPress or any other major organization revoked usage of the nofollow attribute. The contrary is the case. By now Google makes publishers use nofollow on:
- press releases
- guest articles
So clearly all these content types are considered untrusted and spam by now. Aren’t they? When somebody is using your infographic and credits your site as the source he’s not actively endorsing you but simply manipulating Google according to Google’s latest updates on acceptable link building.
I actually have to advise my clients not to encourage linking back to their infographics by for example offering a ready made code snippet.
Why does Google consider more and more links “SPAM”?
Google’s algorithm is faulty beacuse it’s based on the assumption that every link is an endorsement. It simply doesn’t work in a real life situation. So over the years Google has added lots of modifiers to it and is still struggling to get the ranking right. In a desperate measure they force webmasters now not only to snitch on other websites but also to “disavow” their own incoming links. All these measures lead to an atmosphere of fear and loathing.
It’s a classic FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) campaign to scare people from using links at all.
Those who spam on large scale do not care for such scare tactics at all while legitimate webmasters often get caught up in the cat and mouse game and lose their rankings, either though their own mistakes (which weren’t mistakes just a few months back) or so called “negative SEO” where the competition points toxic links towards their sites. So it’s not about the spammers, it’s about forcing legit site owners into compliance.
Google’s proprietary hyperlink replacement
What do have Google+1 votes, authorship markup, Google+ embedded posts and comments etc. in common (besides being Google’s own inventions)? They replace hyperlinks to some extent. Also they are based on identity and controlled by one corporation.
So while Google attempts to scare everybody from using the open source links they are busy introducing, implementing and pushing their own hyperlinks alternatives. They all have something in common: they are identity based, almost like your biometric ID some countries issues.
Google uses the unique ID based tools in a similar way to control who links to whom and why. The relatively anonymous Web is a thing of the past in the brave new world of Google.
Why paid links are considered evil and paid content isn’t
One of my colleagues argued once in a semi-satirical piece that Google would soon implement unnatural content penalties because like “unnatural links” or “paid links” they are basically about bribery and manipulation. That would probably kill off half of the remaining publishing industry. Yet it won’t happen. Why?
Google doesn’t need people to build links. They consider all links that have been built “unnatural”. They need on the other hand every piece of content they can get.
That’s why they try to grab everything there is:
- Google Books
- Google News
- Google Images
When will Google get rid of links?
Not yet this year. Russian search engine Yandex is already trying to get rid of counting links as a ranking factor in some niches prone to manipulation. Google on the other hand doesn’t have a proper replacement yet because
- Google+1 votes
- authorship markup
- Google+ embedded posts and comments
etc. are by far not representative of the real importance or even popularity of content and sites. Some things just work better on Google+, some audiences are overrepresented there (the tech and marketing types), some sites actively use Google+ while others don’t etc.
So over the next few years Google will push everybody and their aunt to use Google+,so that one day their own proprietary social signals will reflect the reality of the Web more closely, or rather recreate a walled garden type of Google Web where everybody will be monitored closely enough to rule out manipulation.
At the end of the day it will be either “you’re with us or against us”. Anybody wishing to stay at least somehow anonymous will be flagged as a potential spammer while those giving up their anonymity completely and disclosing all their connections and preferences to Google will be considered as authorities and have the influence to push their sites up in the remaining search results.
Links will become less important over the next few years while the identification technology of Google will be increasingly used to determine popularity.
First on Google+ and later on Google as a whole. By then only the darknet will be left as the free Web and Google will probably require biometric identification using Google Glass contact lenses or chips in your head (no joke, they already build them!).