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More thoughts on the Google Slap, no follow and a Slap Back

Google's "slap" of PR selling sites may have unintended consequences

I wrote a bit about the Google Page Rank Slap previously. Quick recap: Google decided that it doesn't like people selling text links for the purpose of PR (Page Rank) building. They "slapped" all the sites that were doing this and pushed their PR way down.

I was affected by this. I wasn't selling links for the purpose of page rank specifically, but I do sell text link advertising and apparently some were using that for PR building rather than just advertising, so I got "slapped". Slapped hard - former PR6, now PR3. Owww.

Well, I changed those links to include the "nofollow" tag and immediately lost one advertiser (and may lose more - that's OK), but then I started thinking.. how does Google know those are paid text links for the purpose of PR? Well, obviously they don't, so they make some assumption based on.. based on what? Well, who knows? They aren't saying, and that made me think about all the other links I have here..

Well, since way back in the mists of history I have had both a Links directory (for companies and products useful and related to the kinds of things we talk about here) and a Consultants directory (for Unix and Linux consultants). I don't make any money from those links, but Google doesn't know that, so they could certainly consider those to be gawd-awful links sold for the purpose of inflating Page Rank!

Uh-oh. That's not good.. I had better fix THAT in a hurry, right? So I did: I rewrote the code that generates all these things so that it automatically adds a "nofollow" tag to the links. I do that in the hope of fixing the Google slap.. who knows if it will, but no harm in trying, right?

Ah, but there's more.. Google is also concerned about PPP (Pay Per Post). That's where bloggers get paid for reviewing products. In almost all cases, that's completely legit: the blogger gets paid whether they love the product or hate it, but Google fears influence so does not like this.. now I haven't done any PPP reviews, but now and then I get free products to review, and I suppose Google could think THAT is sleazy.. so what to do? Well, obviously more code: why don't I just rewrite EVERY link to include "nofollow"?

Indeed. I have done that. Every outgoing link here should now get rewritten to add "nofollow" if it wasn't already there. Every link.. unless I missed some little bit of code somewhere, but if I did, it can't be much and I'll find it sooner or later. Google's spiders will be awash in "nofollow"'s when they visit here.

But here's the question: because I'm taking no chances and doing it all automagically, true organic links are being rewritten the same way: with "nofollow" ("organic" is Google's term for naturally occurring, "legitimate" links).. I'm protecting my butt by not sharing any "link love" with anyone. What does this do for Google's PR algorithm?

It destroys it. If every web site in the world did this (automatically rewrote our links to include "nofollow"), how would Google calculate PR? They couldn't, obviously - at least not while honoring "nofollow" tags. If everyone (or a lot of everyones) actually did this, it would be a "slap back" - and it would sting terribly.

Now, I don't expect that many folks would do such a thing. Many small sites wouldn't know how anyway. But it almost seems certain that Google's slap will affect those sites: they probably will at least start adding "nofollow" tags where they might not have before - just to be safe - and that is NOT good for Google. Or any of us, frankly.

So what's the answer? I don't have one. I run a legitimate, value packed site and got "slapped" because I was careless. I'm not going to be careless anymore, and although my solution may be radical overkill, that's what I'm doing.. knowing full well that it Stinketh Highly.

By the way, if this Google Slap stuff upset you too, this post is probably something you should link to - with a "nofollow", of course..

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© Anthony Lawrence

Mon Dec 31 14:33:12 2007: 3361   ScottCarpenter

Now I think you might be overreacting a bit. I'd just nofollow the adverts and go about your other business normally. It'll all come out in the wash.

Mon Dec 31 14:44:34 2007: 3362   TonyLawrence

I don't want to be to subtle here because that's cost me problems before..

I DON'T LIKE THIS "SOLUTION". I feel I have no choice: Google sure isn't going to tell us how they determine that a link isn't organic - that would help people game Google, so I understand that. But since I can't tell WHAT they might think is fishy (my free Unix/Linux Consultants list, for example, or book and product reviews), I'm going to play it safe and put "nofollow" in everything..

If everyone started doing the same thing, this would be bad, bad bad: for us and for Google. But really, what choice do I have? I don't expect to recover my former PR, but I sure as heck don't want to lose more, so I'm going to do this, extreme as it may be.

Sure, yes, I AM overreacting. But tell me how Google knows what IS an "advert" and what is not? They don't know - they have to assume..

Mon Dec 31 17:25:01 2007: 3363   TonyLawrence

Thinking a little more about this:

I suppose I could just do "nofollows" in the obvious places: sold links, comments, the consultants pages, link pages and anything in /Reviews.

But really: how do I *know* that Google wouldn't misinterpret something else and penalize me? Suppose, for example, they count the number of links in text and decide you must be gaming them if it's more than X. Since I don't know what X is, how can I be safe?

I know, I know: over reacting. Yes. But isn't Google over reacting too?

Mon Dec 31 18:14:05 2007: 3364   Dan404

Touchy on the link are we?
I would have to say anything that has a nofollow stamped on it shouldn't really be on your website anyway.
By the way spiders still follow the links the just don't pass PageRank according to Google.
But! Not that simple, if your linked to is a high PR site or valued highly by Google in terms of authority, I'm afraid I may never see your blog again.
I've proven it time and again some of your most valuable links are the outbound ones, you might as well have a white blog on a white background.
As stupid as it may sound if this blog ranks for anything on Google it will probably be for "rel_nofollow" which is grand if that is what you are seeking.
I think possibly a compromise is in order you could further sculpt your PR by using robots.txt, I have hundreds of PR4 empty shopping cart pages that say nothing more than "Please Place Items OIn You Sopping Cart Before Checking Out"
Wanna buy a link.
Please realize this is another fart from the young tummy of Google, if they de-glorified a few hundred sites because of this or that who is to say say next week your sites or blogs won't be banned next week. Not likely, something I always am prepared for though.
Happy New Year, I hope you can get a grasp.

Mon Dec 31 18:30:03 2007: 3365   TonyLawrence

Dan, I think you have totally misunderstood this.

First of all, this site IS well ranked. It used to be a PR6 and it gets first page search results for many, many searches relevant to its content.

And yes, we all understand that the links get followed but not counted, and that's the point:

If Google is going to penalize me for NOT using "nofollow", my only truly safe response is to use it everywhere, which is a shame because more that 99.99% of my links are fully organic and justified - heck, even some of the paid links are organic - because it makes sense for a Unix/Linux related product to advertise here!

But I have to "protect" myself with "nofollow" because Google can't distinguish intent, can they?

Tell me this: what algorithm can I apply that will tell me when I can safely omit "nofollow"?

Mon Dec 31 19:03:55 2007: 3366   TonyLawrence

I just sent this to Google's "Request reconsideration" link:

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that it was lack of "nofollow" tags in two places that may have caused my PR to be halved.

First, paid links. I do sell paid links, and I should have put "nofollow" tags in them, but honestly didn't think about it because at least some of them really are organically related to my content. I have added "nofollow" tags to all paid links.

Second, my Consultants list. That really is white-hat and very organic: I don't charge for it and the people who list in it are almost always strongly organically related to my sites subject matter. However, I can easily see why Google might not understand that, so I have added "nofollow" to those.. I feel a little unhappy about that because as I said, the links are legitimately relevant, but if that's what I have to do, so be it.

But then there is the rest of the site. Do I need to put in "nofollow" tags when I do Book reviews or product reviews? Sometimes I have been "compensated" in the sense that publishers send me free books to review, etc. so it seems like a gray area to me.

Is it safe to leave organic tags without "nofollow in reviews and the like? It's really unclear to me where to draw the line. To be safe, I've added "nofollow" to those tags too.. but really don't like doing it and will take them out if y'all say I don't need to have them.

Mon Dec 31 22:34:21 2007: 3368   Niall

How do you know they won't penalize you for using nofollow everywhere? You've effectively become a link sink: many sites link to you but from Google's point of view you're not linking to anyone.

If you're not linking to anyone, what's the point in Google assigning you a page rank?

Mon Dec 31 22:51:37 2007: 3369   TonyLawrence

I've never heard of PR being lower because of no outgoing links and there are plenty of sites with very few outgoing but Wikipedia says it matters (if you can follow the math and tell me how MUCH it matters, good for you), but at any rate, isn't a "nofollow" link still a link?

Anyway, at the moment I've just modified the "obvious" stuff: paid links, consultant links, link pages, review pages and have left all in-text links alone.

It's a bit of a Catch-22, isn't it?

Mon Dec 31 23:14:12 2007: 3370   TonyLawrence

I dunno: I always thought the point was to determine the ranking in search output when all other factors are even..

But who the heck knows? My search result positioning didn't drop with my PR drop, so perhaps the larger question is "What's the point of PR anyway?"

Tue Jan 1 16:13:03 2008: 3374   ThorKottelin


My PR is down from 6 to 4, even though almost all my links are currently marked "nofollow". :(


(The links to aplawrence.com are one of the few exceptions to "almost".)

Thor Kottelin

Tue Jan 1 16:54:33 2008: 3375   TonyLawrence

Well, of course: Google expects you to link to your internal pages and vice versa..

Tue Jan 1 16:57:39 2008: 3376   TonyLawrence

Opps - misunderstood you.. I see what you mean... that was my earler suspicion - that Google has just reduced PR across the board, moving the cutoffs up..

But if that's what they've done, why not just say it? "We've changed the PR calculation. Many PR6 sites wil become 5's, a lot will be 4's some may even go to 3 and so on. "

Tue Jan 8 23:07:14 2008: 3419   TonyLawrence

I noticed today that ApLawrence.com/index.html is back up to PR5..

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