Changes could lead to increased usage of black hat sabotage-style attacks against competitors
I recently came across some rather disturbing news related-to social media. According to MarketersRelief.com, Google has decided to pick on blogs and sites that are frequently bookmarked in social media communities. In this article, Google’s Jeff Waltz had this to say; “Webmasters who rely heavily on bookmarking their own sites to gain traffic will likely see a drop in pagerank before the end of 2008”. As usual, Google offered no definition for “rely heavily”. If your site naturally has a lot of unique content that over the years has accumulated quite a collection of social media links, are you relying too heavily?
While he did use the term ‘bookmarking’, the impression I was left with is that he was referring primarily to social news-sharing sites like Mixx. Otherwise, they would have no reason to pick on the people marketing their own site. If there is no PR or link-juice or whatever you want to call it flowing from those links (like Yahoo’s del.icio.us, for example), there would theoretically be no reason to further punish sites by docking their pagerank.
From that, we can deduce one of the following two scenarios is true: One is that the whole nofollow / pr sculpting thing is a sham, and Google for whatever reason wishes to count nofollow links. The other (more likely) scenario is that Waltz misspoke when he used the term “bookmarking”. Based on the rest of the article in which his quote appeared, the impression I was left with is that he was referring to users of sites like Mixx and Propeller.
I am still waiting for someone at Google to explain to me what exactly it is about a person attempting to (gasp) market his or her own website that Google finds to be so unethical and objectionable. The way I see this, Google is enforcing a strict code of nepotism with an iron fist by penalizing the social media links that many new sites depend upon just to get their new sites out from under-the-radar. They are placing hude roadblocks and unnecessary hurdles in the paths of new sites trying to gain a little bit of recognition, while rewarding those sites that have been in existence for several years and know the link-building game inside and out.
Granted, there are plenty of other ways to build links to sites besides social media. One thing about social media that would seem to negate the need for a link-penalty is the fact that each url can only be submitted once to each site. That means a site can build a maximum of one submission’s worth of links to the site’s homepage, as well as every other page on the site. If users spam social media sites with machine-gun submissions of links to the same site, it is the job and responsibility of the site owners to remove that user from the community. If Google attempts to discern who is a spammer and who is clean in the world of social media, and base this off of (among other factors) whether or not they market their own site within these communities, there will be many good sites and blogs that fall victim to these overzealous witch-hunts.
These changes also hold the potential to spawn an even bigger explosion of the “negative SEO” (read: “sabotage”) techniques already being deployed with great success by those willing to stoop to those levels. Dark-side practitioners of the craft (aka, black hat SEO’s) figured out long ago that there was a better-than-good possibility search engine’s would attempt to figure out or track such things as the number of unique visits a page receives from search for a given search term, the bounce-rate of those visitors and the average length of each visit — and attempt to implement that data into how they determine relevancy and rank. While whether it actually works or not is a subject for debate in and of itself (although Matt Cutts has said in no uncertain terms that it is real), that hasn’t stopped the bottom-feeders from creating robots that do nothing but search for targeted keywords, click on competitors’ sites and ‘hit the back button’ almost immediately upon arriving at the competitor’s page. Or better yet, the spammers who use “Googlebowling” as a black-hat sabotage technique.
Some of these people obviously think they have reason to believe this works, otherwise why spend time doing it when there are (legitimate) tried-and-proven tactics they could be pursuing? Whether it works or not, these same people will soon start spamming social media sites with links to their competitors’ sites in hopes of provoking a ban or blacklist to be enacted against their innocent competitor. I sure hope Google is able to tell if the person adding the links owns or is affiliated with the site being linked-to. Otherwise, the standards for decency in online marketing (something of an oxymoron, I know) will have fallen yet another notch, and tactics like this will increase in popularity.
Another question still is how will the size and popularity of the social media sites linking to the sites in question affect the amount and extent of the penalties that are to be handed down? Will a site with lots of inbound links from a big social media community like Mixx or Digg be punished any more or less than a comparable site being linked to from a much, much smaller social news site? Say for example, take two non-duplicate sites that for the sake of discussion are equal in all other relevant ways. One of these sites is linked to by big sites such as those mentioned above. The other site has no links from big social news sites, but does have a number of inbound links from much smaller social news sites like BigEasyLinks.com, a niche site dealing with New Orleans news; or HealthandWellnessArticles.com, which is pretty self-explanatory. Will these sites be punished the same? If they hypothetically had the same exact pagerank prior to this latest round of Google algorithmic corporal punishment, which of the two would suffer the greatest reduction in pagerank resulting from social media links? What if the people who own and operate the sites had nothing to do with aquiring the immoral links? Why should they be punished if someone else committed the crime?
Oh well, it won’t be Google’s problem when your competition figures out just how easily they can remove you from the competitive equation.