Dear Matt Cutts:
We’re not trying to get you fired, but given the state of today’s economy and the pressing need for Fortune 500 companies to adapt to the new realities by slashing labor costs (much as every webmaster on Planet Earth has to adapt to new internet realities whenever you and your cohorts at Google decide to proclaim them) we feel it is our duty as good corporate citizens to suggest ways in which your workload could be significantly decreased.
Since this is the LinksManager blog, it will come as no surprise to you that our suggestions for lightening your workload have to do with eliminating link spam and scam attempts.
Understand, we’re not talking about ferreting out link abusers and punishing them, as you’ve long been trying to do with limited success. What we are talking about is eliminating search-engine link spamming by taking the potential benefit out of it. In other words, making it pointless because someone who succeeded in “fooling” your team would gain no Page Rank or return position advantage whatsoever.
Furthermore, we believe that Google’s adoption of our suggestions would improve the web experience for the vast majority of end users and — in capital letters AND — result in more accurate and useful Google search returns.
So, if you can spare a few moments away from the bloody-walled rooms where the Page Rank Unibombers are gently interrogated, pull up a chair, a pool float or a bar stool and lend us your ear.
For fun, let’s start with something we can probably agree on: The vast majority of SE web spamming schemes related to linking fall into one of two classes. Those that offer to sell webmasters vast numbers of random reciprocal links delivered automatically without any regard for suitability, relevancy or quality and those that offer bogus one-way links generated via three or more-way link exchanges or shell websites that exist only to host the scammer’s outbound links.
Now that the fun part’s over, let’s continue with something we absolutely won’t agree on: Google’s guidelines — your rules, in other words — are not only what inspired the perpetrators of these fraudulent linking schemes in making their career choice, they — the guidelines — are also what has enabled those scammers to live so long and prosper so richly.
Consider the way things were — or at least the way you were — during Google’s formative years. Reciprocal links were king, they were considered hot ballots in Google’s beauty pageant of life. Racking up links was like getting votes in baseball’s all-star competition, the players with the most votes made it into the big game … the top of the returns list.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it is fair to say that in attempting to eliminate the evils of earlier search engines that screamed “jackpot” whenever a site operator inserted the same hidden keyword into a page 2750 times, Google did go more than a bit overboard in rewarding sites with large numbers of essentially unevaluated links.
The results were both predictable and inevitable. Operators began bargaining, begging, lying, cheating and stealing to get links and end users were treated to such truly doleful apparitions as web rings and free-for-all link exchange pages. Ugh!
Fast forward a few years into the early 2000s and we find you trying to limit link abuse by publishing a guideline “suggesting” that webmasters not put more than 100 links on a page. Turns out it didn’t require too much effort to spread 1,000 links over ten pages instead of one and life went on as before until the guidelines were happily changed to favor relevant links from quality sites.
Too bad you didn’t stop right there. If you had there would be no need for this blog … not to mention a few zillion other blogs, rants, queries, protests and bloody, sweaty tears scattered from one end of the web to the other.
The reason you should have stopped there is because, as you very well know, quality, relevant links between sites are what make the web work. Despite the fact that very few people have used the phrase since Al Gore — not realizing that outraging nine or ten Florida computer geeks could cost him the presidency — made a mockery of it (and himself), the web is an information superhighway and like all highways the more lanes (links, in this case) it has, the more smoothly and efficiently it handles traffic.
Unfortunately, however, someone at Google traffic cop central decided that demanding links be valuable, useful, non-spamming, etc. etc. wasn’t good enough. Suddenly, the means became as important as the ends. Googlebot became as interested in a link’s origin as it did in its quality. One-way links were perceived as having more glitz than reciprocal links and a whole new black-arts industry devoted to schemes intended to generate bogus one-way links via three- and more-way link exchanges and dummy sites containing nothing but pay-for-play outgoing links was born.
Bottomline is that despite the fortune in financial and human resources you SEs spend in trying to root these scams out, the bad guys (i.e. spam artists) have little or no problem staying at least one or two steps ahead of the good guys (you and yours) because your rules are so complex, unwieldy and arbitrary you can’t revise them as fast as the con artists can develop new workarounds to evade them.
Our solution is simple and two-fold.
1. Get out of the mass numbers game. Allow — encourage, even — a million links to bloom but only evaluate a handful of them for ranking purposes. In other words, program Googlebot to only consider a maximum of, for example, 50 random links each time it visits a site and use those links to establish a “plus” or “minus” rating factor based solely on their relevancy and quality.
2. Stop caring about whether any given link is one-way, two-way, sideways or upside down. Follow your own oft-stated advice to think about things from the point of view of end users. Does an end user care whether a link is reciprocated if it leads him to information he finds useful? Does that same user find following a one-way link to an irrelevant site rewarding?
If you do both these things, what happens?
A number of things, all of them good.
First, all the “buy automated links by the pound” schemes disappear. No point in paying for hundreds of links if nobody’s counting higher than 50.
Second, the incentive to have only quality links increases because one bad apple in a small barrel makes a lot more of a mess than two bad apples in a huge barrel.
Third, website operators no longer have to balance the benefits of generating traffic via lots of links versus the possibility of violating some hidden line in the sand separating what a search engine considers a proper amount of links from what it thinks is an excessive number.
Fourth, end users would have access to more relevant links to streamline their passage along the path to enlightenment, i.e. their inquiry into the relative merits of seven brands of toasters.
Fifth, site owners with only a few links would benefit (or be penalized) by the quality of those links to the same degree as owners of sites with hundreds of links.
Sixth, three-way linking and storefront outbound link scams would become irrelevant and the black-hat entrepreneurs running them would have to retire to wherever their offshore bank accounts are.
Seventh, webmasters could concentrate on giving their site visitors the links they need without wrenching their necks trying to see if the Google Monster is gaining on them.
So there it is, Matt, the official LinksManager Twelve-Minus-Five-Step Google Anti-Spam Czar Workaholic Recovery and Search-Engine Improvement Program. Please feel free to share it with your opposite numbers at engines Y, M and A.