July 01, 2007

Is There an Antidote to the Link Tags Virus?

After Thursday's comments on how a few misguided individuals have tried to finagle better Google PageRank showings and higher Technorati Authority through the promotion of viral link tag spam, there has been some discussion in the blogosphere on the practice, and whether it's as bad a move as I made it out to be. One of the biggest outstanding questions is if there is indeed a loophole in how popular search engines rate authority and influence, is the onus on the individual not to exploit it, or instead on the technology provider to make a change?

While Kent Newsome, a great blogger with strong observations on a near daily basis (See: From Creation to Abandonment: the 5 Stages of Blogging for a great example) seemed to take the brunt of my comments, the issue is more than one individual, as there are many people trying to scream loud enough to be heard in a blogosphere that may favor the strong over the weak. While Chip Camden amusingly said that Kent was playing "Robin Hood" to my "Sheriff of Technorati", I've seen others who considered getting in on the viral links scheme reconsider the practice when they realized it could have some long-lasting, impactful, negative results. Kent's Robin Hood may have been trying to rob the rich to feed the poor, but at least in that storied tale, Robin Hood distributes the loot to others, something Kent can't do while his own Technorati Authority skyrockets.

Earl Moore, who also participated in the viral links scheme, writes:

"If it’s a fraud, then it’s one I’ve participated in as well... I’ll admit for myself that I don’t feel one hundred percent positive about “Viral Tag” links. Going with my gut, I wouldn’t post another one and am even considering pulling the post I have (yes, after the horse has already left the barn)."

Another poster, on a blog called Planet Apex, who just this Friday had opted to join in on the viral tags exchange, quickly realized the error of his ways, writing:

"I have decided to pull out of the Viral-Tags link exchange scheme. I did not realise the risks involve when I joined it. I now understand that instead of increasing your PageRank it can actually decrease it or even get you banned on Google."

Google's power on referring traffic cannot be understated. As much fun as it is to gain the occasional reciprocal links from fellow bloggers, upstream, sidestream or downstream, Google drives anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of all traffic for most sites, making it true that It’s Google’s Way or The Highway, as Garry Conn wrote this week, when he said, "I have made a major mistake. And I don’t want you to do the same thing."

Basically, Google's guidelines specifically prohibit statistical cheating like viral link tags. Google's Webmaster Guidelines state:

"Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

So, it's not so much as Kent says when he wrote on Warner Crocker's site that "The blogosphere is like Deadwood and (Louis) is trying to paint it as Miletus." This isn't the Wild West, even though it's certainly no utopia either. There are guidelines written up by some powerful technology companies that have direct impact on how our content is indexed, searched and presented, and as bloggers who work under this scenario, we should have an eye on what are good links versus bad links, good practices and bad.

Some last notes on viral links and search engine optimization come in the comments of an excellent "Search Engine Optimization Do’s and Don’ts" post at Thought Sparks. I'll let them speak for themselves:

"Plain and simple, honesty and integrity always pays. Short-cuts will not have lasting value and many of these folks will someday soon have a rude awakening. They will also frustrate themselves with the volume of time they’ve spent on futility... And even if you are successful, does one achieve that end at the cost of personal integrity?"

It may be one thing to exchange links. It's quite another to exchange integrity for scheming. Rather than making this a personal issue between those who have sinned and those who have not, we should just eliminate the practice and ask Technorati and Google to clean up the mess.