What used to be the common way of helping your community find your peers is now outlawed — reciprocal linking is now a violation against the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Webmasters are outraged over the recent change in Google’s policy, now specifically targetting what they refer to as “Link Schemes”:
Examples of link schemes can include:
- Links intended to manipulate PageRank
- Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
- Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
- Buying or selling links
Item #1, #2, and #4 have long been questioned as ethical behavior when it comes to using the hyperlink, all of them somehow gaining the reputation from webmasters and publishers who now largely consider them as inappropriate ways of link building. #1 though is always an after–effect of a hyperlink, be it positive or negative in an SEO context, unless when used with the
rel="nofollow" attribute which is typically ignored by search engines. On the other hand, #3 is a different discussion altogether.
Changing the Web’s Nature
Google’s action is significantly questionable since it is posed to alter the way the world wide web behaves, something that already existed even before the birth of the search giant. In a way, it tries to take away our freedom to link meaningfully; your blogroll of friends who most likely are also linking to you is now a possible violation that could get you banned from the Google index!
Google’s Matt Cutts acknowledges the ramifications of their policy update, even suggesting that webmasters may do as they please, continue reciprocal linking and all, just as Google can have their way with regards to their index and the search results they produce. Though all of these actions are indeed meant to produce better results for their users, it is also irresponsible to pass the burden of weeding out unethical linking to the publishers themselves. In their effort to completely remove spam sites from their index, they are effectively asking for a change in behavior from the majority of users and publishers. It’s like regulating and telling us how to use an icepick since it can also be used to do bad things. So maybe my example was a little off, but you get my drift.
I think it’s now time for us to realize that Google has some sort of “information monopoly,” based on the fact that it is the preferred tool people use to find anything they need, now both online and even offline. It has too much power at its hands that no publisher or webmaster would dare Google’s ire, since a great deal of sites rely heavily on search engine traffic, in most cases, Google. To be fair, the search giant isn’t to blame since none of its competitors have provided compelling technology to suggest a trend that moves toward a democratized search market. At the end of the day, almost everyone will still be using Google for almost everything they do.
With this in mind, all the more do we need a more understanding Google, we need it to practice its “don’t be evil” mantra pro–actively without adversely affecting those who always try to play fair.
Nurturing Responsible Publishers & Webmasters
Taken in a positive context, though Google’s move may appear over–zealous, their actions should help nurture a more responsible breed of publishers and webmasters. By suggesting that we do as we please, they may be daring us to behave within the bounds of what we think is right, with or without reciprocal linking or the other schemes they cited. By doing so, they can adjust accordingly and learn what parameters to give weight on and what to disregard, to produce the most appropriate search results and discard what shouldn’t be there. However, the process may not be straightforward, it is likely that many of us publishers may be affected in the short–term. And the bad ones weeded out in the long run.
It’s gonna be rough, but what choice do we really have? In the end, both users, publishers, and webmasters will benefit from all this. Hopefully.
Written by Markku Seguerra, rebelpixel.com.