Digging behind the latest SEO answers from Google
If you know anything about SEO, there's a fascinating Q&A with the Google search quality team over at Digital Inspiration. Here's some analysis of what they had to say, which includes:
If you don't nofollow affiliate links, your search engine rankings will suffer.
- Links in copy ARE worth more than other ones.
- Fresh content isn't a ranking factor.
- Rel=canonical is suggested for cross-domain redirects - 301 isn't mentioned.
- Google doesn't seem to like guest blogging.
- Linking out both benefits you and doesn't benefit you at the same time. (Hey, don't shoot the messenger).
Of course, just because they say it, doesn't mean it's true. But here goes.
Finally a statement on affiliate links and nofollow ...
... just not the one anyone wanted.
Q10 is about adding affiliate links to blog posts. You might have an Amazon account, for instance, and decide to include a link to buy something that you've reviewed - knowing that you get commission for any sales that result from the traffic.
To many people, this doesn't count as a paid link. You haven't been asked to put it there, you've chosen to put it there yourself. So should you nofollow the link to stay within Google's guidelines or not?
What Google now says
Google has faffed around for some time about affiliate links, and has appeared reluctant, in the past, to say they definitely count, in its eyes, as paid links.
So the first part of the answer seems gracious enough - it's fine in Google's eyes to include links like this. Jeez, thanks for the permission. Sarcasm mode over, the second half of the answer looks a bit more troubling:
While it is legitimate for a webmaster to monetize great content, in order to perform well in Google’s search results it is important to take technical steps in order to prevent unnatural passing of PageRank through paid links, e.g. by either using the “nofollow” attribute or by creating a robots.txt file.
What it's said in the past
This seems to go further than in Google's official statement on paid links, which doesn't really address the affiliate issue. In particular, its page on affiliate programs doesn't mention nofollowing the links. (If you'd like to have these points reinterpreted in a more ranty way, read SEOmofo's comment half way down here).
It also goes further than Matt Cutts did in a recent interview where he suggested that Google just ignored affiliate links:
Typically, we want to handle those sorts of links appropriately. A lot of the time, that means that the link is essentially driving people for money, so we usually would not count those as an endorsement.
Google now seems to be saying that "in order to perform well" you should nofollow the link, and not just rely on Google working it out and ignoring it. The threat of what happens if you don't nofollow it is clear ...
Are links in copy worth more?
Things like block level analysis have been around so long, I'm surprised anyone is surprised that Google would treat links in copy as more important that footer links or auto-generated related content lists.
Anyway, Q13 is this:
"Are all links on a page treated the same or does the order of links matter. For instance, will Google flow more juice to the links that are in the first paragraph of the story than the ones that are in the page footer?"
The answer is this:
Our link analysis is getting much more sophisticated than the original PageRank used to be. To answer your question, we may treat links across different areas in a different way, as some areas of a page might not be as relevant to the content of the page as others.
Reasonable surfer patent
Which would not be inconsistent with the reasonable surfer patent that was recently granted to Google (which they may or may not be using in that form these days - but the direction of travel seems clear.)
Fresh content doesn't matter
I never really got this "fresh content is important for SEO" stuff people trot out. The suggestion seems to have taken hold that fresh content, in and of itself, helps the rest of your pages rank better.
Matt Cutts was interviewed in March 2009 and was reported as saying:
Matt said that fresh content isn’t part of the algorithm, but it almost always gets you more links than if your site is stale.
The answer to Q20 in this latest Q&A suggests that taking a long period off publishing content will make no difference to your existing rankings.
Compare that with the people prattling on in these pages. If you want your site to feel that it's up to date or you want to target more keywords or earn more links, then create fresh content.
But fresh content itself isn't going to help your old content (actually, it might harm it if your site architecture is poor by pushing old content ever more links away from the home page ...)
Changing your domain name
Question 3 was about handling moving your website. The answer was:
"One easy way to handle duplicate content across different websites is to use the rel=canonical link element. Other possibilities are included in our blog post about handling legitimate cross-domain duplicate content."
It's interesting that they choose to give rel=canonical as the key method they quote - and not a 301 redirect.
In January Google clamped down on smart affiliates using cross-site 301s on affiliate links and stopped them passing value ... the key message is, if you’re moving sites, don’t rely on 301s to save all your link juice – build up the link profile to the new domain with fresh linkbuilding.
Guest blogging: can't you just answer a straight question?
Q11 seems sensible enough. "I've got a new blog but noone knows it's there. So I've guest-blogged - do the links back to my site count in Google's eyes?"
I mean, "yes" or "no" would seem good answers here. Instead we have this:
In general I would recommend putting that work into your own site, instead of creating content for other people’s sites.
It’s much better to create great content for your blog and to let other sites refer visitors to your site on their own.
That's not the question. The question is "Is Google fine with guest blogging and do links ‘earned’ from writing guest blogs matter?" Are they trying to give the impression that their algorithm looks for guest posts and discounts them - or can't they just say "yes" or "no"?
How does linking out benefit you
The question is:
I know that inbound links will help my site’s ranking in Google search results but is that true for outbound links as well?
The answer is:
No, they don’t contribute directly towards your site’s rankings ... On the other hand, being selective and preferring quality sites to link to might help in how Google perceives your site.
First up, see the yes / no thing above. Surely these two halves of the answer contradict themselves - and it's not a long answer. Or does being perceived better not help your site's rankings directly? Why would it be worth being perceived better then?
Anyway, secondly, Matt Cutts has previously said that:
In the same way that Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods, parts of our system encourage links to good sites.
So, I think that, overall, we can take it that linking out is a good idea in general. Sadly, not enough of one to encourage it to happen more. Personally, I'm with Aaron Wall:
[Google] could undo the years of FUD that destroyed the link graph by stating the importance of outbound links, and then putting a bit of weight on it.
Paid link penalties
I've already pointed out the answer to Q9 says that Google appears to have taken action over a UK newspaper group - presumably the Express - offering advertorials with links for SEO benefits. Thanks to Jon Hudghton (and on Twitter) for spotting the interview.
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