Dear search engines, please bury the rel=nofollow-fiasko

The misuse of the rel=nofollow initiative is getting out of control. Invented to fight comment spam, nowadays it is applied to commercial links, biased editorial links, navigational links, links to worst enemies (funny example: Matt Cutts links to a SEO-Blackhat with rel=nofollow) and whatever else. Gazillions of publishers and site owners add it to their links for the wrong reasons, simply because they don’t understand its intention, its mechanism, and especially not the ongoing morphing of its semantics. Even professional webmasters and search engine experts have a hard time to follow the nofollow-beast semantically. As more its initial usage gets diluted, as more folks suspect search engines cook their secret sauce with indigestibly nofollow-ingredients.

Not only rel=nofollow wasn’t able to stop blog-spam-bots, it came with a build-in flaw: confusion.

Good news is that currently the nofollow-debate gets stoked again. Threadwatch hosts a thread titled Nofollow’s Historical Changes and Associated Hypocrisy, folks are ranting on the questionable Wikipedia decision to nofollow all outbound links, Google video folks manipulated the PageRank algo by plastering most of their links with rel=nofollow by mistake, and even Yahoo’s top gun Jeremy Zawodny is not that happy with the nofollow-debacle for a while now.

Say NO to NOFOLLOW - copyright jlh-design.comI say that it is possible to replace the unsuccessful nofollow-mechanism with an understandable and reasonable functionality to allow search engine crawler directives on link level. It can be done although there are shitloads of rel=nofollow links out there. Here is why, and how:

The value “nofollow” in the link’s REL attribute creates misunderstandings, recently even in the inventor’s company, because it is, hmmm, hapless.

In fact, back then it meant “passnoreputation” and nothing more. That is search engines shall follow those links, and they shall index the destination page, and they shall show those links in reversed citation results. They just must not pass any reputation or topical relevancy with that link.

There were micro formats better suitable to achieve the goal, for example Technorati’s votelinks, but unfortunately the united search geeks have chosen a value adapted from the robots exclusion standard, which is plain misleading because it has absolutely nothing to do with its (intended) core functionality.

I can think of cases where a real nofollow-directive for spiders on link level makes perfect sense. It could tell the spider not to fetch a particular link destination, even if the page’s robots tag says “follow”, for example printer friendly pages. I’d use an “ignore this link” directive for example in crawlable horizontal popup menus to avoid theme dilution when every page of a section (or site) links to every other page. Actually, there is more need for spider directives on HTML element level, not only in links, for example to tag templated and/or navigational page areas like with Google’s section targeting.

There is nothing wrong with a mechanism to neutralize links in user input. Just the value “nofollow” in the type-of-forward-relationship attribute is not suitable to label unchecked or not (yet) trusted links. If it is really necessary to adopt a well known value from the robots exclusion standard (and don’t misunderstand me, reusing familiar terms in the right context is a good idea in general), the “noindex” value would have been be a better choice (although not perfect). “Noindex” describes way better what happens in a SE ranking algo: it doesn’t index (in its technical meaning) a vote for the target. Period.

It is not too late to replace the rel=nofollow-fiasco with a better solution which could take care of some similar use cases too. Folks at Technorati, the W3C and whereever have done the initial work already, so it’s just a tiny task left: extending an existing norm to enable a reasonable granularity of crawler directives on link level, or better for HTML elements at all. Rel=nofollow would get deprecated, replaced by suitable and standardized values, and for a couple years the engines could interpret rel=nofollow in its primordial meaning.

Since the rel=nofollow thingy exists, it has confused gazillions of non-geeky site owners, publishers and editors on the net. Last year I’ve got a new client who added rel=nofollow to all his internal links because he saw nofollowed links on a popular and well ranked site in his industry and thought rel=nofollow could perhaps improve his own rankings. That’s just one example of many where I’ve seen intended as well as mistakenly misuse of the way too geeky nofollow-value. As Jill Whalen points out to Matt Cutts, that’s just the beginning of net-wide nofollow-insane.

Ok, we’ve learned that the “nofollow” value is a notional monster, so can we please have it removed from the search engine algos in favour of a well thought out solution, preferably asap? Thanks.

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Just in case I’ve missed your email …

Just in case I’ve ignored your message: sorry. I was (am) sick, but I hope I’ll be back to work soon.



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Good to see Blogger.com cares about spam

Due to family issues I didn’t blog much recently. Today I tried to update an older post and got this

WARNING

This blog has been locked by Blogger’s spam-prevention robots. You will not be able to publish your posts …

A bit weird though, because I don’t run AdSense or other advertising, I’ve comment moderation on, and don’t post w/o entering the captchas. Probably my sidebar links have triggered a filter. Oh well.

What really bothers me is that Blogger tells me they’ll delete my blog if they don’t get a review request within 10 days or so. That could happen when I’m sick, traveling, or for tons of other reasons. Since they’ve my email addy, a warning by email would be suitable.

I’ve submitted the review request and look forward to reading the promised email reply from the Blogger team.

Update: A few hours later I got this email:

Hello,

Your blog has been reviewed, verified, and whitelisted so that it will no longer appear as potential spam. If you sign out of Blogger and sign back in again, you should be able to post as normal. Thanks for your patience, and we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

Sincerely,
Blogger Support



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Is buying and selling text links risky?

To answer the question above: Yes, selling links can be risky, buying links is quite safe, and I do recommend link brokers. I don’t want to fuel the heated “paid links evil or not” debate, but there is so much misinformation out there that I feel I’ve to step in. Two things pointed me to this topic today, TLA’s affiliate program and an article by Jill Whalen.

I got an email from Patrick Gavin from Text-Link-Ads.com (TLA) introducing his new affiliate program. I know he’s a nice guy, so I’ve signed up and placed his banner on all related pages of Smart IT Consulting Internet Services. Checking the link I found this statement on the landing page:

…our ads can … help your link popularity which is a top factor in search engine rankings.

Well, I disagree respectfully, so I wrote an article How to buy and sell (text) links and linked it as editorial note below the ads. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t promote TLA for ‘lousy’ $25 per signup. I do believe that traffic brokers like TLA provide extremely valuable services, and although I don’t use TLA’s service myself I got a few recommendations from trusted sources. So please consider TLA’s program recommended when you buy traffic.

Ok, next I stumbled upon Jill Whalen’s good article Buying Text Links - Is It Evil?. Jill does a terrific job in explaining why paid links confuse the hell out of the search engines and why they dislike selling link popularity. Basically she says that buying links isn’t evil and bought links will not get a site penalized by the engines:

It’s not a matter of if this [dropped rankings] will happen with paid text link ads, but when. It could be next week, next month, or next year. Regardless of when the engines decide to lower the boom, you can bet we’re going to hear a lot of crying in the forums about it! For now, if you’re buying text link ads, or have been thinking about it, I wouldn’t really worry about it. Just make a mental note to yourself that whatever boost to your rankings they may provide now could vanish at any time.

That’s right, the destination page may not get the PR boost, but the page carrying the link may get penalized, and unfortunately she doesn’t mention the latter fact.

If Google or another SE takes away a site’s ability to pass reputation in links that’s fatal. It may be not that big deal with outgoing links (although that’s pretty much questionable!), but internal links do lose their power too. If a site concentrates incoming links on the home page or few points of entry, the result may be that all the content pages attracting the money terms in lower link levels disappear from the search results.

So if you sell links, via broker or not, you really should make clear that your links will be castrated. Selling links with condom is fine with the engines. If you buy links, don’t worry but don’t expect an everlasting ranking boost, if any - just enjoy and convert the traffic.

Related links:
Sell and buy links via Text-Link-Ads.com (affiliate link to TLA)
Jill Whalen’s article “Buying Text Links - Is It Evil?”
My notes on buying and selling text link ads

UPDATE: Patrick’s statement: “We recommend only purchasing links on websites that have a good chance of sending you targeted traffic that converts for you. If you are getting your money’s worth in targeted traffic you don’t have to worry about how the search engines treat the link and any benefit will be a bonus.

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How to stop email spammers abusing contact forms

Recently some email spammers figured that my contact forms aren’t that safe and started relaying their spam through my machine. I’ve spotted the abuse late on a Saturday, as my inbox got flooded with cc’d emails and bounce messages. I forwared such an email to my hosting service and whilst I cleaned up my inbox they stopped the spammer. Awesome service, thank you National Net!

NationalNet support patched my PHP scripts
if (ereg(’^[_a-zA-Z0-9-]+(\.[_a-zA-Z0-9-]+)*@[a-zA-Z0-9-]+(\.[a-zA-Z0-9-]+)+$’, $email-from))
mail($email-to, $email-subject, $email-message, $email-headers…

and they sent me an email explaining what they did to stop the spammer within 15 minutes or so.

GrayWolf posts a similar case and recommends this helpful page with PHP code to stop header injection, there is more useful stuff in the manual’s comment section, and a great thread at WMW. I found that a combination of the NatNet patch and the tips provided there, plus a few custom add-ons like database lookups, should secure my email forms in the future. Next step is sending automated complaints to the spammers ISP.



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The "Internet Advancement" - Scam

Rand Fishkin, a respected and well known SEO, was cold called by a jerk from a “SEO firm” (read scammer) who tried to sell him laughable services like monthly submissions to 8,500 minor search engines to “gain ‘linkpop points’ which boost the rankings in all major engines like Hotbot, Netscape and DMOZ”. Rand’s “Internet Advancement”-asshats transcript is pretty funny, and I agree that there should be kinda SEO-blacklist anywhere on the net to prevent small businesses from wasting their marketing budgets.

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Ab in die SPAM CLINIC für einen Web site checkup!

Seit Januar 2006 wird zurückgeschossen: bisher übliche Suchmaschinen-Optimierungs-Techniken, die gegen die seit Jahren veröffentlichten Regeln verstossen, werden von Google mit Besucherentzug (Deindexierung) abgestraft.

Rette sich wer kann: Das Imperium schlägt zurück!

Suchmaschinen Marktführer Google setzt seine Etiquette rigoros durch: Suchmaschinen-Spam wird nicht länger toleriert. Wer sich nicht an die Regeln hält, fliegt aus dem Suchindex, gnadenlos. BMW.de und Ricoh.de waren nur Warnschüsse, die Invasion des digitalen Europas durch Google’s spamkiller läuft gerade erst an!

Die Web Site Spam Clinic kann deutschen Internetunternehmern helfen, verlorenes Terrain zurückzugewinnen, oder den Liebesentzug der führenden Suchmaschine abzuwenden, bevor der wirtschaftliche Schaden eintritt.

Spam Clinic DE

Spam Clinic Diagnose:
Im ersten Schritt wird die Internetseite, ggf. inklusive assoziierter Seiten, “durchleuchtet”. Dabei wird nicht nur nach eventuell vorhandenem Suchmaschinenspam gesucht, sondern auch nach technischen Hindernissen, die Suchmaschinen das Indexieren erschweren. Das ausgestellte “Attest” enthält somit nicht nur Warnungen vor (potentiell) schädlicher Suchmaschinenoptimierung, sondern auch Hinweise zur legitimen Verbesserung der Suchmaschinenkompatibilität.

Spam Clinic Therapie:
Falls es dem Unternehmen mit eigenen Ressourcen nicht möglich ist, kurzfristig für Abhilfe zu sorgen, können die Empfehlungen aus dem “Attest” auch umgesetzt werden.

Spam Clinic Reanimierung:
Wenn es schon zu spät ist, also Google eine komplette Internetseite oder sogar ein ganzes Netzwerk bereits aus dem Suchindex entfernt hat, ist oft noch eine Rettung möglich. Die Google-Experten von Smart IT Consulting können oftmals eine Reindexierung erreichen.

Spam Clinic Prophylaxe:
Google-gerechte Suchmaschinenoptimierung ist keine Hexerei, d.h. Webmaster, Entwickler und Designer sind durchaus dazu in der Lage, optimierte Seiten zu erstellen und zu pflegen, wenn sie über das notwendige know how verfügen. Smart IT Consulting kann für den know how transfer sorgen, in Form von Schulungen, regelmässigen reviews und coaching, oder anderen auf das Unternehmen abgestimmte Ausbildungsmassnahmen. Auch die Optimierung suchmaschinenfreundlicher Internetseiten durch anerkannte Experten wird angeboten.

Buchen Sie hier Ihren Web-Site-Checkup in der Spam Clinic!

Mehr Informationen hier.

Ich habe schon lange keine reisserischen Slogans mehr geschrieben, aber es liest doch auch fast jeder Deutsche die Bildzeitung, oder? Tatsächlich ist das Thema sehr viel ernster als es auf den ersten Blick erkennbar ist. Viele Unternehmer wissen nicht, dass ihre Internetseiten gegen Google’s Regeln verstossen, weil sie entweder die Suchmaschinenoptimierer nicht danach gefragt haben, oder die Antwort nicht verstanden haben. Fakt ist, dass eine immense Zahl deutscher Internetseiten absolut nicht Google-kompatibel sind, und diese sehr bald mit dem Verlust von etwa 80% ihres Suchmaschinenverkehrs rechnen müssen. Für viele Unternehmen kann schon ein einziger Monat ohne Google-traffic das wirtschaftliche Aus bedeuten.

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Spam Clinic for German Web Sites

All the talk about Google banning BMW.de, Ricoh.de and other big non-US brands has inspired me to launch a spam clinic especially for german sites. Every now and then I stumble across a German SERP and I do not like what I see. Spam rules Google.de and I don’t get why Google has an 80% market share over there. I do speak German, so helping to clean up these cluttered SERPs should be a home match;)



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Google’s cool robots.txt validator

What Andrey from Google’s Sitemaps team said: Stay tuned for more cool tools.

Google has just launched a robots.txt validator in the Sitemaps stats area, login and check it out! It’s really cool and saves a lot of time and hassles, more info here.

Also since yesterday you get a word analysis for your textual content and anchor text from inbound links, and you can see which of your pages had the highest PageRank for the last three months. Nice. Really nice.



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Where do you host your stuff?

Word is out the biggest european hosting service blocks, or at least throttles, Googlebot. Throttling crawlers is a common practice virtual hosting services make use of to save bandwidth. Blocking and throttling crawlers results in less search engine traffic. Even if you’re not an 1+1 customer, are you sure that your host plays fair? Look at your Google Sitemaps stats. If you see “unreachable URLs” in your error stats, or if your Sitemaps submisssion encounters a “robots.txt not reachable” error or other time outs, you may suffer from sneaky hosting. Dedicated servers and a great customer service aren’t that expensive. If you need an outstanding hosting service, I can recommend a great host I’m not affiliated with, just drop me a message.



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