Google has issued a warning to bloggers and marketers concerning the use of “dofollow” links for free or gifted products.
Writing on the Webmaster Central Blog, the Google Webspam Team doubled down on the company’s position when it comes to what they view as paid links.
“Links that pass PageRank in exchange for goods or services are against Google guidelines on link schemes.
“Bloggers should use the nofollow tag on all such links because these links didn’t come about organically (i.e. the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link).
“Companies, or the marketing firms they’re working with, can do their part by reminding bloggers to use nofollow on these links.”
Why is this important?
Historically, when Google has made similar pronouncements they follow up with “manual action penalties.” They target bloggers, and potentially those with the links from them, and hit them hard.
This is the on-going evolution of Google’s war against sites using underhand tactics to hoodwink search engines into ranking them higher. The Penguin algorithm update was specifically designed to recognise and penalise inorganic links.
They might look cute, but their digital namesake can cause you some serious headaches
Google began by targeting large scale “link farms”, which were churning out millions of bogus links. They also penalised those using them due to their perceived high level skewing of search results. This had a major effect on some sites. Some saw huge falls in traffic while others were dropped from search results all together.
This graph showing an unnamed website over on linkresearchtools.com shows just how badly hit visibility was for some on search engines:
Could Your Site Be Next?
With the success of the Penguin update in making sure those sites are ranking for the right reasons, Google has now turned their attention to smaller fry – the blogging community.
What does this mean for digital marketing companies? Such is the human condition, it’s likely that behaviours will only change when people start seeing the negatives.
People were buying links right up to the point they started being penalised, because it was seen as a legitimate way of boosting rankings that carried no ill effects.
For digital marketers looking to increase their brand’s ranking, the use of free stuff to get relatively high quality links will likely soon go out the window as a tactic.
So Should I Stop Sending Bloggers Free Stuff?
While changing the links to “nofollow” will mean that bloggers will not pass any authority to your site, the referral traffic can still be highly valuable. Potential customers will still be able to get to the things you are selling.
As a result, the chances are that instead of a blanket targeting of bloggers – as described above – digital marketers and PR execs will use a much more targeted approach to domains that have a large readership that is relevant to their product.
As ever with Google, it will probably be a waiting game to see exactly what, if any, fallout there will be. But it is highly unlikely that it will have the same impact as the major Penguin updates of previous years.
In the meantime it would be great to hear from businesses who use bloggers for links or bloggers themselves to let us know what they think of Google’s stance.