Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz Michael Gray Atlas Web Service and Mike McDonald of Web Pro News SES San Jose
Mike McDonald: Ok, good. This is Mike McDonald again and we’re at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose with Rand Fishkin and Michael Gray. How are you doing, guys?
Michael Gray: I’m good how are you?
Rand Fishkin: Very well. Thank you.
Mike McDonald: How’s the show going? Everybody…good time, lots of great thing, right? More information.
Michael Gray: It’s a good show. Yep.
Rand Fishkin: [shaking his head] It’s terrible. This thing’s awful [laughter].
Mike McDonald: No? We’re filming this, right?
Rand Fishkin: We are. We are. What conference is this?
Mike McDonald: Search Engine Strategies, San Jose, 2007
Rand Fishkin: Just checking.
Mike McDonald: Right. So the paid link thing was like the spiciest dish on the menu, right, yesterdy? I mean that was really contentious and crazy.
Rand Fishkin: Sounds about right. Thanks to our friend here.
Mike McDonald: Exactly. You had a great Powerpoint that I’m going to get from you later. We’ll put some of that up online
Michael Gray: Yeah. We’re definitely going to put that out. I’ve had a lot of requests for that online.
Mike McDonald: I’m sure you have. So the paid linking thing….How did you come out of that as opposed to going….I mean, do you feel like we accomplished anything or what?
Michael Gray: I don’t think we’re ever going to get anywhere. Google has a stance and I don’t really see them being flexible at all on it. You know, they’ve got a goal that they’re trying to achieve and they’re going about it a certain way and people on the other side, you know, we’ve got a different goal. So I don’t know that there’s a compromise there.
Mike McDonald: Right.
Rand Fishkin: So I thought there were a couple of really odd things about the panel to me. So one of the things that I thought was particularly odd was that when we started the panel, Matt Cutts kind of had this philosophy of “You webmasters need to use nofollow on your paid links.” And then during the Q&A I kind of pitched him this question: Well from an engineering standpoint, can you rely on Webmasters to use nofollow? Like shouldn’t you want do that algorhythmically? Why would you ever want to ask us to do it and dilute that pool? Don’t you just want to do it yourself? And his response was, “Oh no. Yeah. You’re right. We don’t really care if you do it. It’s more to protect publishers than it is to help or hurt SEOs.” So…
Mike McDonald: Now I remember…And it seems like the point was made…I don’t know if it was before or after that exchange…but he said based on the blog post you made about the paid links that his engineers were able to find like ten of the eleven algorhythmically.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah, so why do you need nofollow if you’re finding ten out of eleven algorhythmically? I mean it seems almost bizarre to say…to have this kind of like, “You should go do this. This should be something you focus or spend time on as an SEO worrying about paid links,” or as a publisher, that kind of thing, as opposed to, “ Hey, look, we’re going to do what we do at Google. You’re going to do what you do in the open marketplace. We’re going to try and help find you…I mean…
Michael Gray: I think a lot of Matt’s point is about fear. They want you to act certain way so that, again, it’s easier for them and they’re in the position of control.
Rand Fishkin: Is it though? If you were an engineer working in the Google plex, wouldn’t it be easier if you didn’t have to worry about the noise of nofollows and non-nofollows?
Michael Gray: It would definitely be easier but I think they still want to have you in a position of fear. They want you to be doing things their way. They’re definitely attacking it saying, we’re pretending it’s not there because it would be stupid for them not to but I just think they want to scare you into….
Rand Fishkin: Um Hm. And then, so I was confused too about why if…you know, I thought Todd and Greg brought up two relevant points, which is, “Look. Let’s say you have a relevant link on a site that’s about your topic that you paid for but someone editorally vouched for it and they kind of looked through it and they’re not going to promote it. Wouldn’t Google want to count that over, you know, David Dougdale’s rentVine video, which I thought was a great video. I linked to it. I thought it was cool. I linked to the rentVine site.
Mike McDonald: I think we linked to it.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. Everybody linked to it, right. So I kind of see Greg’s point. It does seem a little more relevant. But then I also see the point of like, Ok. Well if I buy from a text link ad network maybe that is a lot of irrelevance. So why not be more careful in the messaging? Why not be more specific about which text links are bad and which aren’t?
Mike McDonald: One of the really compelling arguments, I think, or one of the interesting points is the concept of this is a problem that has been created by Google’s value of links or their emphasis on the importance of the link. So it seems to be something that to some extent or to a large extent or completely that it’s a self-created issue. Right?
Michael Gray: They defintely created the economy of page rank. I don’t think that they had any clue that people were going to ever try to buy, sell, trade…that monetary value was ever going to be attached to it. And I think that’s part of the problem of the Google plex. They live in this little vaccum where everybody’s all happy Googlers. They’re not thinking that in the real world people have less pure motives and people are interested in purely self-gain and people will do things like that and they’re never going to get there.
Rand Fishkin: I’ll tell you what. I think if f I were, you know, Bill or Matt or something, I’d probably hire someone like Michael. I would, just because you would want someone who’s been on that gray side, dark side of SEO giving you the perspective the whole time. I mean, you know, I went and…you were there right? What was it, a couple months ago or a couple weeks ago, my fiancee and I came down to San Francisco and Google was like, “Hey, come in and talk to us about link spam and manipulation and SEO and blah blah blah.” And, you know, there’s a lot of people at Google who have no familiarity with that world.
Mike McDonald: Is it the Pink Panther movies where he had the guy that would hide away and try to ambush him all the time?
Rand Fishkin: Cato. Michael, you can be Google’s Cato.
Mike McDonald: Google Cato. I like that. [laughter]
Michael Gray: And again another thing. We were talking with Matt at lunch yesterday and I was sitting there with Dave Emin and he was talking about how they’re bringing back…the API. They have the new API, which is the Ajax, which really can’t work for everybody. They’re bringing it back for universities. And as soon as he saw it, [?] I said you know you guys you have to really be a university. We’re really checking these things. You can’t fake that you’re a university just so you can get the API. So, you know, some people are starting to think that way but I don’t know that the large percentage of Google people are coming in there thinking that way.
Rand Fishkin: The nofollow thing, too, is so frustrating because inside this little insular world of SEO, sure, we all know what nofollow is.
Mike McDonald: Do you use nofollow on your stuff?
Rand Fishkin: Well on SEO Moz, so we have like…you know if you comment on SEO Moz and it’s your first comment, no, you’re getting no link value out of that. But after a hundred comments or thumbs up or whatever, then we take off the nofollow…kind of say, “Ok, you’re vetted. You’re clean now.” And hopefully anyone who’s a bad guy has been banned by that point.
Mike McDonald: Or they’re not going to sit there and do a hundred comments.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. No one’s going to sit there and do a hundred comments.
Michael Gray: Not worth the time.
Rand Fishkin: Right. Not worth the time.
Michael Gray: With nofollow…I nofollow all of myWikipeda links as a Word Plus plug-in. I recommend everybody do that. Put that on, install it on their blog.
Rand Fishkin: Aw…I love you, Michael.
Mike McDonald: Try to grab ‘em right off the front page.
Michael Gray: Exactly. And also, I tried taking nofollow off and actually, you know, the spam was there. There wasn’t a tremendous increase in volume of it but there was just enough of it there that people were linking to strange things. I just said you know what, I don’t have the time to invest in going through all these comments. I don’t have to worry about it as much with nofollow.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. So Matt’s point is good, right. Then, it is good for publishers. It is a great tool for publishers but to use to protect themselves. But in terms of, “You should use it every time you buy links or every time you sell links, it seems silly to say, “Well, here, let me break my own arm and then do SEO.
Michael Gray: Hopefully you’ve looked at your advertiser and make sure that they’re not the dregs of the earth selling some crap.
Mike McDonald: And aside from that, there seemed to be some attempts at middle ground where people would say, “It’s not unequivically bad all the time,” but then they would get into…the matter of intent came up. What are you intending to do when you buy or sell this link? Is it for traffic or is it for search engines? And I think that’s really…Who’s to say? The intent? What did you mean when you bought that? I don’t like that argument.
Rand Fishkin: What did you mean when you bought a link? Yeah. Going into the emotions of a marketplace as an algorhythmic engine seems like really the wrong place for it.
Michael Gray: Yeah. It’s never going to know. Even the person sitting on the other end….How do you know I didn’t link this to Rand’s just because I’m his friend. You know, he said, “Hey I’ve got a new project. Could you link to it? Could you take a look at it? If you like it, say something. If not, don’t worry about it.”
Rand Fishkin: We were going to do like an affiliate system for SEO’s most premium content. And we were like, so what we’ll do in order to make it legit is we’ll offer two versions. One has a nofollow on it and then one doesn’t have the nofollow and says, “Hey, if you would like to endorse us anyway and you editorially think we’re good quality but you also want to earn money off this, use the one with no nofollow. If you’re just doing this for the money, put the nofollow on there.” Right, so that plays to the Google intent. Nobody else in the world knows about this stuff enough to be able to do something like that.
Mike McDonald: And beyond the good and the bad and the debatable issues, the fact of the matter, the reality of the situation is you could probably argue and people will, and you have, that it’s not possible to compete for very competitive terms if you’re not going to buy some links. Do you still think that’s accurate?
Rand Fishkin: If you’re really awesome with your link fade and your viral stuff, like you can eventually get in there and that type of thing. But let’s face it, I mean, one guy on the space gets the viral [laughter] and then everybody else has got to play catch-up. You know who I actually thought was really cool on the panel was Andy Baio, right, who runs…
Michael Gray: Waxy?
Rand Fishkin: Waxy.org. He founded Upcoming, right, and then got bought by Yahoo and stuff and he’s kind of like, “Well, I’m not really in the search industry. I don’t really represent any of these viewpoints. “ And then right when the panel got to him, there were these two things he says: A) “I totally agree with Greg and Todd that if it’s relevant, why wouldn’t you count it? It doesn’t seem like a bad thing.” And then, B) “If Google is showing ads for buy text links, how can you let that happen?” And Andy was like, “That seems like the height of hypocrisy to take money from those people.”
Michael Gray: That shows that they’ve really not got their act together. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.
Rand Fishkin: It’s not Matt’s team. It’s not his responsibility and obviously he’s not directly benefiting from that. But it’s still very odd messaging.
Mike McDonald: So where do you think we’re going to end up? Like it was brought up in the session yesterday that if you’re a huge huge brand…the BMW thing. You know they’re going to throw him out for a week until they get that cleared up and then they’ll bring him back in because they have to. But if it’s SEO Moz or something like that, the whole world is not going to be like, well, Google kind of sucks for not having this. Then your odds of not coming back at all are pretty good. So there’s a bit of a double standard.
Michael Gray: That’s always been one of Google’s problems: the inequality of justice. They smack the little guy who doesn’t matter much harder than the big guy, because the big guy’s going to get put back in much quicker. That’s always been a problem I’ve seen with Google.
Rand Fishkin: What I’d love to see I think is, let’s say is for Matt and his team to concentrate on the stuff that they think really hurts them, which is to my mind, link networks. Link networks are the big thing here. I go to Michael and I buy like one link on his site. Matt says he cares; He doesn’t care. He shouldn’t care. It’s not scalable for him to care. What would be effective is for him to go, “Alright. This network, owned by this person in this market, we bought a hundred thousand dollars worth of your links on our spam team last month. We’re outing your whole network. Here it is right on my blog. Anyone who buys from there is an idiot now because we removed all the value.” That’s what I would do if I were his team. I mean, it seems to make sense, right?
Mike McDonald: If you’ve got a Lhasa Apso blog [laughter]. (You like the Lhas Apso blog?) And you’ve got casino affiliates all over the thing, that’s to me one thing. If you’ve got a Lhasa Apso blog and you have dog food bloggers, I don’t know if there is such a thing…
Michael Gray: Yeah. I’m sure there is.
Rand Fishkin: No doubt.
Mike McDonald: or other pets, or things like that, that’s another thing all together, right?
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. If you’re linking out to PetCo and you’re linking out to IAMS Pet Food or something and they paid you a hundred bucks for that link every month and they’d prefer that you didn’t put the nofollow on there…
Mike McDonald: Is that not just an ad?
Rand Fishkin: Seems like an ad.
Michael Gray: When you get into the relevancy, it gets weird sometimes because say you ran a chess blog. Wouldn’t it make sense to put a classical music link on there? I would think it makes sense because there’s probably a high likelihood that those people do it but there’s really not a thematic relationship between those two. So, again, how can an algorhythm vet that out? That’s a very complicated thing. A person has to do that.
Mike McDonald: If you’ve got a football site and you link to tennis shoes or athletic gear, it’s not necessarily football stuff.
Rand Fishkin: What’s scalable is worrying about the networks. You know, you worry about the networks, out the networks, put fear into the hearts of the networks, put fear into the hearts of the people who might be buying the networks. That’s where you’re getting the spam results that you don’t want to see, right. There’s a company ranking for search engine optimization right now who’s all paid links. And it’s kind of like, in our field, to be so visible and out there and just so obvious about it.
Mike McDonald: And what role does AdSense play in all of this? I mean, you know?
Michael Gray: If you follow the AdSense guildlines and put it where they put the big orange spot on that page, you’re probably creating a really crappy user experience. It’s good for you. It makes a lot of profit but having that block of ads right in your face, right in the prime part of your content, it’s not really good for the users if you take the ultimate goal, if that’s what your goal is saying but again, Google is in it to make money at some level.
Rand Fishkin: Does AdSense help organize the world’s information? [laughter] I don’t know. It seems questionable.
Mike McDonald: Maybe indirectly somehow. I don’t know. It’s a secondary effect.
Rand Fishkin: Makes it more valuable to put out good content so that you can monetize it, maybe?
Mike McDonald: So they can leave your content by clicking the ad words.
Michael Gray: Well again, if you want to look at it from that point, if you want to put on your ultimate tinfoil hat. They want to keep you into that low price point model where you’re only used to getting dimes and nickels from Google, instead of getting the more money you could get from more legitimate advertisers who are willing to pay a little more. They’ve got you locked into that quick and easy little hit.
Mike McDonald: Right. But if the more legitimate advertiser doesn’t want to be in your ad server and they want to have a direct link, then all of sudden that’s a bad thing, right?
Michael Gray: If you’re a publisher and you’re willing to opt into the content network, it’s quick and easy. You don’t have to go through and find all of these little sites that you can put your ads on. Google does all of that work for you. Basically, they find the sites and if it starts to rank, they start serving your ads about whatever it is, and hopefully it’s contextually related. And they do a really decent job with that. But as an advertiser, you’re never going to be able to find all of those sites on your own and content them and run that network. Again, that’s a payborg nightmare, an accounting nightmare.
Mike McDonald: Ok. Well, here’s the idea, though, maybe, what if they controlled this or attempted to control this by not necessarily zapping these sites from the index but zapping their AdSense accounts? Google is actually the impetus for them to be buying ads in the first place.
Rand Fishkin: So you’re saying if you sell links on your site without a nofollow, I, Google, am going to cut off your ability to deliver AdSense.
Mike McDonald: Right.
Michael Gray: I think one of the beauties of AdSense is Google can ding the low-quality sites but when Yahoo and MSN still rank them, Google’s able to profit off of the Yahoo and MSN traffic. That’s a nice spot to be in.
Mike McDonald: Then, I don’t have any answers. I’m sorry. [laughter] Maybe we’ll try again next time.
Rand Fishkin: Going back to the whole point of this, I don’t know where we’re going to eventually get to with link buying and selling.
Mike McDonald: I don’t think it’s going away tomorrow. I mean, I don’t think it’s…
Rand Fishkin: My hope would be that they stop focusing on little relevant paid links and spend more time on what is scalable.
Mike McDonald: And who are they getting here? Are they really zapping a lot of the little relevant paid link people or is it primarily the casino people?
Rand Fishkin: That’s where they’re playing in the fear realm, right? And that’s what they focus on when Matt shows something on his blog.
Mike McDonald: What is actually happening? I don’t know. Does anybody have any ideas?
Rand Fishkin: So, through Q&A, I get to see a lot of sites inside SEO Moz where people have had penalties and that kind of thing. Definitely some of that is paid link buying and selling and that kind of thing and you lose your ability to pass juice. There’s at least two and probably four or five big networks that are not shut down right now. They are in operation, fully effective. If I bought them for my clients, I would be ranking in a few days. So, come on. Remove that ability and then I’ll start buying the one offs.
Michael Gray: Yeah. I don’t see it going away any time soon. Probably their most effective tactic is to try and scare everybody as much as they possibly can. The more they can scare people…
Rand Fishkin: But they have to scare the right people.
Michael Gray: Right. They have to scare enough people with some great visibility.
Mike McDonald: But a lot of the people that they’re scaring are a lot of the people that are making them money, right? With the AdSense thing. Or, is that not true?
Rand Fishkin: Is someone who’s a text link broker doing anything positive for Google? Seems like it’s all more negative, from a Google-quality standpoint or a Google-relevancy standpoint.
Mike McDonald: Well I guess it would depend on the criteria of the mass link seller. I mean if they were really a stickler about it….Maybe Google should just buy a couple of them and just provide the service on their own, right?
Michael Gray: If you have a new site, you’ve really got an issue trying to get people to go to it. You could go out and hire the best writers, but unless you’ve got some links to you, until you get to the point where you’re getting rankings, you’re not going to be getting links, and it’s that catch 22 and that’s really where link buying should really play a role in the game, you know.
Mike McDonald: Legitimize it then. If you can’t control it, then legitimize it. Legalize it somehow or other and contain it. Legalize it.
Michael Gray: Well, again, that’s part of the issue. They try to make you think that it’s illegal through their wording and it’s really not. It’s something they don’t like. Your neighbor might not like that you wake up every morning and play a certain kind of music, but it’s not against the law. They might not like what you’re doing but again, it’s not against the law. In his wording yesterday the FTC said so and so and so. They offered an opinion. I have an opinion. So what? [laughter]
Mike McDonald: Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out fellows. Thanks for taking time. This is Mike McDonald. We’re at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose with WebProNews, still legal in all fifty states.