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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nofollow for Ads?

Yvo Schaap today writes:

The search engines have become the gatekeepers of the internet. As a webmaster – if you don’t play along by their rules, you won’t be getting any high rankings: the so called holy grail for websites. Matt Cutts – Google employee – has made it very clear ... that buying and selling links is not corresponding with the webmaster guidelines and to be found a non-ethical practice because it’s not ’natural’.

But who is Google to make the rules for webmaster on what they can sell and put on their sites and what not? Same goes for buying links. I don’t see the harm, except in the fact that Google – if they don’t like selling links – need to start working on their ranking algorithm again. Isn’t that their task, instead of making rules that suit them best?

Yvo goes on to quote Google’s Matt Cutts having said that...

... The rel="nofollow” attribute is one way, but there are numerous other ways to do paid links that wonÂ’t affect search engines, e.g. doing an internal redirect through a url that is forbidden from crawling by robots.txt.

I’m very divided on the whole issue. Certainly, nofollow was not meant for ads when it was introduced – quote Google’s original description of where to use this value:

We encourage you to use the rel="nofollow” attribute anywhere that users can add links by themselves, including within comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists. Comment areas receive the most attention, but securing every location where someone can add a link is the way to keep spammers at bay.

“Anywhere that users can add links by themselves"? Well, when you as webmaster handle your own ad system, users can’t just add the links by themselves... they need to go through you to set up an ad. Or differently put, if ads are really part of “users adding links by themselves,” then the original definition simply stops being useful... a blogger would suddenly need to nofollow post links when readers emailed them the URL, because the reader thereby indirectly “added the link themselves,” etc. – it’s just not what Google originally meant.

My personal approach is quite simply that I started to nofollow ads here because I don’t want to research every advertiser’s website in detail (“do they only want to buy PageRank or do they think the ad will be a fit?”). But that’s my personal opinion. A lot of people seem to think it’s not Google’s job to tell them how to write HTML or how to set up their ads... in particular when Google sells an ad system of their own and is often a shiny example of how to ignore any kind of HTML standards others defined.

Your opinion?

[Thanks Yvo and Pete A.!]

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