Should Google Penalize Itself?
Since the Interflora/Advertorial affair, webmaster community has been buzzing with discussion questioning Google’s own linking policies. SEO Book and Search Engine Land have covered this pretty well so there’s no need for me to repeat the events. Instead I’d like to point out that this is not the first nor the last time this is happening.
Placing rel=”nofollow” to links associated with advertising material is not an intuitive thing by any stretch of imagination. I worked with many large organisations and the level of disconnect between various marketing departments is unbelievable and Google is no exception. Do you think that every marketer understands Google’s linking policies? Of course not, and this is why Google is generally pretty lenient with unnatural links devaluing them where possible and even letting some slide (algorithmically speaking).
When there’s a problem and a reason for manual action is when somebody at Google’s search quality team notices a well-established pattern of clear and long-term manipulation of results through paid links (including advertorials). I know what you’re going to say, “oh but how can you judge the intent of the advertiser, who gives you that right?”. Well there are numerous siganls available out there including commercial anchor text, absence of other links, participation in other types of link schemes, consistency of linking across different advertorial platforms and domains…etc. Do you honestly Google is really trying to rank in their own search engine for a term “Chromebook”?
What should Google do?
Google should certainly not go and penalise their websites, that would be bad for users looking for their products. Instead they should go back and change every instance of links arranged as part of paid campaigns to include rel=”nofollow”. Finally, passing around a memo with search quality guidelines within Google’s marketing team might help them avoid any future embarrassments.