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“Get a free Link from Wired” was a Stupid Headline

If that “article” over at SearchEngineLand didn’t make you question the motivation of those guys, and their value to the search marketing community, I worry about your mental health. Believe it not, there is more to search marketing than paying Google for AdWords. And I dont mean there’s all the detail behind Google AdWords Professional status, or how to use bid management. I meant paid advertising is not the answer to every need (and may already be in the dumper anyway), and search marketers really need to pay attention to search marketing, not just paid search marketing. That’s why this article is so disgusting. It hurts search marketers — all of us. And it benefits who, exactly?

It benefits the reporters, that’s who it benefits. SearchEngineLand. They get a sensational headline and some attention. But at the cost of not only shutting down a perfectly legitimate and viable web collaboration opportunity (as Jeremy Luebke properly notes immediately in the comments on Sphinn) but far worse – they take a public stance that a collaborative web site should be using nofollow. Ouch. When was Danny Sullivan given authority to speak on behalf of web participants? Or search marketers, even?

I won’t argue that a wiki is open to abuse. I won’t argue that the single spammy page they observed was spammy. But who made it Danny’s business to police the web enforcing a default behavior of no follow? And when did that become a wise move for Danny Sullivan and the SearchEngineLand folks? And why is that?

To publish an article highlighting an open wiki with a title like “free links from Wired” is far more abusive than the spammy page they witnessed. Not only is it inappropriate, but it is intimidating and bullying. The guys at Wired may be naive, but they may also believe in their wiki and the democratic process of wiki editing. They deserve an opportunity to try and succeed without some former spammers shouting out in the headlines “hey look! an exploit! Free links for the taking!”. Oh, and remember.. they did that on a search marketing web site.

The follow on comments that suggest this “expose” was for the good of the wiki or the web or whatever? I totaly call BS on that. Puhleeeeze. Trashy sensationalism that crossed ethical borders for the sake of short term audience attention grabbing, at the expense of Wired and all of us in marketing and web publishing who have to deal with the fall out: default no follow on everything published on the web. I’m sorry but that is garbage.

That article was shameful. Disgusting. Just plain wrong. Bad for everyone. I expected much better from SearchEngineLand.

From the Wired wiki comment section:

Posted by: WOMP

Danny, why would you bother posting in here when it can easily enough be edited? Doug’s right on this…all this does is serves to demonstrate the link-obsessed ass-kissing nature of the SEO industry in general. EVERYONE, GET YOUR WIRED WIKI LINKS …


  1. Markus wrote:

    I couldn’t agree more. Is SEL the new “nofollow” apostle ?

    Got enough with Matt Cutts and Google on ‘how to run your business, what you’re allowed to do…” and so on.

    If they don’t want to use nofollow on their sites, that’s fine, but I’m fed up with ‘nice and gentle and pure white wannabe googler’s friend’ SEO gurus practicing “nofollow” proselytism and outing sites (either the greyish ones or killing opportunities for others).

    Barry and Danny must be nice guys and good SEO, no doubts about it, but I think they were wrong on this one. And I may be wrong, but I think when wikipedia started to use nofollow links, they were not so enthusiastic.

    (sorry for my bad grammar)

    Friday, January 11, 2008 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Peter Davis wrote:

    One person’s trashy sensationalism is another person’s link bait. And, of course this is going to help the reputation of the industry, right?

    Friday, January 11, 2008 at 10:19 pm | Permalink
  3. Stuart wrote:

    Oh well the peanut gallery will love them for it and it’s sad when people of their stature want to play to peanut gallery.

    When I saw the title and who wrote it I found it hard to believe that he would stoop to such a low level just to get some attention.

    Friday, January 11, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  4. JaeWeb wrote:

    I personally don’t read SEL due to the poor signal to noise ratio, but this sort of thing from the “godfather” is a little disturbing?

    Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  5. @JeaWeb, when my comment is released from moderation, I hope both the apologies and he additional explanation will make you feel it was less disturbing.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  6. I’m going to try and post my early comment again, this time without a link reference which may be way it is stuck in moderation hell (despite that NOT being an embedded link)

    John, we apologized for highlighting the issue in our article. I’ll apologize here again to you personally and to anyone who was upset with the headline, the article or any damage it cause the search marketing space. As I said in my original post, in hindsight, we would have dropped a quiet note to Wired mentioning that this as something they might want to look at. I again, without reservation or hesitation, apologize.

    In terms of ascribing our “motivations” based on one single article out of what, over 6,000 or more that we’ve published, I’d say you’re now getting sensationalist and open to the same accusations you want to point at us — that you just want some attention.

    I mean, I’ve written article after article over the years defending SEOs from accusations of being spammers, vandals and cast-asides that should be shunned. I tried to see if we could get the SEO community to agree to at least one standard, that people wouldn’t link spam. But really, you think I’m that hard up for traffic that out of my busy day I thought, “Yeah, let’s screw Wired — we really need the traffic.”

    Again, we shouldn’t have done the article. It was a mistake, a bad move, and I don’t know much more to say about that other than ask that you consider people do make mistakes without them being part of a bigger plot that, in the past, you’ve often assumed in your writings was underway at Search Engine Land. I’d like to think we have a decent track record at this point that disproves that.

    Also, to be very clear, we did not take a public stance on Wired needing to use nofollow, nor were we acting as the nofollow police, issuing them a ticket. Go back, read the article without immediately thinking of how you’d like to slam us for it, and quote me the part where we said that. While you’re at it, can you also document why you call me a former spammer

    We pointed out that they don’t use nofollow. That’s it. And that was a surprise, given how easy it was for people to create pages — with a page we found, by the way, showing up as spam in a regular news search we did. If we’d come across spam from say Google Page Creator showing up, somehow I suspect we wouldn’t get ripped if we’d done a similar article called “Get Your Free Link From Google Page Creator.” Rather, more likely lots of people would have started laughing at Google, giving it a poke in the eye and writing about why Google isn’t using nofollow. But the Wired system was much lesser known, as we discovered — despite being part of Wired, and I wish we hadn’t highlighted the openness of it. And again, I apologize for that, as I’ve done in my article and to the people over there privately.

    In terms of nofollow, if Wired doesn’t want to use it, more power to them. The choice is entirely up to Wired, just as the choice is entirely up to any site owner that wants to. That’s what I’ve said from the very beginning when nofollow was introduced. As a site owner myself, I’ll do what I want.

    In all the hype over paid links and nofollow, people like Markus above are forgetting the original reason that nofollow was brought in, to let site owners help fight spam. And when it came in, as I’ve said, my statement on it then remains the same as now — no, it won’t stop spam, but yes, as a site owner, I’m glad to have it. And if I choose to use it (which I do), I do not need people trying to make me think I’m somehow supporting Matt Cutts’ war on paid links. Paid links and nofollow are an entirely different issue than user generated content and nofollow.

    Similarly — and feel free to quote me on this all you want — if someone doesn’t want to use nofollow or link blocking in user generated content, they are NOT doing anything wrong. I think that anyone with user generated content better have some type of deterrents and policing in place to prevent spam, but what and how they do that is entirely up to them.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  7. Nebraska wrote:

    I miss ThreadWatch.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  8. john andrews wrote:

    @Markus: You said “I’m fed up with ‘nice and gentle and pure white wannabe googler’s friend’ SEO gurus practicing “nofollow” proselytism and outing sites (either the greyish ones or killing opportunities for others).” and that as well said, thanks.

    @Peter Davis, Stuart, and Jaeweb: Exactly.

    @Danny: Yes, all comments that contain links go into moderation. Honestly I didn’t have much hope for this issue getting respect, so I didn’t follow along after posting it yesterday. I’m glad to see the supportive comments, the apology, and that the issue was not simply brushed off as more acceptable link bait.

    I’m not sure your lengthy explaining here helps anything (no need to apologize to me personally, by the way. I deal with whatever the web is, no matter who messes it up).

    As for going back and rereading the original article, I will suggest here that the impressions I got from my initial read are more likely to mirror the public perception that is the damage done by that article. I have no interest in spending more time on it. I almost deleted this post entirely after reading you had apologized and restracted your article.. until I checked and saw I had assumed incorrectly about any retraction. With or without your “disclaimer” at the top, in my opinion the article supports a general attitude of spamming to the search marketing community, maintains an heir of superiority in defending the initial article and even suggesting it was “tongue in cheek”, and continues to reinforce a suggestion that smart webmasters use nofollow because otherwise they are naive or will be spammed. It also continues to confirm for many that search marketers are opportunistic spammers. I completely disagree with those last two assertions.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Permalink
  9. I don’t, nor have I ever, encouraged the search marketing community to spam.

    I have, over the years and on numerous occasions, stood up for the search marketing community against those that would trash everyone in it as spammers and of providing no value to the web.

    I am not defending the original article and find it difficult to see how you can say this in the same post when you yourself note that I retracted it; when I made it clear it shouldn’t have been written in the first place.

    I highly recommend that anyone with a system that allows open commenting or editing ensure they have deterrents in place. Damn right, John. Smart webmasters better use something — nofollow or whatever they want, so that when they leave barn doors open, and a minority of a particular community (say SEOs) make use of it, the entire community doesn’t get blamed.

    At Wired, we saw a barn door left wide open that if it were at Google, no one would have batted an eye about pointing out. But the Wired system was little known, and we were wrong in pointing it out.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 3:36 am | Permalink
  10. Doug Heil wrote:

    You seem to be saying that the Wired site is somehow different than For the life of me; I don’t see that difference. They have editors who look at articles and such and mark them as spam as they see fit. Sphinn has editors who look at spam as well and mark it as spam as they see fit. Sphinn does not use the nofollow tag for articles and blogs that are submitted. Neither does Wired.

    What’s the diff?

    How can anyone post an article to searchengineland such as the one posted about Wired; telling everyone how bad Wired is (or how good) they are for allowing links without nofollow tags, and do so with a straight face knowing all the while it is “exactly” what the site does on a daily basis? Sphinn was meant as a place for SEO types to submit their own articles or other’s articles, and sphinn allows a very direct link leading to the article…. whether blatant self-promotion or not. Tell me again how different sphinn is compared to Wired? I’m not getting it. Sorry.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  11. IncrediBILL wrote:

    Anyone that thinks the spammers weren’t already eyeballing and using Wired are naive because Danny wouldn’t have found that spammy page if the spammers didn’t already know about the site.

    FWIW, I posted something over a year ago pointing people to all the wide open wiki’s and tiki’s of the world hoping people would clean up their act.

    Anyone can find them with a simple Google search such as “inurl:/wiki viagra” or “inurl:/tiki cialis” and so on and so forth.

    Some sites I specifically exposed did fix the problem, some didn’t, and those didn’t that were already being spammed are still being spammed, no harm no foul, because any BH spamming idiot with a fundamental understanding of Google search would’ve found them in 2 seconds anyway.

    Did I do anything bad?

    Of course not because the spammers already knew about those sites before I did, just like they knew about it before Danny did.

    IMO, Danny closed one very prominent source of spam and the big fuss is Wired was ticked about having egg on their face so now it’s a fiasco.

    With that said, John is also correct in that a very good resource of raw links is also lost, but you can’t have it both ways. It can be a spam free wide open resource with NOFOLLOW or it can be a spam haven without it.

    Come on people, use those brains, I know they still function at some base level…

    @Bill: Thanks for the comment. I don’t lament the loss of a link source. I regret the bully behavior put forth by first the search engines and now the search marketers.  The link spammers seem to be blind to the real web, where most content is still legitimate and most back links are still genuine. That’s fine, and they can live in their own world of nofollow and paid linking schemes, but when they start to impose their religion on everyone else (by, for example, pointing at open systems and saying “hey! free links for the grabbing!”) someone has to speak up. I did.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  12. IncrediBILL wrote:

    Can’t edit typo, I meant to say…

    IMO, Danny closed one very prominent source of POTENTIAL spam and the big fuss is Wired was ticked about having egg on their face so now it’s a fiasco.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  13. randfish wrote:

    This blog post (and a similar one from another source) are pure hypocrisy, crass negative link (and attention) baiting and feed off the natural draw of drama on the Internet. For shame, John. To think I had respected you, invited you to events and even recommended your services. On occasion, your posts and comments have made me question your integrity or worry that my respect for you was unfounded. Here, you’ve sealed the deal.

    “Trashy sensationalism that crossed ethical borders for the sake of short term audience attention grabbing”

    Repulsive, derisive filth (and obvious hypocrisy). Disgusting.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  14. Sphinn uses nofollow, Doug. That should be covered in our help files; it was discussed before and after we instituted it (see the New Features thread), and you can look at links to see it. We use it in comments. There was a bug where it wasn’t applied to some copy-and-paste links, and I think it was too hard to go back and apply it to comments before it was brought in — about three months worth.

    Monday, January 14, 2008 at 4:02 am | Permalink
  15. Doug Heil wrote:

    Comments, yes it does. But that’s not my point and you know it Danny. ANY self-promotional article written by anyone, no matter how crappy it is can get voted to the front page of and be there with a very clear and very direct link, withOUT the nofollow tag. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. You also know exactly what I mean. Do YOU vouch/recommend every link that is submitted? Does Wired? The answer is clearly no. To say your site uses the nofollow tag is laughable. Calling out another site not using nofollow is just not acceptable in many eyes, and for many reasons.

    Monday, January 14, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Permalink