Eric Enge recently published an essay entitled “Penguin 2.0 Forewarning: The Google Perspective on Links”. I know about it because Matt Cutts referred to it as a “good article”. It was about links and link building, and Google’s Penguin updates. For those who don’t know, Penguin Updates are updates Google pushes out which penalize web sites that are not big brands and which Google believes have incoming links that influence their rankings (or appear to be intended to influence search rankings).
I would like to step through the article here in this blog post, and show why I believe this is illegitimate pro-Google propaganda. I don’t know Eric personally, so I can’t speak to his character. I hope he recognizes my post for what it is – an objective analysis based on what I see in his article, and have experienced with Google over the years. I’d love to know otherwise.
Note: Eric Enge is not Google
Eric clearly states “I don’t work for Google” but he also states “let’s step back and discuss what Google wants a link to represent” as if he knows what Google wants. He also cites his interview of Matt Cutts, and as I noted, Matt Cutts issued a promotional tweet of Eric’s article. Eric’s professional bio on his consulting website highlights the fact that he interviewed Matt Cutts, and the about page makes ample reference to inferred authority via “access” to “industry leaders” he interviews. I think it’s fair to say Eric trades on the good graces bestowed to him by authority figures in search world, and so it’s fair to review his article here.
I find Eric’s article to be yet another unsettling example of Google’s direct and indirect manipulation of web publishing for its own gain, at the expense of innovation, free speech, and free enterprise.
Eric is a professional link builder, and sells his services throughout the article. That Matt endorsed the article troubles me, because the idea of select professional link builders getting endorsements from the head of Google’s team to judge websites seems very, very dangerous in a conflict of interest way.
I do acknowledge that maybe Eric doesn’t know he’s “working for Google” in the way I alluded to long ago in my tongue-in-cheek “I’m Going to Work for Google” post. With a self-proclaimed “30 years” in the industry, I think he should.
I’ll address the essay topic by topic:
1. About “Links Must Be Citations”
Eric draws parallels between a “research paper” with citations in the footnotes or reference section, and web links. He suggests
“The professor only lists (links) to the other papers most relevant to and most important to to their paper. You can’t buy that, and never occurred to researchers to try and do that with each other. This system was pure at its heart.”
Now I will accept that Eric may never have engaged in formal “research”, but I know Matt Cutts worked in a University library and knows better than to accept this simple assertion as real. Not only CAN you actually “buy” professors (and citations), the concept of citation as a measure of merit didn’t last very long in the research world when it was used as an objective measure of merit. To this day, that system has to be carefully “managed” by people, because it is not very “objective”.
Oh sure the top scientists won’t risk their reputations citing unworthy works (other than their own and those of their colleagues – which they do routinely), but nearly every other researcher routinely does chase citations (and trade them with sympathetic colleagues). When the Citations Index is used as part of review for Promotion and Tenure in an academic setting, gaming does indeed take place. Academic concepts like the “Least Publishable Unit” – that smallest amount of unique information that will justify a stand-alone “paper”, arose out of the need for more publications (and more citations) to pad the CV for career advancement. This “gaming” started precisely because publications and citations were listed as “objective criteria” for promotion and tenure.
The argument that links should be like fictional “pure” citations is part of the Google myth. Super-successful pure SEO plays like FindTheBest (which Google has promoted as a model of the future) would never survive without gaming the Google algorithm, including “unnatural” linking/cross-linking.
Eric notes that the original Page Rank algorithm was based on the idea of citation, as if that helped support his claim that “Links must be citations”. In fact, I’d suggest that the reason the original Page Rank algorithm didn’t work was because links are NOT citations.
2. About “Infographics”
I don’t see Eric saying anything meaningful about infographics in this section, but I do know that including “infographics” in a list of things to worry about is 100% in line with Matt Cutts’ (Google’s) current agenda. I do see that when he says this:
“many infographics are inaccurate or unrelated topically to the page receiving the link. Even without these problems it is likely that the great majority of people republishing infographics aren’t thoughtfully endorsing the page they end up linking too.”
it is basically a regurgitation of Google’s standard line about infographics. However, perhaps most disturbing, this assertion promotes bias.
Google is too smart to actually say that people who republish (link to) “sexy infographics” don’t actually know if the graphics are in fact accurate or not. That highlights censorship and bias. Eric’s hint at Google’s censorship of free speech and publishing is troubling. If Google can diminish the value of linking because it doesn’t believe the people actually fully-endorsed the material they linked to, consider the chilling effect on free speech and promotion/marketing. As a marketer you effectively influence the marketplace to “move them” towards your desired action (to distribute your message), but Google doesn’t believe those people actually fully understand your message, so your efforts can be blocked. Wow. That’s like a tyrant over-riding a democratic election because he feels the people didn’t really know what they were doing electing that guy. When did that become “ok”?
3. About “Including rich anchor text links inside a guest post”
Eric starts this section with a note about “The New York Times”:
“If the New York Times accepted a guest post from you, what are the chances that they would let you load rich anchor text links inside your post back to the blatant money-making page on your site? Not a chance.”
I don’t argue about blatant “make money fast” links embedded in content, but I do have an issue with claims that the New York Times linking policies are models of editorial purity. I could go back in time and pick apart the ways that institution has succeeded in influencing public opinion (for profit and / or power) and rewriting history throughout its lifetime, but we don’t have time for that and I’m not the right expert to undertake the task. I could also point to the concept of the “linking black hole” (promoted by the NYTimes) and how that has hurt the world wide web, or how the newspaper industry in general has done almost everything wrong when it comes to Internet publishing (especially serving users).
Before Google got involved, users (the ones who are supposed to be served by web publishing) looked at anchor text as a signal of what was behind the link. It was a bright and bold, royal blue, and underlined, and the text used communicated what prize awaited the clicker. There was no doubt what this meant (to the user).
This “hypertext” concept was very effective. If the New York Times followed the model of hypertext it could very easily link to “how she made $5000 in one day using her laptop” right in the middle of an essay. As long as that link produced an answer to “how did she make all that money working from home on her laptop” then everything would be fine. Merchants would make money, some readers would be served, and publishers would get a cut for disseminating the message.
We can’t do that today for no other reason than : when we do that, Google has a hard time ranking websites the way it wants to.
That’s correct. The ONLY reason is to enable Google search, as it is designed today.Don’t forget that — this entire conversation about links and publishing “requirements” is to enable Google to find and rank websites to create Google.com. Profitably. There is no other reason.
Aside from the ways that Google wants to make money for itself, or the ways that such legitimate in-line links make Google’s job of making easy profits harder, I don’t see Eric’s point about the New York Times and in-line links. That is a reason I think it might be pro-Google propaganda piece, more than thoughtful SEO article.
4. About “Guest posts that are only loosely related to the topic of the page receiving the link”
In discussing “guest posts” Eric comments on links with descriptive anchor text and says “A link like this smells more like ‘payment’ than a legitimate endorsement.”
Really this is the same Google myth described previously.. that there is some pure non-commercial “endorsement” action we should all be limiting ourselves to publishing in our articles. There isn’t, and there never will be. We are all humans, so there will always be information asymmetry and varying levels of awareness and education among readers, and society (including economies) will always be driven be people and their politics. Google knows this, and Google plays the game with its own Washington lobbyists, collaborates with world governments and organizations like the Federal Trade Commission, and engages in PR and propaganda efforts disguised as “personal blogs” and endorsements of others’ essays.
And as long as there can never be a “black and white” definition of what is “legitimate”, Great Institutions like the New York Times and Google are able to make boat loads of cash riding the undefined edges while imposing their myths upon the rest of us as suits their operational goals. I believe this “article” endorses and supports that abuse of power.
5. About award badges
Since I’m not reproducing Eric’s article here, you really should read it (go to searchenginewatch on the dot com TLD and request resource assigned URL /article/2259674/Penguin-2.0-Forewarning-The-Google-Perspective-on-Links.
The topic of “Awards badges” isn’t really addressed, but again by including it in the list, Eric has aided Google’s PR mission. We all know that citing a few extreme examples of “bad apples” is never a valid argument, but that’s what he does to suggest “award badges” are not a good idea. But, and here’s some nuance… he suggests that the award badges are easy targets for penalties “when the award badges seem to appear only on the lesser authoritative sites of a market segment“. Does that make them less legitimate?
This is a perfect example of Google’s brand bias, and another example of Google thinking it’s ok to stifle innovation (since innovations do not usually show up in the major leagues first, innovations will get stifled under this approach to defining links as legitimate).
When markets are controlled such that efforts to serve them are not rewarded until the big established brands accept and endorse them, those markets are not free. In fact, they are doomed to fail.
That’s More Than Enough
Whew. That’s all that was covered in the article, except for a final section addressing how to qualify links you’ve built to make sure they’re acceptable. I don’t really get that part, because if all of the above is true about Google, why would anyone still hire a link builder and bother to apply qualification tests to the links that were built?
Oh… I get it. Because it’s a game! I think I get it now.
The rules say only honest editorial links count, and everything else is ripe for Penguin penalties. BUT, we all know (wink wink nudge nudge) that this isn’t REALLY true. So then we need experts to tell us how to build links that look legitimate, even though they aren’t. And it behooves us to pick the experts that are endorsed by Google, since they have the best information on how the game is REALLY played. And even if we can’t be sure if they are right or not, Googlers will chime in here and there to (wink wink nudge nudge) “let us know” who we can trust.
The only part that still confuses is me is why we should ever consider trusting these experts when they publish SEO articles. How could it not be pro-Google propaganda?