Straight from the Horse’s Mouth
I am writing this piece anonymously because I believe very much that Google can and will take action against me and my websites were they to find my identity. Anonymity is a sad but unfortunate requirement when dealing with Google these days. I mention several SEOs in this article, and I hope that their businesses are not impacted because of this.
Like many in the search marketing industry, we have felt that Google has become more and more antagonistic towards our practices over the last year or so. I did not personally become bitter towards Google, though, until reading this by Aaron Wall at SEO Book. It included a link to this post and later this post which detail how Google’s Authorship program, which rolled out at the same time as Google+, used a specific method of verifying authorship that required a backlink being pointed at his/her Google+ Profile page. The authorship program allowed webmasters to have their profile image placed next to their listing in Google’s organic results, which can cause a substantial increase in click throughs. (So substantial, in fact, that the practice of putting images next to listings is banned in Google Adsense because clicks can no longer be seen as genuine). When Google+ launched, the link was the only way to earn Authorship. Now you can do it at least 1 other way, but this was not introduced until literally millions of links had already been acquired.
I gave Google the benefit of the doubt, but I wanted to hear straight from Google what they thought of the practice, without letting them know I was talking about Google+.
Let the Investigation Begin
I created a user “realbizlistings” with a pen name (Parker) and created an interesting question to pose to Google’s quality team(s). Here it was, verbatim…
Hi, thank you in advance for your help.
I am starting a new business and personal listing website where people and businesses can have profiles. My SEO guy says that we should have a feature where members can get “upgraded listings” with a thumbnail picture next to their listings if they link to their profile from their site.
I told him I think this would be against the Webmaster Guidelines. I don’t want to get in trouble with Google. Should these links be nofollowed? Or is this practice OK?
Thanks again. I appreciate everyone’s advice, but I would like to hear from a Google representative if possible as well. I really don’t want to get my site in trouble.
The scenario described is exactly what the Google+ Authorship program does. In exchange for linking to your profile page, you can get an image in the search results. But would Google consider this enough of an incentive to discourage the practice? So, what did Google have to say…
I’d strongly recommend not making PageRank-passing links to your site a requirement for any kind of interaction on your website. Links placed like that are generally not natural links, not the kind of links that our algorithms want to find. Past that, not all businesses or people have real websites, it seems like it would be a bit unfair to block them from being able to use your site to its fullest (and in turn, if they end up loving it, recommending it to their friends & business partners). By all means, make it easy for users to recommend and to link to your site, but don’t use that as a requirement.
You can read the whole thread here. And here is what the Google Search Quality Team had to say…
Google Search Quality Team
Thank you for your email.
Links intended to manipulate search engine rankings are against Google’s
Quality Guidelines. These include link exchanges and paid links. For this
reason, we would discourage you from offering incentives on your site in
exchange for links.
For more information on link schemes, see this article:
complete quality guidelines can be found here:
The Google Search Quality Team
As you can see, both John Mueller and the Google Search Quality team say this practice should be discouraged.
Google pulled a fast one. With the Authorship integration, they were able to incentivise likely tens of thousands if not more webmasters and marketers to not only join Google+, but to promote it in Google’s own search engine with links using a strategy that Google has typically discouraged. Google has let this slip for Google+, but do you honestly think they would let Facebook get away with a program where people got new features in FB if they linked to their FB profile page?