In this latest episode of the Dark Night of SEO, we find a guest article has found its way into a firestorm of Google wrath because MOZ ran the piece on its site.
What Was It About That Link?
When Scott Wyden wrote an article, it was used by MOZ. The URL to it has a category called “UGC” in it, that stands for user generated content. This is considered by some SEO’s to signal to Google the article is not good enough for their search engine.
Subsequently, anyone who has ever written for MOZ is freaking out, because Scott got a nice note from Google telling him he needed to remove a link from his site, to his guest article on the MOZ site that he wrote.
Add to this, there were links inside the guest article that were not allowed, according to Google. One of them was a link in the author profile to his own web site. This means that any link to sites we own or work for that are found in bio’s and author profiles are not safe and to appease Google, it is best to “no-follow” them.
It doesn’t matter if the link is to a reputable, legitimate website. It is a Google sin and nobody has died to save it.
Except Rand Fishin, CEO for MOZ. When he learned that his guest author was penalized for his article link from the MOZ site, he wrote in Dear Google, Links from YouMoz Don’t Violate Your Quality Guidelines:
Scott’s link, ironically, came from this post about Building Relationships, Not Links. It’s a good post with helpful information, good examples, and a message which I strongly support. I also, absolutely, support Scott’s pointing a link back to the Photography SEO community and to his page listing business books for photographers (this link was recently removed from the post at Scott’s request). Note that “Photography SEO community” isn’t just a descriptive name, it’s also the official brand name of the site. In both cases, Scott linked the way I believe content creators should on the web: with descriptive anchor text that helps inform a reader what they’re going to find on that page. In this case, it may overlap with keywords Scott’s targeting for SEO, but I find it ridiculous to hurt usability in the name of tiptoeing around Google’s potential over enforcement. That’s a one-way ticket to a truly inorganic, Google-shaped web.
Meanwhile, discussions erupted after Rand demanded to know why his site caused this issue for one of his writers.
Google Hypocrisy: Keyword Rich & User Friendly Links Should Die, where Barry Schwartz wrote:
Back in the days before Google, online usability folks were all about making user friendly hyperlinks that communicated to the user what the link was about and what to expect when they clicked it. That means, a keyword rich anchor text link that describes the page it is linking to.
Hypocritical Google Dislikes User Friendly Links. Some comments:
1. How does Google know what our intent is? Persuasive design is about presenting an idea or call to action and at that exact moment the reader has been given the incentive to go, this is where the link goes. This also is why I never advise putting a pile of embedded text links into large chunks of content, because we have short attention spans and are easily distracted. Nobody ever reads, follows a link, returns, reads more, follows a link, returns, reads more, repeatedly. This practice is a dead giveaway that the site is spamming and not directed to humans. But to say, never link to your own stuff is not something advise.
2. Frankly I find this issue infuriating. A short while ago I read a piece in an seo blog and found one small issue interesting. I discussed it with the blogger. It ended up that we both looked at it independently, did two different pieces of research and found some interesting results. Our findings have not, as far as I can see, hit publication of any sort. I think they are newsworthy in a geeky sort of tech way, and possibly link worthy. Should we publish the articles side by side on the blogger’s site, as was our first thought, the risk of a link back to one of my smb sites runs the risk of penalties from google’s dictatorial perspective.
Like Rand, I found nothing wrong with the links, their landing pages or the anchor text. However, other SEO’s did, such as finding fault with the link in the author profile to the author’s own web site.
Before leaving on his “vacation”, Matt Cutts wrote in an email to MOZ:
Short of that, keyword rich anchor text is higher risk than navigational anchor text like a person or site’s name, and so on.”
This fueled the fire because now we have gone past the practice of spammy links into putting descriptive links in danger of being suspect. For example, mystery links are ignored by humans. The only links we click on are those that promise to give us something we want, such as a different site, a product, more information on a specific topic, link in a sales funnel, link that describes an image in detail, and links to take an action. The words in the anchor text are needed for accessibility (screen readers), and to motivate us to click.
Google demands a “no-follow” on links that many site owners don’t have any issue with sharing. For example, if someone writes a guest article for your site for free, the least that could be done is to send them “link juice” or a click to their site.
What’s also confusing about the Scott article disavow example is that the article is from 2012 and he is just now getting called out on it. One theory for the problem was not so much the MOZ URL, but that the site hosts guest blog posts at all. Google went after MyBlogGuest for that same reason.
Danny Sullivan weighed in at the MOZ discussion:
Let me start by saying I’d be as annoyed as Rand is if Google started telling people that Search Engine Land was a source of “inorganic” links. We have contributors; we take care to edit and be selective in what we allow. And ultimately, it’s our site — we’ll decide what we think makes sense to have as links and how they should appear.
It is understandable that Google is doing whatever it can to build a database of accurate content but at what cost? How many businesses will fail because they broke a Google “guideline”? When did Google stop caring about the user experience of the sites in its index?
Danny concluded, as did a few other SEO’s, that the issue was not MOZ, and not Scott’s article but actually Scott’s web site itself. That may be so, but don’t mess with Rand by including a link from his site as a potential threat!