For someone who thinks SEO is crap, I sure talk about it a lot. Google’s got a new toy: Dissavow links.
In the wake of Panda, a lot of sites got hit with bad SEO rankings from having crappy backlinks. In specific, I know many WordPress theme developers were hurt, including WPMUDev, because spammers and scammers used their themes. Basically their own popularity bit them in the ass, through no fault of their own save their success. After all, a pretty common question people have is “Do those crappy, low-quality inbound links hurt me?” And most of the time, the answer was no. Except when it did with Panda. At the time, it didn’t seem fair to anyone that your popularity would be detrimental to your SEO, and thus we have Dissavow. (Amusingly enough, Bing got there first.)
But what does it do? Here’s Matt Cuts explaining this:
For the rest of us, it lets you say ‘These links are crap and they’re not related to me, so please don’t let them impact my search ranking.’ Many of you are looking confused here, and wondering why they impacted you in the first place. After all, it’s not your responsibility to monitor the quality of sites on the Internet, is it? That’s why Google and Bing make the big bucks. And yet we all know how terrible search results can be, and frankly Google’s blog search is horrible. I have to hand it to Google, though. Search is hard, and crowdsourcing the work of teaching a computer what is and is not spam is actually a good idea.
Google (and Bing’s) methodology rub me wrong. Now that Google has us doing the work for them, by picking out spammy sites and effectively reporting them, you’d think all is good for the theme world. Alas, not so. I’ve heard rumblings that Google is now asking theme developers to remove backlinks!
While I don’t feel a theme developer will be broken for this, it will make it much harder for them to promote their works. On the plugin end of things, I’ve had people ask me to remove their plugins because we don’t permit WordPress plugins to show backlinks unless they’re opt-in, and this means the dev can’t make money. Part of why is that you can have hundreds of plugins, but only one active theme. The other part is we feel it looks spammy. Now, so does Google.
But all that aside, if you want to disavow your backlinks, you can now do it, and the directions aren’t complicated. Click on the disavow link, upload a text file formatted in a certain way, reap benefits. Sounds great, right? What if I told you that Google sends you no confirmation at all? There’s no confirmation, no way to see if what you did worked or not, and worst of all, this could take weeks, if not months, for them to crawl, sort, and re-crawl your sites. During that time, you hear nothing. When it’s done, you hear nothing.
You do all this work and end up in a vacuous hole of ‘well, there’s that then’ with no assurance of anything at all being done. That caught my attention in a bad way. How can I tell I’ve done the right thing? We’re already being killed by not being able to track encrypted search terms, and now we’re not going to be able to tell if removing the links from the bad people is going to help our SERP?
This is why I think SEO is full of it. To one degree or another, it’s always been about gaming the system, and tricking search engines into letting you rise to the top. Meta tags trumped quality, and then it was links (because obviously if people link to you, you’re valuable). Now we know people game links, so we remove that, which actually doesn’t hurt as much as you think. See, a lot of your search engine ranking came from the quality of sites that linked back to you. But the most valuable sites (like MediaWiki) have stringent policies and rules about not linking, or linking and using nofollow, to prevent you from getting link-juice. In the case of MediaWiki, it makes sense since anyone can edit it.
That just went to prove the system was broken. Blogs (WordPress included) nofollows comment links for the same reason. If the door was open, the spammers would use it and make themselves look more important. And as the tools got smarter and started making those links worthless, the spammers started scraping your quality content, which Google et al had to learn to filter. We’re at the point where links are valueless. It doesn’t matter who links to you anymore, because none of the good sites will give you a lot of value since they’re trying to get rid of the spammers. So why is Google giving any weight to these spammer links?
If the state of link-relativity is so poor that search engines are asking us to remove backlinks from themes, and also to tell them which links to us are worthless, then all links are more trouble than they’re worth and we need to figure out a better way to measure the usefulness of our sites. What measuring sticks do you use?