How to Buy 1,178,857 Links… The Google Way.
Google’s stance on incentivized links is fairly clear, and it has been for quite some time: If you provide incentives to another website in order to acquire that link, you should require that it be nofollowed. If not, your site can be penalized.
This came to a headway recently as popular SEO writer Aaron Wall uncovered a sponsored post program run by Google. While the sponsored post campaign did not ask for links at all, Matt Cutts and the spam team decided to take action against Google Chrome in order to squash any concern that there may be double standards for Google Chrome.
While many of us were shocked that a non-incentivized link associated with an incentivized ad campaign could result in a penalty, what is perhaps more shocking is the glaringly obvious incentivized link program run by Google+.
While reading a fantastic new post by @cyrusshepherd on Google Plus SEO, I was surprised that his clear portrayal of the Google+ Author Link program as incentivized did not result in at least some uproar over double standards.
How the Authorship Program Works
- Google+ asks authors (bloggers, webmasters, etc.) to link their content to their Google+ Profile.
- Your listings in Google are Improved: you can get your name, picture, and additional links from each of your listings (see below)
Seems great, right. You link to Google and, in return, you get better listings!
What Google fails to mention in this is the huge SEO advantage they gain from these PageRank passing links – to the tune of 1,178,857 links according to the Majestic SEO Fresh Index. We calculated these numbers by simply extracting only link-receiving pages that have the rel=author included in the URL. Bear in mind, this is the Majestic Fresh Index which only counts links respidered in the last 30 days (I believe), not their historical index, which is much larger.
So What Should Google Do?
First off, I don’t think Google should ban or penalize Google+. However, I do think Google+ should fix this immediately. They should simply block Googlebot links with *rel=author or find a way to devalue those links. The rel=author standard is fantastic and should continue to be used, but Google+ should not benefit from it. In general, I think that Google should always err on the side of devaluing links, not penalizing, because intent is so difficult to determine. My guess is the Google+ team didn’t do this to improve their SEO, but they sure as hell are benefiting from it. The unfair benefit is what needs to be addressed – nothing more, nothing less.