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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Nofollow, Viagra, Google & I told You So

When someone links to a website, Google and other search engines have, in the past, considered that a "vote" of confidence for the site linked to. The higher reputation a site has, the more it's vote counts... (sort of, there's lots of other factors).

The idea behind "nofollow" is that you can link to a site, but also mark it as "I'm not voting for it". That way someone who has, for example, a list of comments on their blog, won't simply "vote" for everyone who posts a comment. Presumably that would prevent spammers from posting a million comments in the hopes of getting their discount Viagra ad's search ranking up.

It's a solid concept, but in practice it has backfired because it was coupled with a "punishment" system for linking to spam sites.

This punishment system has led sites like Wikipedia, which are, for the most part, extremely reputable, to put "nofollow" on every single link in an attempt to prevent spam. These links are, usually, extremely well-vetted votes of confidence for the site in question. Wikipedia, despite its problems, remains one of the foremost authorities on "link quality".

Other quality sites that have adopted "nofollow" on every link include Digg and Twitter.

You see where this is going. Rather than rely on top authorities with quality information, like Wikipedia, Digg, etc. Google now has to rely only on links originating from people who don't know or care about their link voting/ranking, etc. In other words, generally less knowledgeable or lower quality votes are the only votes used for ranking.

This ultimately harms Google's page ranking system. What Google needs to learn is that "open" is not the right way to go for search rankings. Heavy use of personalized and regional results is the only thing they've done to halt this trend. Here's the next step: allow someone to mark another Google user as "trusted" for search results. In other words, I should be able to mark friends of mine as "trusted" (on a scale of 1 to 5 maybe), for personalized search results.

That way personalization will dominate the results, be highly relevant, and impossible to game.

Google, the last time I emailed told you to track clicks you listened...and it helped. But you never thanked me! Get back to me when this multilevel personalized trust system is done.

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