I read a great blog post by Chris Crum about people being afraid to link. After reading the post, I started to make a comment and surprised myself with how much I had to say. I went on and on. I had so much to say I decided to write my own post here.
Yes, Chris Crum, I think people are afraid to link, and for good reason. It is links and linking that gets businesses in trouble in the first place, and in some cases websites with no links (and no content) are ranking highest on Google. The risk and stakes for linking are high. Businesses in droves are asking for link removal even from natural quality links. So not linking might actually be a better strategy. This makes no sense to me and Google will have to go down a different route eventually, because links are the currency of the web (and Google's own currency) and if people stop using the currency, the web, instead of being a interlinked "web" of sites, will become a bunch of islands that are accessible only by Adwords, if Adwords even exists in such a scenario. Each site will stand alone. The web and Google will lose all its value and quality content. Surfing the web will become a thing of the past, because there won't be links to go anywhere. Each site will be a dead end.
I was also surprised with all the comments other people made on Chris Crum's post and how there was so much agreement among them about the algorithms hurting the quality of Google search. I do applaud Google's attempt to get rid of spam but the improvement in search results is uneven at best. I see older sites with tons of traffic, social signals, and content, that have been around a long time, long enough in fact to gather a few "bad" links, being supplanted in ranking by some new sites with no links, content, social signals, or anything. This must be a glitch in the algorithm, which I do believe is meant to clean up spam and improve search, not, as some people believe, terrorize small business and improve Adword sales.
Small businesses are being terrorized however. Family businesses with a generally low risk links are being pushed to the second page for no good reason that I can see, as newer sites with no quality, content, or backlinks rise above them. Some of them have tried really hard to make their sites as good as possible, which is usually a sign of a reputable and conscientious business and owner, and generated much of their business from ranking high for their keywords in the past. Sometimes the small business owners who come for me to help are so angry about their loss of traffic and business they forbid me to buy Adwords which might actually help them recover their traffic. Some even switch to Bing for their own searches. I hope this doesn't spread too much because I want Google to stay the great search engine it has always been. I can't figure out what in the filter is causing the drop in rank or what in their link profile would warrant it. We try to remove duplicate copy if we can find any. We file copyright reports for those sites copying my client's content. We remove and disavow the few bad links from the past, if any. We add quality content. None of this seems to help much, at least so far. Some have gone up a bit and may still go up further, we're keeping our fingers crossed, hoping Matt Cutts is right about the disavowel tool and adding quality content. For a couple we are rebuilding their whole site with a new domain to help them recover.
A good site with a lot of content and activity should be higher than a nothing site with no content or links or value, even if the first site has a couple of bad links from being on the internet longer. If only because it has more quality content for search which is what makes searching valuable to users. Google should fine tune the algorithm so good content sites aren't penalized for a few bad links.
Sometimes big sites like the Yellow Pages or Better Business Bureau or About.com are ranked higher than they should be too. I can't decide if this is bad or good for search. It's good for businesses who can't get high on organic search any other way and for users who may want or need as many alternatives as possible. It's bad for the good websites with quality content that used to be first and that users that would be happy to find if they could. I would think these mega-lists would be competition for Adwords too.
Google does help with Matt Cutt's videos and blog, and Google Webmaster Tools Forums from which I learn a lot. Some of the advice is excellent, but some is questionable. Some volunteers will say that all you need to do is make great content and links and ranking will come. This is not true much of the time and would hurt those who try to follow it. See this blog post. They spread the fear of linking or being linked to.
The Google rules seem vague and confusing and beg unanswered questions. For instance, are press releases services like PRWeb okay if they have a really high Google page rank? (Matt Cutts said at first that they were okay and then I think he changed his mind. No one seems to really know.) And if they're not okay, how you do go about releasing news to the press without their services? I have a client who usually does press releases but is afraid to now. What about high-ranking paid directories? Should you get rid of them even if they cost hundreds of dollars and are pr7 or 8? What about pr 5 and 6? Isn't a high pr supposed to signify quality and popularity? And if it doesn't, does page rank even mean anything anymore? Google doesn't seem to be updating it anymore, is that a hint or not? What about one's own portfolio of web design or other clients? Should you link to the sites you have created? Will that hurt your ranking? What about the other way? Is it okay to link from your clients to yourself? If you link from your client's site which you have designed and authored to your own, to give yourself credit and publicity from your own good work, will that site being new and low-ranking make your own ranking go down? If you create a ton of good content and nobody comes or links to you will you go up in search results for the content alone eventually? Or if they do link will the links hurt your ranking if they're from sites that are low quality? I was told to no-follow all the links from my clients by Google Web Master Tools Forum volunteers and am curious to see if that will raise or lower my ranking for my main keywords. I no-followed the ones I could so far.
Whether I'm on top or in fourth position in natural search, however, I have to buy ad words or else I just don't have enough traffic and my business will suffer. I like to do both, buy ad words and be high on organic search, because then people will find me on more than one place on the page.
I do think Google is undermining it's own currency (links) however and will have to change its algorithm to keep the quality of its search engine and not alienate and scare small businesses everywhere.