Google has made it so people are scared to link to content. That's what it has come to.
I don't think it's ever been Google's intention to scare people away from linking when it's natural and deserving, but its never-ending advice, warnings, rules and policy re-wordings have simply led to mass confusion, and people being afraid to link to legitimate content in a legitimate way for fear that Google will penalize their site in search rankings.
Are webmasters being overly paranoid about their linking practices or are they legitimately afraid of what Google might do to their sites? Share your thoughts in the comments.
We've written several articles in the past about how fear of Google has led to people frantically rushing to have external links to their sites removed, in some cases even when these links are totally legitimate (meaning playing by Google's rules) or creating non-Google-related value. Sometimes, they've even considered making natural links unnatural.
Sure, some of it has been overreaction, but a Google penalty or loss of rankings can be a huge deal for a business. Companies have laid off staff because of it.
While most of the time, we're talking about people being afraid of Google not liking the links that are pointing to their own site, people are now also worried about linking to other sites.
Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable writes, "I see questions popping up left and right. Can I link to this site? If so, should I nofollow it anyway? Should I make sure to not use keyword rich anchor text when linking?"
"It is making natural linking unnatural because of the fear of linking is now killing natural links," he adds. "Publishers and webmasters are less likely to link out because of that fear."
He points to a WebmasterWorld thread where people are voicing their concerns.
Simply put, if websites stop linking to each other, the fabric of the web crumbles. Links are what make it a web. Other wise it's just a bunch of silos.
Again, I don't think Google wants people to stop linking to each other, but people are clearly concerned about what might happen if they do link, and especially without a nofollow. It doesn't help that Google recently advised that Infographic links be nofollowed. Here you have, at least in some cases, legitimate content that people editorially link to because they like that content and want to share it with their readers. Why should these links not count? Why is it so different? People that include others' infographics on their sites make an editorial decision to do so. I know because I have made that decision editorially on occasion. And I'm happy to give some link love to the creator for taking the time to put together that content that I found valuable enough to share with my readers.
If I created an infographic, and an authoritative site like CNN or The New York Times wanted to use it, and would certainly expect a link and its corresponding PageRank juice.
But there are bigger problems still with people not linking. For one, credit is often not going to be given when due. Traffic to an original source is not going to happen. Readers are going to be deprived of additional, helpful and contextual information.
From Google's perspective, it doesn't make a lot of sense for sites not to link to one another appropriately, because as far as we know, PageRank still carries weight in Google's organic rankings. That said, Google does appear to be doing everything it possibly can to not have to point users to other websites.
There have been numerous reports of Google increasingly showing more of its own stuff and less organic results on more and more SERPs. Hell, I even see Google displaying a Google+ link for an article I've written rather than the article page itself on SERPs. You know, I wrote an article, then shared it on Google+, and Google decides to show the Google+ link rather than the real link. This happens fairly often, actually.
So really, it's going to be interesting to see how long organic rankings really even matter. But they do still matter for now, and some are probably going to suffer from not getting the links they deserve.
What do you think of all of this linking fear? Reasonable or not? Let us know in the comments.
Image: Matt Cutts.com