After telling today’s audience that Google is “perfectly fine with people buying and selling links” (which he later qualified with a “we prefer them to use nofollow”), I managed to grab some time with him to discuss what many feel is Google’s backdoor abuse of the “nofollow” tag.
Lasnik explained how difficult it would be for Google to identify a web site selling the odd link, or a blogger adding a contextual link, in exchange for payment. What Google looks for are patterns that suggest money is being exchanged for links. A casino site buying a link from a blog about gardening, would raise a red flag, said Lasnik. As would an influx of links in a single day. However, links from one relevant site to another, would not likely cause a reaction from Google (although they would still prefer you to use a nofollow tag).
Punishments for buying and selling links vary, according to Lasnik. Google could focus on the seller or the buyer. Sellers that offer lots of links for sale, could find their outbound links filtered on a page level, or site-wide. Buyers, purchasing links from dozens of locations, could trigger Google to filter out the value of their inbound links – as Lasnik explains, why penalize hundreds of sites that sell just a single link, when it’s the recipient that is clearly benefiting?
Perhaps the most interesting comment by Lasnik, is one echoed by many search marketers. “I wish nofollow didn’t exist”, said Lasnik, who appeared frustrated with the problems nofollow creates (and probably all the questions from SEOs), compared to the ones it solves.
If we can just get Matt Cutts to agree with that sentiment, maybe we can get back to the business of building and growing our web sites and not having to worry so much about whether or not our normal business decisions (like linking) will anger the Google gods.
UPDATE: Read Adam’s additional comments.