SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is an industry with no shortage of controversy due to theories, rumors, and reputational woes. While many such theories and rumors are either bogus or untested, there are select ones that pique my interest from time-to-time and get me thinking a little. Now, I'm generally not one for conspiracy theories or prematurely buying into rumors prior to establishing some sort of credibility or ROI, but what's life without a bit of controversy? I'm going all-in here with publicly shouting a prospective implementation rumored to be considered by Google at some point when it comes to ranking outbound links from sites.
Please bear in mind that this is ultimately a rumor! At that, the only people who should really be upset if it happens are comment spammers (the people I would wager 99% of you out there despise)! Additionally, I have this rumor recorded on a digital voice recorder from the presentation it was first mentioned during, so if people try to take me down to the mat over this, I've got the proof. :)
Cutting right to the chase, Google is rumored to be considering placing more emphasis on the title tag of a page containing outbound links than on the anchor text used for those links. What does that mean? Well, the way things currently work is that a link's anchor text is kind of the holy grail for value to get out of a link. In other words, if you link to my site using anchor text like "click here," that's not going to be as valuable to me as if you link to my site using anchor text like "search engine optimization." Indeed, one always prefers a keyword that's relevant to their site be used as anchor text in a link pointing to their site from another, but that's easy to exploit. To help Google and Webmasters out, the "nofollow" attribute was created in part to help deter spammers from running amok and leaving comments about toasters and "making money fast" on blog posts about puppies and kittens. But it's still not enough because people still do it. (To note, "nofollow" is ultimately about not passing value to a site, regardless of if it's linked in a comment or within a post).
So, what would paying attention to a page's title do? Well, for one, Google would be looking at the page and saying, "what's this page about according to its title?" From there, they can compare it to the content on the page or any number of factors, really, but if Google is going to be comparing a title tag to the anchor text of an outbound blog comment link, that would put even more of a damper on the value one would hope to achieve from leaving a link in a blog comment. If Google is considering this as a ranking metric (and if they haven't already implemented it), it will be one more reason to seek out contextually relevant pages to build links on whether it's via comments, guest blog posts, or otherwise. Not to mention, the intitle:operator would probably start seeing more love while searching for keyword-related pages/blogs.
Now, though I think it's a great idea for even further devaluing links within comment spam on pages, there are some scenarios where such a metric might prove difficult to successfully implement. To start, there's always the likelihood of someone having a title tag that's generic or a template default. Maybe they have a blog post about kittens but their title tags says, "Place Your Title Here!" Or, maybe a blog's plug-in breaks and it takes title tags down with it. All the same, maybe an e-commerce site has product pages that allow product reviews to be written from individuals and the title tags of those product pages are totally generic. In all of those cases, putting a hindrance on links contained in comments is something I think makes sense... but what about other links on the page? Is this rumor solely pertaining to blog comments? That is one point left unclear as per when I heard this rumor.
Where It Started
In closing, I'd like to provide some historicity to this rumor. I personally heard it first-hand from an individual who attended Matt Cutts' PubCon 2010 presentation. This rumor was said to be something Matt mentioned personally. I later established that it must have been during a private conversation at some point before or after his presentation -- not during it.
After I tweeted what I'd heard (there was no request by this particular individual to not repeat this, so I jumped on Twitter to write what I had just heard), there was a quick-but-small wave of excitement and controversy stirred up that ultimately ended with Matt Cutts responding quite sternly, denying that he ever said such a thing. Maybe he did or maybe he didn't, but that's all part of the intrigue of this rumor to me. I'm personally under the impression that this was an "oops!" moment where something was said that shouldn't have been, but that's only because I personally think this sounds like a really good idea to help devalue links in blog comments. And because of that, it's my personal favorite SEO rumor from 2010!
What are your thoughts on the rumor above? Are there any particular ramifications you can think of based on such an implementation? Additionally, did you hear any SEO rumors in 2010 that piqued your interest? Feel free to add to the conversation if so!