There is something extraordinary taking place. Google's war on spam sites is tipping the online world upside down and now threatens that most fundamental element of the world wide web: the hyperlink.
There is a mass erasure of links happening right now and Google is helping with tools!
The communications lines are the spider's silk but it's the links that make the structure of the web. But because of Google's battle with spammers, the hyperlink could disappear in its current form, and become a commercial product that's bought and sold, instead of earned fair and square.
Let me explain:
When I ran into Matt Cutts, head of Google's web spam team, at the company's most recent Christmas party, he said that Google would start paying more attention to sites that had lots of links from low quality content sites. Because that would be a signal that there was search engine optimization (SEO) at work, which means those links were likely paid for, in a bid to deceive Google.
It made sense since Google's Panda algorithm, (a major rewrite of its core algorithm launched in early 2011) now had a measure of the "quality" of each page in its index.
Prior to this, Google was measuring the number of links coming into a site, and how many links were going to the referring sites. A link coming from a high ranked site was valued by Google as an important signal and it would raise the "pagerank" of a web site.
SEO's two-edged sword...
This became a weakness in Google's algorithm and huge numbers of sites tried to game Google. A massive SEO industry arose, which exploited hyperlinks and other chinks in Google's algorithm. Creating high ranked web sites for a particular service or product, could often be as simple as buying large numbers of links from other high ranked web sites, that are themselves created by other sites, etc.
These sites would often be disguised by populating pages with low quality content.
Google found it hard to distinguish between legitimate, original content on a site, and the spam, low quality web sites -- until the Panda update.
Panda now gives Google a measure of the quality of a web site. This means it can identify the fake, spam sites, created to link out to others, and it can punish the web sites that are receiving those links, because it's likely those links were bought and used to deceive Google.
Too much SEO = Deceit...
If you are deceitful, you are not trustworthy, therefore Google will sink your listing to the bottom of its search results.
It's a great method to shakeout all those businesses that have tried to trick Google -- you change the rules around links -- and all those companies that tried to game the system are neatly exposed.
What used to be best practices for ensuring a high Google rank: lots of links from lots of other sites, has now turned into a massive marker pointing to an over-optimized, deceitful site.
Unravelling the web, erasing masses of hyperlinks...
This is why there's an accelerating rush to erase hyperlinks. The world wide web is being unravelled. And Google is helping this unraveling, and helping the erasure of millions of links, by sending out warnings to web sites that they have questionable links pointing to them.
Danny Sullivan, a leading search engine expert, writing at MarketingLand:
He notes that some sites are receiving legal letters to erase links while some directories are charging others for not linking.