A recent exchange on Twitter between Rand Fishkin and Google’s Danny Sullivan highlighted the tension between Google and the SEO community regarding links. This time it was over the idea of links to sources that are quoted by websites like news organizations. Are sources quoted by news organizations and other sites entitled to a do-follow link?
Are News Sources Entitled to a Link?
I have seen anecdotal reports on Facebook and Twitter of news organizations refusing to link to a source that is quoted in an article. Many in the SEO industry believe that if they or their client is quoted in a news article that they are entitled to a link back to their website.
Rand Fishkin resurrected this idea when he tweeted:
“Every website’s ToS should include something like: “Screenshots of this website, quotes taken from our text content, and any references to our brand, domain, or web pages must include a search-engine-followable HTML link.
Because when other sites write about you/use your stuff, they *should* be linking, and it should be a ToS violation when they don’t.
Pointing an obstinate author of a piece that uses a screenshot of/quote from your site to said ToS can ease that link request conversation.
…100% enforcement isn’t the goal. Like a lot of legalese, it’s just there to reduce friction when you ask for credit, and add friction when folks try to circumvent it.”
Many SEOs Agree that Linking Back is Important
Many in the SEO community responded enthusiastically to the suggestion that if someone is quoted by another site or content is used, a link should be required. Here is a sample of positive responses:
Requiring Links Versus Holistic SEO
But there were others who disagreed with the idea that news sources were entitled to links. One person noted that focusing on links went against the principles of a holistic approach to SEO. The word “holistic” means understanding that something has many parts that work together.
In the case of SEO, this means the understanding that ranking well on Google is more than just hammering away at links. It means engaging in activities that communicate that your site or product or service is, as Google encourages, awesome.
Creating the content on a news site, with just a brand mention, falls into the category of a holistic approach to SEO.
Google’s entire search experience is predicated on satisfying users. Google tests its algorithms to determine if they are showing users what they expect to see in the search engine results pages (SERPs). That’s what all those CTR studies are all about, figuring out if users are finding what they expect to find in the SERPs, which includes specific web pages.
Creating that expectation in users is often done indirectly, like being cited in news articles without a link. This makes it difficult for those who are focused on tangible deliverables like links.
The result is that the average SEO can lose focus on the prize (ranking better) from focusing too hard on the means (obtaining links).
I’m not trying to minimize obtaining links. It’s important. Yet creating awareness that your product, service or website is awesome, that counts for a lot as well.
This business of being “awesome” is more than just a platitude.
Here is what one person observed on Twitter:
“Interesting idea. I personally couldn’t imagine quoting someone’s site and not linking to it.
But also, many news sites simply won’t link out, and I wouldn’t want them to not quote me or my brand and not get a citation just because they have a no link policy.”
“OMG no. No. So every time we wrote about Ripoff Rept and the hundreds of other s**tty sites we covered on SEL, we would have to include a followed link if they had that in their TOS? And risk a lawsuit for violation? No. Bad idea.”
Rand Fishkin acknowledged the shortcoming in his suggestion:
“Good counterpoint! I’d argue it’s still worthwhile for site owners to use it to nudge a link when they receive coverage or when their content, images, etc get used. Publishers could certainly choose not to, just as 1000s of businesses choose not to respect Google’s ToS.”
“Implicit legal strong-arming is a terrible link building strategy. It was a bad idea 20 years ago when brands just discovering the internet thought they could control how others mentioned/linked to them, and it’s a bad idea now.”
Putting ideas out there and having them subjected to pushing and prodding is how the best ideas rise to the top.
Being able to accept constructive criticism, as Fishkin did, is a virtue. Being able to civilly discuss an issue and admit to a flaw in something they suggested is a sign of good character, in my opinion.
Is Requiring a Link via Terms of Service Black Hat?
A smart SEO tweeted that requiring a link via a Terms of Service (TOS) violates Google’s Search Quality Guidelines:
“This is almost a word for word violation of one of Google’s definitions of a link scheme from their guidelines.”
This is the part of Google’s Guidelines that he quoted:
“Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of using nofollow or other method of blocking PageRank, should they wish.”
“Black hat: Search engine optimization practices that violate Google’s quality guidelines.”
Requiring a Link is Black Hat
It’s clear that requiring a “search-engine-followable HTML link” is black hat. The reason is that it’s not a real citation. If you force someone to link to you then it’s not a real citation, it’s essentially paid for.
It’s similar to a paid link. A paid link is when a site receives a link by giving payment to another site. In this case, the currency that is exchanged for a link is content, a quote or an image.
Require a Link Under Creative Commons?
Much of the open source software on the web requires linking via the Creative Commons. But it doesn’t “require” linking for just a “mention.”
As you can see, the Creative Commons does not require a “search-engine-followable HTML link” nor does it have any context with “mentions” of a website. Of particular interest is that the Creative Commons leaves it up to the licensee to determine what kind of link to use.
Requiring a do follow link is a violation of Google’s guidelines and the Creative Commons wording conforms with Google’s guidelines.
Should You Require a Link in Your TOS?
As of this writing, one person tweeted that they will be adding this to their terms of service:
Out of almost 300 likes for the post, nobody else in that Twitter discussion has tweeted that they added it to their TOS… including the person who recommended it in the first place.