On June 3rd, Matt Cutts freaked the technical SEO community by casually stating that PageRank sculpting, the subtle art of flow-managing page value distribution, had changed significantly from what Google had been prescribing.

Who cares, we don’t need noFollow. What bothers many is that know we’ve learned Google flipped the switch a year ago, all the while offering misleading public information.

Industry journalist Danny Sullivan, organizer of the SMX conference series and Editor-in-Chief of SearchEngineLand highlighted missed opportunities for Google to retract what had previously been stated as best practices. (BTW, I would have linked to SearchEngineLand in this paragraph too, but now I’m counting links.)

I note  Danny’s graciousness, even as he outlined the delay in disclosure:

“There were plenty of opportunities for this [Google disclosing]. PageRank sculpting was discussed at no less than four different conferences after the change happened, including our SMX Advanced search marketing conference in 2008. There was no end of articles and commentary on the web about it. In Matt’s video from May 23 of this year, specifically about PageRank sculpting, he said nothing about the change.” –Danny Sullivan–

Did Google Throw Matt Cutts Under the Bus?
There might be 2 possibilities and hybrids thereof for this debacle: 1) Matt Cutts, Google’s affable spam ambassador knowingly gave us misleading information. 2) Maybe his relationship with Google is somewhat detached, more insular than other insiders on the WS team. Either way, we don’t care about noFollow, my feelings are hurt.

Advanced SEOs were out there striving to work within Google’s TOS, having just finished nearly a generation of websites, built the way Google told us to do it. When Google told SEOS it works to flow PR by noFollow, we used noFollow out of trust.

Is Google suggesting that somehow we should have caught the change? For goodness Google, do you want us to test everything you tell us to do and prove that it works or find out your ambassador might have mislead us? Or was he in the dark?

So What About NoFollow?
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve used do/noFollow lightly, always asking the question “is this link an important citation, needed for the content, one that flatters the reputation of ours and the destination  publication?” The method by which Google public relations  mishandled the SEM community sure points to poor etiquette on somebody’s part.

We relied on no/doFollow for the basics, ya’ know not being completely stupid with where we want to recommend content. Like lovers that failed together (SEOS & Google), I can honestly say that nearly every SEO I’ve ever met truly cares about offering authentic citations, just like Google.

@netmeg @aimclear plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. in other words, we didn’t worry about it before, and we’re not worrying about it now.”

“@SebastianX 🙂 to complete it: As always: […]. Don’t bother w/ rel-nofollow for anything else. For advanced SEO purposes just cloak nofollow properly.”

The SEO Changes are Good
They impel us to police the integrity of links from sites within and without. My sadness is more about the concept of an ambassador 1) not telling the truth 2) getting hung out to dry in front of the industry the ambassador serves.

The last thing I ever want to do is call anybody out. Google owns the machine and it’s a damn fine one. For goodness sake they’re a small country! Countries have ambassadors who represent positions to citizens of communities.

Colin Powell, a truly great American, seemingly got hung out to dry. The community was mad. Sound familiar? After stewing on this for a couple of days, having attended the session, I just felt it important to point out that partnerships work both ways between ambassadors and the communities they serve.

“There are times in public life as in private life when one must protest, not solely of even primarily because ones’s protest will be politic or materially productive, but because one’s sense of decency is offended, because one is fed up with political craft and public images, or simply because something goes against the grain. “The Arrogance of Power by —Senator Fulbright– (New York, Random House, Inc., 1966)

Maybe there are 2 agendas, one from Webmaster Tools & other divisions – and one from Matt himself. Google’s a pretty big company and never underestimate the propensity of freaky politics to bubble up from the holistic ooze. I’d rather eat a live chicken than prognosticate what it’s like to be inside any of these people’s heads.

Maybe some Google IT-rock stars would have preferred that there never be any sculpting or talk of noFollow for link sculpting. Maybe Matt’s an awesome guy who has the privilege of operating outside the team and didn’t know. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

Google’s ambassador seems like the kind of guy who operates in the interest of community, and can handle the gig. WTF? Are we at a place now where SEOs ask questions like “who’s on our side and who’s not?” Or can we put this cloak and dagger bullshit to bed?

  • R Edwared Vernon

    I’ve been following this pretty heavily and haven’t come to the conclusion yet either if Matt got screwed or did the screwing. Either way it’s a black eye to Google and we all need some official clarification. Maybe from another Googler blogging with Matt? I have a acct exec for our adwords campaign and have run questions by her that she can’t answer and has to get with other policy teams on. Google has gotten so big one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. But I really do want them to show us some love on this and clarify. Please Google?

  • Marty Weintraub

    @R Edwared Vernon: Don’t worry. It’s easy to handle the change, and the betrayal more important. It’s pretty well clarified between Rand Fishkin, Aaron Wall, Danny Sullivan, SearchEngineJournal, etc.. Matt Cutts clarified perfectly on his blog this week.

    I don’t want to be a hyperbolic tulip here, but Google talks in terms of “laws” and “jail,” and “evil” or not. For me to say that this is a breach of trust seems reasonable.

  • Mark

    Marty, when you say “we’ve used do/noFollow lightly,” are you referring to when you nofollow your link partners?

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Mark: First, I took the liberty of removing your link to Matt Cutts’s blog on the anchor text “Mark.”

    To answer your question: We have no linking partners. Every citation on aimClear Blog is straight up. If we have any questions regarding whether it’s “too close to the money” to please Google–we noFollow it just like they tell us to do.

  • Mike Blumenthal

    re Colin Powell – I assume that you are referring to the UN speech and his role in the run up to Iraq.

    Of historical interest is that he was also in charge of the early investigations surrounding My Lai, where he reported out: “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” It is hard to separate the soldier from the Army.

  • imarketing

    Google cares about one thing and one thing only. Revenue. They have been doing things to hurt website development and seo companies for years. They could care a less about us. Funny, we are the ones that got google at the forefront. I remember vividly telling all of my clients, friends, and peers about google back in the day. This is just another mark on their belt. Remember the Florida update? Remember Google dropping all affiliate marketers from their index and then buying ConnectCommerce? They have no customer service department … a sure sign that customer service is NOT in their mission. Funny, I won’t do business with anyone that I can’t contact but they have us by the balls (for now). They have gotten too big and too greedy. We all know where the BIG companies are going these days … down.

  • Dubya J

    can we put this cloak and dagger bullshit to bed….

    Amen brother. I love the G too, but Google has always had an uneasy relationship with the SEO industry, and the idea of a transparent ambassador who somehow has the SEO interests at heart is quite ridiculous when you boil it down.

    Fair enough they can act as a bridge between Google and webmasters who have found themselves inadvertantly trashed through no fault of their own, but lets face it.

    Google has determined a natural order of things, that most likely doesn’t favour you, and they have no interest in helping you adjust your position in that scheme to your sole benefit.

    About time people woke up to the fact that the last place you’ll get great SEO help is Google, and that anything you’re told is either alluring sacrificial information, or propaganda.

  • Terry Van Horne

    Ummm… I don’t need Google to tell me how to do my job? I don’t need them to tell me if sculpting is wise because anyone with half a brain should be able to make that decision on their own because that’s what we get paid quite handsomely to do. If you’re depending on Google to tell you anything then… you’ll always be a $ short and a day late!