I have just returned from the increasingly popular Brighton SEO conference, where unsurprisingly the hot topic was Google’s recent clamp down on link spam.

The opening feature of the day was a Q & A session with an impressive panel of influential people within the search industry. The line up, amongst others, included Microsoft’s UK Director of Search Dave Coplin and Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far.

Link Spam:

Mr Boombastic - Link SpamThe topic of discussion was very quickly brought round to that of Google’s recent clampdown on link spam. So hot was the debate that I think it could have gone on for most of the day.

Google’s stance is that they are giving webmasters the chance to come clean about links. To clean up their link profiles and show evidence that they have done everything in their power to get any links they know to be harmful removed from their link profile. This can include things like screen shots of emails to webmasters asking them to remove links.

This then may imply, that contrary to Google’s previous stance that site A cannot harm site B i.e. build a load of dodgy links to your competitors site, that bad links may now carry negative weight instead of just being devalued. After all, why go to all the trouble to give webmasters the chance to resubmit their sites for consideration, if at worst these links just carried zero weight?

Nobody raised this question during the discussion, but I was lucky enough to get 5 minutes with Google’s Pierre Far later on in the day, so put that question to him.

Pierre said (with cheeky smile on his face):

That it was still Google’s stance that links do not currently carry any negative weight or penalties, so at worst a link would be worth nothing. Mr BoombasticHe did however say with a bigger smile: never say never.

This response suggests that Google’s motive behind giving webmasters the opportunity to come clean is purely to help them identify link farms that they may not be aware of.

So for now it seems that Google is sticking with its policy that links do not carry any negative weight. It’s hard to see beyond this, without opening the door for lots more underhand processes. But after all this is Google we are talking about!

Update – 01 June 2012

We had a great response to this article with some of the big names in our industry getting involved, even Danny Sullivan shared his views on inbound. The subject really did split the SEO community, we even had slightly varied views here at Boom. On the 22nd May Google was forced to change its official line on this subject to the following.

Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages. – Google 22/05/2012

 

So it seems that in fact ‘yes’ bad links can harm your site and what was also interesting was that in a recent You & A session at SMX with Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts, Danny Sullivan asked Matt Cutts “Do we have positive ranking factors and negative ranking factors?” to Which Matt Cutt’s replied “Yes”.

It remains to be seen how Google will police this, however Matt Cutts did say that Google are talking about developing a tool for webmasters to disavow a link.