This evening, as I was preparing for the nightly repast, I checked my phone. In this day and age, this has become a ritual many people complete, for a variety of reasons. But I digress.
To my surprise, I received an email stating to remove and list as nofollow a link I had included in an article. (Namely this one. We’ll get back to this in a moment.) Why this is a surprise is that the article in question had been posted a while ago. I had figured if I was to incur the wrath of the internet gods, it would have happened when I originally published the item. Not nineteen months later.
Further offering confusion on the works of the madman at the helm is the “nofollow” question. Who wouldn’t want information to flow freely? Shouldn’t you appreciate traffic that your information brings you? Is there some particular stigma against a link in general? So I spent a few minutes this evening brushing up on what a nofollow link is, and I’m still confused. Not by the definitions, but why I would receive the wrath of the email.
A nofollow link, for those who do not know, is coding added to the link behind the curtain. What it does is disable web crawlers from tying pages and posts together. For example (and this is in my own words), you might be reading about hair care on a blog, with a link to a product page. That link is tied to a manufacturer’s page, which is tied to a supplier’s page, which is tied to thousands of fans and hundreds of protesters that have linked the page using their own blog. So your hair care link can be tied to a trucking firm, a First Amendment protest, a radical movement, or green beans. Or possibly all of them, just because the links allow the web crawler to make these connections. In terms of the game “Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” you might just be one or two degrees away thanks to links.
A nofollow link removes this ability. It is just information swimming in the void, waiting for you to stumble upon it. You see no difference in the article you read, but the coding behind the screen, the magic that makes the internet happen, tells crawlers to wipe their feet at the door. You are still routed to the page as a visitor, but now the link is simply a one-way gateway, dumping you at the destination without tracking the passage.
By default, links are set to “dofollow,” which enables web crawlers to track everything. (This is only a part of the secret of Google’s success.) This enables blogs and pages to go up in rankings online, because of how often they are mentioned in the accounting of web crawlers. (Yeah, that’s the other dirty secret. How successful your blog becomes is dependent not only on page visits to your content, but also page visits to the linked content.) So your blog can move up or down in the rankings based off what you link to, as well as the content you provide.
Getting back to the original post that kicked this whole thing off: “In which I take issue.” The content was created in December of 2013. It was based off an article that was posted on Yahoo! Autos. In doing the research for this article – because I have no desire to become a “spam author,” or one who creates content simply to drive traffic – I tracked down the source of the data Yahoo! was using. (It wasn’t hard; they posted the source in their article.) The article used the information almost verbatim from the report in question.
When I published my post, I did my reaction to the article. I did not re-interpret the data, nor alter it in any way. I was simply reacting to the information gathered, and commented on some of the relevant facts. First off, the report was not easy to read. Secondly, the data gathered was asking for information from individuals, and asking them to rate how embarrassed they were should they be willing to report. Thirdly, in an effort to be transparent, I provided the details to the page itself and let viewers make their own minds up regarding the matter. To have received an email asking me to remove the link and change it to “nofollow” does not make sense to me… unless they are worried that I might be pulling them down in the rankings. (To which I might be inclined to reply: “Did you read the article on your own website?” If I were to comment at all.)
Now, I will admit that I was a little overzealous in the original posting. If you were to read it (the second time I posted the link should cause it to pop up in a separate window, if you were interested), you might notice that there are many links there. I have found a good balance now, but then I was experimenting with many things. One of them was to “name drop” – or what I call adding links – as often as possible. I will admit to a level of reach to improve my credibility by pointing to many others. (In hind sight, this is not a good idea. But in the efforts of posterity, and showing improvement, and integrity, I do not like to edit completed posts. This is partially because I consider the matter done, and partially because I will constantly be working on one post, rather than coming up with more material.)
My new guidelines I have arrived at thanks to a few different sources. Lifting the curtain up to show some of the levers, bells, and cranks to you the reader, I try to limit links, either internal (to my own posts), or external (to someone else’s work), to three links. I tend to use the standard setting (which happens to be a WYSIWYG / dofollow setup). This is partially because I try to be authentic in my writing, demonstrate integrity in as much as humanly possible, and honest and straight-forward in my dealings with pretty much everybody. Begging and pleading for traffic is not going to draw traffic, nor will copy-and-paste of other people’s projects. (Keeping in mind this is mostly a blog about wood working projects, and how everybody can attempt them.) The other big reason I use this approach is that it enables me to continue to make posts using the phone.
(Ah, yes. The phone. The bane of our existence, the godsend that has made life possible.) Many of the posts I create have been drafted on the phone, and often get scheduled for posting at a later time. Very rarely do I schedule the post for a later date (curtain is still up, folks). And trying to fight the autocorrect on my phone while copying links and creating a post is taxing my patience with the phone to the limit. I’m sure it’s possible to do. I just don’t want to fight my phone to do it.
So this post is to serve three purposes. (Four, if you include the “post periodically” requirement I have of myself.) First, it is to inform you that I will be breaking one of my own rules, and amending a previous post past the one week time frame I usually enforce. Secondly, it is to provide illumination to some of the dark mysteries for some, and provide a laugh for others. It has become a simple fact of life that bloggers must now cope with people not liking what you do with their information. To that end, I have to celebrate that I “have arrived”; I have received my first “don’t do that” letter.
And lastly, it is to draw attention to the fact that an article that was awkwardly written, and clearly written for an early version of clickbait methods to draw traffic in and generate responses, did exactly as it was intended by catching attention and pulling traffic. Perhaps my traffic is not what they would have wanted, and perhaps I am pulling their site down. To that end, it is a lesson to me as well: I need to create more content and expand my popularity and readership. (Don’t worry, I won’t be offering a promotion to do this.) But I want to add a note to those who might read this: be careful not only with what you use, but how you use it.
One of my favorite quotes regarding free speech is attributed to both Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and John B Finch: “My freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” Exercising your right to speak your mind is all well and good. Just keep in mind that what you have to say might be demeaning or decrease the value of someone else’s works (or person). So be respectful when you speak your mind, and don’t create backlash.
Otherwise the internet gods will visit you, too. And they may bring their worshipers, minions, subscribers, or like-minded friends: namely, the legal types.