wordpressure

OK, so this argument may make no sense:

I think soon your going to see wordpress.com hosted blogs allow Google Adsense and its going to be a huge deal. So right now the wordpress gang will do whatever they need to not piss off Google.

because a) how do you need to be cosying up to Google in order to host ads? like every account holder is Google’s BFF?, b) they’re totally already using Adsense on wordpress.com and c) far as Google’s concerned, the more sites hosting ads the better, so if anyone needs to be sucking up to anyone it’s Google to Automattic.

But then people started bitching in the comments about Matt’s pagerank and I had a thought.

I pride myself on my complete ignorance of SEO and Google algorithms, so maybe somebody else could tell me: if links to wordpress.org are frequently found amongst spam links in people’s footers, could this impact adversely on their standing in Google? Obviously, the last thing Matt wants would be another blacklisting.

Even if this is not so, isn’t it the case that hanging out with spam links in people’s footers might adversely affect ‘the WordPress brand’?

This is how it is. Sponsored themes are to WordPress what splogs are to Blogger. They are endemic, and they make you look tacky. If a large proportion of WP-powered blogs boast spam links in the footer along with the ‘Powered by WordPress’ tag, there’s a risk that people are going to associate WP with spammy links. Worse than that: most people aren’t at all clear about the distinction between wordpress.org and wordpress.com (primarily because they’re both called wordpress), so it’s hurting .com’s image too. And Matt’s trying to build a brand here. He wants to evoke ‘high quality blogs’ in a splog-free environment. Sponsored themes are undermining that goal, therefore they must go.

I think this is the right thing to do, so I’m going to do it whether it’s popular or not.

And I think that puts to rest any notion anyone might still have that this is being done for the benefit of the community. It’s not about protecting naive newbie users who are scared of touching footer.php, it’s about protecting Automattic’s precious brand, and not a community which has no stake in its value.

13 Comments »

  1. if links to wordpress.org are frequently found amongst spam links in people’s footers, could this impact adversely on their standing in Google?

    I sincerely doubt it. If this were possible, companies would try to “search engine suboptimize” their competitors instead of SEOing themselves. Better for them, because it is anonymous, so they can’t be punished when they’re found out.

    Even if this is not so, isn’t it the case that hanging out with spam links in people’s footers might adversely affect ‘the WordPress brand’?

    Sure… in a less search-engine rankable way. In fact, we get a decent amount of mail to security at wordpress dot org asking us to take down a splog, or comply with a DMCA takedown (thinking that “WordPress” is “hosting” those sites). But that’s not something you can really stop. And sponsored themes aren’t really something we can stop either. It’s free software. Sploggers and search engine poisoners have as much right to use it as anyone else. Matt’s position isn’t that he’s going to rid the earth of sponsored themes, but that he’s not going to promote sponsored themes. And why should he? If we’re talking about a non-nofollowed paid link, promoting that theme is tantamount to participating in search engine poisoning. Go ahead and make the requisite crack about his past mistake, but it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s going far out of his way to avoid making it again.

  2. Root said

    No one ever mentions that Matt can’t ban sponsored themes. All he can do is stop them being hosted on any part of his empire. Which brings us to the real question. Who is *the boss* of the theme viewer really? And is that right? Is it part of WP? Is it a community asset? The short answer is that it is Matt’s. But should he be allowed to alter the rules well after everyone got started? That is whim not strategy. At the root of this as always is Matt’s woeful lack of understanding of themes. On the one hand they are discrete. Nothing to do with WP. But on the other hand he wants to control theme devs. This is getting wierder by the minute. Unannounced google ads on com are fine. Sponsored themes are not. Plus there is the usual schizophrenia involved in trying to develop policies for com and org simaltaneously which are coherent – when in fact they are completely different animals. WP is Open Source. Matt gave up ownership right off the bat. If its allowed by the GPL that is it. Or it should be.

  3. @Mark: I think a number of people are having difficulty seeing how ‘search engine poisoning’ is fundamentally any different from shoving your name in the default blogroll so that you can boast about being #1 Matt on Google. Matt’s objections have nothing to do with the techniques being used and everything to do with the sites that are using them. It’s Google’s job to protect the integrity of their search results, not Automattic’s.

    @Root: the only asset the community has is the code itself. It doesn’t own the trademark, the brand, the logo, the domains, the servers, the forums, the codex, or the wordpress.com fork. You can well afford to share your code freely if you hang on to everything else.

    As far as .com and .org are concerned, long-term I think the distinction will prove unsustainable (most users are unable to tell the difference and it’s making support unnecessarily complex) and all official resources will be .com based. New users will be pushed into opening an account here and the download will be hidden away on a subdomain. At this point, expect further forkage🙂

  4. Root said

    Forkage?:) Is that a new word………………lol

  5. […] well be prevented when Matt takes over the themes repository completely (as widely speculated) for whatever the reason. Think of this as the “Moderators” public service announcement. But before we go, I […]

  6. options said

    lol.., “.com spoonage lead .org to forkage!”

  7. let’s not forget the knives😉

  8. I think a number of people are having difficulty seeing how ’search engine poisoning’ is fundamentally any different from shoving your name in the default blogroll so that you can boast about being #1 Matt on Google.

    I’m not comfortable with the default blogroll either, but there are some important things that distinguish it from sponsored links:

    – no one paid to be on there
    – the sites linked are personal sites
    – they’re gone with a few clicks

    It’s a grey area, but it’s a thousand times lighter than sponsored links — paid links to commercial content that take advantage of people’s laziness, imperceptiveness, or technical inability and commit search engine ranking fraud.

    Matt’s objections have nothing to do with the techniques being used and everything to do with the sites that are using them.

    That’s not how I read this. His first listed concern is that WordPress users who use themes that have sponsored links will get themselves penalized by Google.

  9. His first listed concern is that WordPress users who use themes that have sponsored links will get themselves penalized by Google.

    So innocent users need to be protected from big dumb Google because it’s unable to tell the difference between a splog and a legitimate blog with a few dodgy links? You still haven’t explained why this is Automattic’s responsibility rather than Google’s, since the fact that said penalized users will also be linking to wordpress.org and photomatt is of course totally irrelevant.

  10. So innocent users need to be protected from big dumb Google because it’s unable to tell the difference between a splog and a legitimate blog with a few dodgy links?

    It’s a continuum. And people who end up on the wrong side of Google’s decision would be understandably angry if the reason they got banned or penalized was that the repository where they got their theme took an apathetic view towards themes that were potential liabilities to their consumers. It may ultimately be Google’s responsibility to weed out splogs, but the concern here isn’t for Google, it is for the people who download the themes and end up as collateral damage.

    If the absence of sponsored themes on wordpress.net makes theme seekers feel like they’re missing out, the market will take care of it. Heck, there might even be some money to made by creating a site full of sponsored themes. Take a cut, in exchange for managing the repository and delivering stats.

  11. Star said

    Actually, having a close relationship with Google can be beneficial to some sites because they can receive special privileges, such as custom AdSense displays and even a more covert AdSense set up. For instance, have a look-see at http://www.acrylicwineglasses.com/ — those are all AdSense adverts, but did you notice anything missing? Yep, no “Ads by Google”, plus they’re allowed to show significantly more adverts than the “average” AdSense publisher.

    Just a head’s up that Shoe’s analysis may not be too far off-base.

  12. Interesting… so sucking up to Google will presumably allow Automattic to continue cramming their own ads above and between posts even if the user has an adsense widget in the sidebar. Oh joy. That’s going to be attractive.

  13. Star said

    Um, they could do that anyway. AdSense does allow for multiple publishers to show ads on a single page, as long as they don’t show more ads than allowed in the “normal people” terms.

    For instance (and this is how some blog networks already work on a revenue-share model), you can have your AdSense sidebar widget and MattCo™ can still have his own ads somewhere within the content if he so chooses.

    No special concessions necessary from Google. I was merely implying that rubbing up to the giant may yield more flexibility beyond what’s already granted.

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