Link baiting entered a new area last week when Lyndon Antcliff had success with a fake story being picked up by some mainstream media sites as well as social news sites. Controversy erupted over the tactic, and now it likely will go into a second cycle after Google’s Matt Cutts has suggested that Google might penalize pages that don’t disclose stories are fake.
The story was named 13 Year Old Steals Dad’s Credit Card to Buy Hookers, but it wasn’t true. Nevertheless, several news agencies picked up the story, plus it made it to the front page of Digg and many other social media sites and garnered over 1,500 inbound links in under a week.
My quick take is that Google’s webmaster guidelines allow for cases such as this: “Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here (e.g. tricking users by registering misspellings of well-known websites). It’s not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn’t included on this page, Google approves of it.”
There’s not much more deceptive or misleading than a fake story without any disclosure that the story is hoax.
As you can imagine, that sparked a pretty heated debate in the comments area of the Sphinn post.
Should Google take action against sites that post false stories? What about April Fools jokes that are not labeled properly? What about stories that are not accurate due to poor reporting? Should Google really dip their fingers in this space?
On the other hand, sites that continuously go this route in order to build links – is that something Google should address? Is that a form of linkspam? I think we all would agree that building out great content, tool, etc as linkbait is acceptable. Should Google go after those that build out fake content for links?
Disclosure is a key point made by Matt. Now, if the article says the sources are not validated or the article is speculation – would that be sufficient? Would Google soon require us to slap on a nosource (aka nofollow) tag in the META tags so a GoogleBot can decipher the article’s validity?
Like all these discussions, there are gray areas. It will be interesting to see which avenue Google goes.