For great session coverage of SES see the following sites:
Yesterday’s “Is Buying Links Evil” was by far the most interesting and heated of the sessions. Google’s Matt Cutts was under heavy fire from Todd Malicoat and Michael Gray regarding Google’s aggressive policies on paid linking and the application of the NOFOLLOW tag. The best question came from Rand Fishkin who asked Matt Cutts if it would be preferable to do without NOFOLLOW and have better, scalable, algorithmic ways to determine link relationships. Matt indicated it would and this gets to the huge middle ground in the paid linking debate. I think SEO folks, especially those who worked back in the gravy days of massive paid linking, should have expected Google to crack down on the practice but I would *strongly* criticize Google for not bringing more transparency to this issue by clarification of their paid link penalty structure and what appears to be a lot of leniency for paid linking in many situations. Many links, such as those a brief aquaintance might give to another person who opens a new website, are probably in line with guidelines but are essentially identical in structure to a paid link. In this case adding nofollow is totally inappropriate since the goal is to indicate a mild endorsement of the new site. I suspect this type of link is treated favorably by Google and I’m wildly guessing that they err on the side of not penalizing this type of link, but that is not clearly indicated in the policy statements or in the talks I’ve had with Google search folks. This failure to clarify, combined with Google asking for “help” in finding paid links, has led to more frustration in the Webmaster community than Google thinks it has caused. One indication of this was the huge applause given to parts of the “anti Google” presentations yesterday. As always Matt Cutts handles this with great composure and I think a very sincere desire to make things work well for all players, but I’d recommend that Google really examine the linking policies carefully and issue a detailed and full clarification of “legitimate linking practices” with, literally, thousands of examples. Will this be reverse engineered for SEO benefit? Yes, but if it’s written correctly it can improve the web rather than leading to confusion about linking and the rampant continued use of paid linking schemes.
Links are a big theme here and I’m now off to Danny Sullivan’s session on “Search Engine Q&A On Links”