As is often the case, I was both annoyed and amused by Zawodny’s latest exercise in traffic generation via “controversy” (a post about selling links on his blog). All you need to make money on the web is traffic plus monetization, and it looks like he’s got both of those well in hand.
The main thing to remember is: Jeremy’s not speaking for Yahoo! Search on his blog. (And needless to say, I’m not speaking for Yahoo! here either). Jeremy will tell you himself, repeatedly, that he doesn’t speak for Yahoo!. He interleaves those disclaimers with a lot of posts about Yahoo! and his job there. And so the ultimate authorial stance (something like: “I work at Y!, but don’t speak for Y!, but speak a lot _about_ Y!, but don’t speak _for_ Y!, but here’s some dirt about Y!”) is … subtle, and confusing for some.
Some of those mildly confused people jump on Jeremy’s posts (especially when they’re directly related to Y!’s business), and write articles with headlines like “Yahoo! Search engineer says controversial thing!”, and link to Jeremy. So these “controversies” generate a lot of buzz and traffic and … (see “monetization”, above), to which Jeremy responds “Hey, I don’t speak for Yahoo!”. I can’t help but admire the way Jeremy plays both ends against the middle, and it must also amuse him too.
Now back on the substance of it. I agree completely with Matt Cutts that link-selling (without nofollow) is a spammy practice, in that it’s mainly about trying to game search-engine relevance algorithms that are based on the link graph. Most people who work on relevance wish people would just cut out that kind of gaming, so that they could get back to less adversarial relevance improvements; as it is, though, they have to design countermeasures to make sure that relevance doesn’t get screwed up for users. If there’s a difference of opinion between Jeremy and Matt, maybe it can be explained by their different jobs. Matt works on relevance, and spam in particular — he runs a great anti-spam program at a fairly well-known search engine. Jeremy works on … well, Y!’s a big company, and I must confess that I’m not always up to date on what everyone’s working on. But I know it’s not spam or relevance. Could that be why they don’t agree? (My job is not precisely the same as Matt’s, but it’s a lot more like Matt’s than like Jeremy’s.)
My personal wish would be that we didn’t have someone publicly identified with Y! Search (but not speaking for Y! Search) selling links on his blog, and writing about it, and stirring up as much chatter around it as possible. But as a mutual friend of mine and Jeremy’s once said, in a fatalistic yet affectionate tone, “Such is the way of the Zawodny”. And of course, the funny thing is that, by jumping in and by linking to Jeremy’s posts, I’m just helping him out even more. (Not to mention the fact that (due to my link to Jeremy’s post) this page is now only three hops away from lesbian porn. 🙂 )
ObDisclaimer: Personal opinions, not speaking for the company, yadda yadda. (Man, all this disclaiming can tire a guy out after a while.)