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Guilt by Association: Do You Really Know Who You Are Linking To, Parts 1-12

Note: Recently I’ve gotten some ribbing from friends and colleagues about my exceedingly numerous multi-part posts. In order to wean myself off my favorite form of not-having-to-think-about-what-I’m-going-to-write-about-next, I’ve combined all 12 parts of this series into a single post. Enjoy! 🙂

Part 1: Guilty of Crimes No One Committed

A lot of people subscribe to the “Guilt by Association” theory in online marketing. This theory suggests that you are who you associate with. I agree there is some definite truth to this mindset, but, like a lot of things, it can also be taken to a paranoid extreme. This fear leads some people into a paralysis that ultimately hinders their online marketing efforts rather than helping them.

“Guilt by Association” extremists work hard to keep themselves squeaky clean. They tread extra carefully with who they associate with in an effort to ensure that they are never found guilty of crimes they haven’t committed. In order to stay “pure”, they avoid having online relationships with some who they believe may have broken some rule at some point that, likely, nobody even cares about.

Part 2: Google’s Guidelines Don’t Rule the Web

With Google controlling so much market share, many business owners and online marketers are scared of doing anything that might seemingly violate Google’s Guidelines. We know Google looks at both positive and negative attributes, including your associations, when developing your overall trust profile. But we often do ourselves a disservice when we let Google’s Guidelines dictate everything we do on the web – even in areas that don’t have any specific connection to Google.

There is nothing wrong with keeping a clean profile and ensuring you don’t do anything that violates the search engine guidelines. There is also nothing wrong with making sure you associate your online profile with people you know will help you and not hurt you. But there comes a point where it borders on paranoia, at best, and counter-productive, at worst.

Part 3: You Have No Control Over Who Associates with You

One of the problems with worrying too much over your online profile is that you have little to no control over who associates themselves with you. Anybody can link to you, anybody can scrape your content, anybody can share your post with their friends, and anybody can retweet you. If you’re unhappy about who’s doing any of these things, your sole recourse is to contact them, ask them to stop, and then cross your fingers.

Google (and the other search engines) know this. They knew it back when they made links a part of their algorithms. They knew it when people started scraping and duplicating your content. And they know it now in an age of RTs, Likes, Mixxes, Stumbles, and whatever else we do with content we like.

Google will not hold you responsible if someone promotes you and then goes off and violates Google’s Guidelines.

Part 4: You are Responsible for Who You Associate With

If there is one constant in the world of online promotion, social media profiles, and search engine rankings, it is that you do have some responsibility for who you choose to associate with. In the real world, it is often said that you can tell a lot about a person by the friends they have. If you’re associating with thieves, liars, spammers, and cheats, you don’t have to be a thief, liar, spammer, or a cheat to get the reputation of one (or as an enabler of one). Either way, your associations affect you.

Part 5: You Are Not Responsible for the Entire History of Who You Associate With

There is some truth, both in real life and on the web, that you can learn a lot about a person by who they associate with. But it is also true that you cannot not be held accountable for the actions of every person you’ve shaken hands with.

In the social sphere of the web, retweeting or liking someone’s single message is not an endorsement of every tweet, post, thought, or blog they ever published. Even the worst offenders do something right! Making note of the positive doesn’t suddenly hang all their negative around your neck as if you’ve endorsed it all.

Parts 6-10: yada yada yada

Part 11: Everyone’s Got Some (Negative) History

No matter how squeaky clean you want to keep your social media profile, the only way to stay squeaky clean is to not associate yourself with anyone. The only person who does not have something negative in their profile is likely the person who has no profile whatsoever.

Or you can check the complete historical profile of every person before you RT, Stumble, Like, or whatever. Of course, even with those who pass the test, what guarantees do you have that they won’t do something shady in the future? Not only do you have to check the historical profile before you connect with them, you have to keep checking back to make sure you still want to be connected with them.

Part 12: We Are All Violators

Sooner or later, whether you like it or not, you’re going to violate some guidelines somewhere, including Google’s. It’s inevitable. Which is why we can’t live and breathe by every guideline that Google puts out.

Keep in mind, those who try hard to stay violation-free are often those that violate guidelines the most. They just hide it better.

And the search engines likely know this too.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

One Response to Guilt by Association: Do You Really Know Who You Are Linking To, Parts 1-12

  1. you’re actually right about the last part. making mistakes online is inevitable. even if you are careful with link building. just an example, it’s impossible for all of the comments made to pass through the standards, wherein some are marked as spam (no matter how good the comment is, some could still mark it for many reasons) and that will eventually hurt a site. not just with reputation, but with networks as well, since IP addresses can be blocked and marked as a spamming critter globally. the best thing that we can all do is to just do what we think is best for our site, keep things white and keep your site’s reputation squeaky clean to “PEOPLE”, then it’ll all be good 🙂