Google’s actions already have weakened the usefulness of links as many sites just nofollowed tons (or all) external links because suits at the company are scared of Google punishing them. Google made a extremely smart decision to make links an important determination in search results. That led to people trying to improve their search results by gaining links (“gaming the results”).
It was foolish for Google to attempt to enforce their desires for how pages should be coded and it still is. Obviously if all sites completely just went to nofollowing all links Google would have a very big problem – then they would probably start punishing sites for not following links Google wanted followed.
The challenges of providing good search results when people have a large monetary incentive to get better results for their sites, no matter if that is better for users of the search engine or not. That creates challenges for Google. I don’t think Google’s nofollow dictates are the right solution.
I have written my thoughts on the topic several times previously (on another blog): Google’s Search Results, Should Factors Other Than User Value be Used (like blocking sites that didn’t do what Google wanted), Google and Links, Google’s Displayed PageRank and more.
The bottom line is when Google “punishes” for a site doing something Google doesn’t like Google also is punishing Google users. To the extent that Google dominates the market it can give users less useful results and get away with it. With better competition it likely would not be able to. Google has lots of smart people that know whether the degradation of value to users goes to far and to what extent they can provide worse results to users in order to try and punish people for sites doing things Google doesn’t like.
I am surprised Google still hasn’t found a better way to deal with valuing links that are questionable. I believe improvement probably won’t happen until competition requires Google to improve. Other search engines have a big potential advantage of using the signal value provided by links Google has created a policy that requires it to ignore. Those other search engines though have failed to take advantage of this weakness yet. Until they do, I don’t imagine Google will find a way to provide users better value based on paid, kind of paid, influenced and links that Google now ignores but have search ranking value (lots of nofollow links are nofollowed to game Google or because suits are scared of Google, not because the link is less true/valuable than any followed link).
Reaction to: Will Google Penalize Chromebooks, Google Analytics, AdWords & Google+ For Using Advertorials? by Danny Sullivan