The WordPress team responsible for the official WordPress documentation posted a new external linking policy. The policy prohibits links to the blogs of commercial sites, even if those sites don’t sell a product. The response quickly turned negative.
Members of the WordPress development community with ties to commercial sites argued it was unfair.
Goal is to Protect WordPress Documentation from Abuse
The stated goal of the new external linking policy is to put a stop to attempts to place links to “helpful” articles that are on the blogs of external commercial sites.
According to the statement on WordPress:
“During discussion about external linking policy, we came to conclusion that we won’t allow, at least in the beginning and for the time being, any commercial blogs.
So before you start arguing that some popular plugin’s blogs have valuable information, let me stop you right there.
…this will completely move focus from initial idea which is:
Benefit for the documentation user.”
That goal, benefiting the documentation user is, according to the statement, at the heart of the decision.
The statement did not explicitly state that the decision may also reflect the inherent goal of any official documentation, which is to be the resource where users find answers. That’s the point of documentation, right?
But the official statement does not affirm that the goal of the official WordPress documentation is to be so useful that there is no need to send users to another site.
The goal, apparently is to save the documentation editors from the bother of having to police commercial sites.
Loose Definition of Commercial Site Creates Confusion
To make matters more confusing, the definition of what constituted a “commercial” site was defined in such a way as to include the blogs of sites that didn’t sell anything.
Links to Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow Are Okay
“So any WordPress plugin official blog, theme’s official blog, market’s or shop’s (with themes, plugins etc) official blog, hosting’s official blog, other service’s official blog etc regardless if they are selling anything or not, is not allowed. “
So that explains why WordPress then goes on to say that it’s okay to link to Stack Exchange. Or does it?
“We need to determine what is not “commercial” website but doesn’t go under personal blog either, which can be allowed. For example, Stack Overflow or any of the Stack Exchange websites.
This is not really non-commercial website but its completely neutral towards appearing on WordPress.org.”
What the author of that statement means by “neutral” is that links to Stack Exchange are naturally occurring and not something that workers at Stack Exchange are adding to the WordPress documentation themselves.
She explains further:
It seems like the people at WordPress who came up with the policy weren’t really thinking in terms of making the documentation so useful that external links aren’t necessary, since links to Stack Exchange are still allowed.
“This is not to say that being “neutral” in this regard is a requirement but merely pointing out that they have no interest in trying to abuse the opportunity for getting their link appear at wp.org.”
If the WordPress administration team were coming from the point of view that the WordPress documentation should be helpful and not need external links, then they wouldn’t have allowed links to Stack Exchange.
New WordPress Policy Unfair?
Joost de Valk, founder of Yoast SEO WordPress plugin, presented the point of view that many companies who have helped WordPress from behind the scenes are going to be treated the same as companies who have done absolutely nothing for WordPress.
This is what Joost said:
But I think your premise here is wrong: you’re saying you’re not “biased” if you’re not linking to commercial companies.
I would say we’re all inherently biased, because some of those companies do a lot for the WordPress community, while others do not.
The companies that contribute to WordPress a lot used to get some links, and thus some promotion as benefit from the fact that they’re contributing.
By removing that from them, you’re basically treating those that don’t give back the same as companies that do give back, something which I think is simply wrong.
So I very heavily disagree with this decision.”
Another member of the WordPress community voiced a similar opposition.
His point was that the new policy was discriminatory and arbitrarily negative about commercial sites.
“The more this gets discussed though the more it sounds like really undesirable gate-keeping.
In cross post comments there is discussion of having a preference for trusting links from persons active and “well known” in the community over others.
And here a prejudicial policy against all things “Commercial” suggesting they’re inherently corrupt and not trustworthy nor valuable.
A links value is inherently subjective and ought to be dealt with subjectively. Trying to create high level objective rules doesn’t seem beneficial or realistic. I certainly disagree that all “commercial” sites should be blanket banned.”
Are Self-created Links from WordPress Unnatural?
If companies who “volunteer” to help the WordPress community are repaid with links, does the “volunteer” work become payment for a link?
Google’s John Mueller recently said that guest posts can result in unnatural links because the people providing the articles are also creating the links.
There seems to be a parallel between a business volunteering to help WordPress write official documentation that includes adding their own link and someone contributing content to a blog and also adding their own link.
In the official WordPress “manual” at Codex.WordPress.org, all links are nofollowed. That means that the links will not pass PageRank.
But links from the Developer.WordPress.org domain does not use the nofollow attribute. So links from the WordPress Developer help pages do pass PageRank.
External links from the WordPress developer pages pass PageRank. That’s important because parts of Developer.WordPress.org are created by this team.
Is a Ban on Links to Commercial Sites Fair?
The comments in the WordPress discussion were somewhat even between those who thought it was a good idea versus those who thought the ban was unreasonable.
It makes sense that volunteers creating WordPress documentation should focus on making documentation. They shouldn’t have to divert their time to adjudicating whether a link to a blog is helpful or, years later, having to check the if link is out of date or non-existent.
I can’t help thinking that this new rule may have been less controversial if they hadn’t made exceptions for Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow. Both sites, Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow, are ad supported commercial websites, which fuels the perception that this new rule is arbitrary.
It may have been an easier pill to swallow (though no less bitter) if WordPress had also banned links to both Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow in the name of making the WordPress documentation so good there is no need to link to another website.