SEO

Google To Go After Paid Links?

[editorial] Google appears to be going after paid links, and they want you to do the work for them by reporting such links, regardless of the reason they were bought or sold.

Check out Matt Cutts’s post How to report paid links and notice that he appears not to have responded to the comments that mention Text Link Ads or similar brokers. This will be a huge disappointment to all those small websites that make a bit of money selling sponsored links. Whatever reason the sponsor uses them for is their business, but if they perceive Google’s move to mean ditching the links, then there goes a lot of revenue.

The other problem is that they seem to want us, web surfers, to make the distinction between whether a link is used for SEO or for traffic. If the ad code uses Javascript, according to Cutts, then it’s for traffic because there’s a redirect or nofollow. Any other form of sponsored code means the links were sold for SEO (even if they were free).

So that means that little publishers like me who earn roughly $35-55/mth in AdSense and a bit more from paid links – and work very hard to earn even that much – are going to get screwed by some jealous newbie blogger who thinks the other person is making a fortune because they have a lot of sites. Or if I do a link exchange with a site to get relevant niche traffic, and it’s misconstrued as a paid link. Very nice.

Cutts says in his article that they’re collecting datasets to test some algorithms. He repeatedly refuses to clarify how the information supplied by unpaid tattletales will be used.

Google seems to be going after a monopoly on advertising, telling webmasters what they can or cannot have on their sites. Does anyone else now think it’s a conflict of interest that search engine as powerful as Google is monopolizing advertising?

By the way, SEJ’s Carsten Cumbrowski left a very detailed, rational explanation of why this move cannot possibly work. It’s as valuable a read as any other comment, if not more, and less hot-headed than this post.

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21 thoughts on “Google To Go After Paid Links?

  1. I think it is abuse of its search power. Instead google should focus on their algos to improve the search.

  2. Thanks for mentioning my comments. I just added another one.

    I posted at SEJ about one month ago about this topic, but viewed from a specific angle, which is important for the question: “what Google considers a paid link”?

    To be more specific, a paid link that is in their eyes not okay and get you into trouble, if it is a link they did/do count towards ranking and not ignore e.g. no NOFOLLOW, not JS etc. (This is what it is about, isn’t it?)

    Here is my post that ask this question about affiliate links, are they paid links? Does it matter, as long as they are editorial?

  3. The problem is that Google allows links to pass anchor text and many people now regularly manipulate Google’s search results through link anchor text.

    That won’t change just because Google persuades people to do its dirty work and turn in link sellers. All Google has to do to solve this growing problem — and improve its search results — is stop allowing links to pass anchor text.

  4. Michael: you are right, they should use the contextual relevance and relationship of the page with the link to the page that is being linked to.

    But they obviously can’t figure that out and rather throw out the baby with the bath water and shoot anybody who tries to prevent them from doing it.

  5. Hey Carsten, I should have looked deeper in the archives. I only linked to your most recent Google article.

    I think hypocrisy is the right word. And yeah, this might just give Microsoft a good opportunity.

  6. “But they obviously can’t figure that out”

    Carsten, I wouldn’t assume they haven’t thought about doing that. Most SEOs (at least in the white/grey hat world) aren’t technicians (configuring .htaccess isn’t all that technical. If you’re like me used to writing thousands of lines of AJAX that’s another thing, but then again AJAX isn’t SEO). I’m not surprised to hear marketers say “Google should rely less on links” either.

    They’ve already tried that, and failed. They’ll continue to fail until they create an algo with Artificial Intelligence. Then marketing would become irrelevant and copywriters would become the new band of SEOs.

    Google has a lot of engineers. What seems like common sense to a human being isn’t automatic for a machine. Sure, it should be “easy” for a machine to visually recognize an object, but try building a machine that can distinguish an apple from an orange. How many years do you think it would take you to build it? 10 years? 60 years?

    All in all, Google is proceeding on a predetermined course. They have no other choice than to crack down on paid links. SEOs that get paid to manipulate search results or webmasters that get paid to help other websites manipulate results won’t like it, but those people don’t pay Google’s bills.

    There’s no point in trying to delay the inevitable.

  7. Let’s boycott using Google for SEO and shift MORE of our attention to Yahoo and MSN. They need to be taught a lesson for this blantant abuse of their search engine dominance.

  8. Matt-Cutts-Bashing and Other Blunders

    Responses to what appeared to be an upfront disclosure and an honest solicitation of industry-input have quickly developed into a slew of Matt-Cutts-bashings. I’ve never met the man but, folks, he simply doesn’t deserve that from us.

    That said, I do find horrendous problems for Matt Cutts in finding ways to define, to identify and to monitor paid links. I’ll just give you three examples here.

    1. Define What is a Paid Link

    At law, compensation doesn’t just mean cash. It also means goods, services and even love. What is a paid link? If I write a 750 word article and allow it to be posted on a Web site in exchange for a link, do you not realize that I have just paid between $220 and $750 in time and talent for that single link even though no money traded hands?

    If a philanthropist donates $20,000 to a nonprofit and that nonprofit posts a thank you for the sponsorship on its Web site and provides a courtesy link to the donor’s Web site, is that not a paid link? If it isn’t, than all link farm sites can become nonprofits and give away links for a “donation.”

    2. How Will Google Know For Certain How to Identify a Paid Link?

    I just finished a backlink campaign for a client yesterday. I submitted 100 links. Not one was a paid link and not one was given a reciprocal link or a “no follow.” If my record holds, 90% of these links will be accepted. But here’s a problem. Five of these links were to directory sites (PR 6 or greater) that also post paid links and links that are paid for by reciprocal links. No one but the sites’ Webmasters and I know for certain which category of link I applied for. I’m certain that the Webmasters of these sites would not want to volunteer how many of their posted links are given for free. Like all of us, they have mouths to feed.

    3. How Will Google Monitor and Mediate?

    If a competitor of my client’s Website “reports” to Google that I have paid for links, will Google notify me so that I may initiate a slander or libel lawsuit? Will Google mediate so that I have an opportunity to refute the accusation? (How many new employees will Google have to hire to monitor and mediate the accusations and complaints?) Or, are we to be presumed guilty with no opportunity to prove innocence?

    So Matt Cutts asked for a discussion, so let’s discuss. I am seriously pleased that he gave us this opportunity to participate. And for all the panicking Web site owners, may I just point out that it is possible to garner a Google Page Rank 7, place #4 on a Google search out of 256,000,000 Results for a 2 word Keyphrase, with a Home page that does NOT contain the Keyphrase and a Web site which has only 20 inbound links. If your SEO expert doesn’t know how this is possible, check http://www.WebSyndications.com next month.

  9. Tetsuto,

    good that we discuss this issue at multiple posts :)

    Regarding figuring out relevance. It does not require AI to do that. The SE know today already what related words are for your page and rank you for them, even if they don’t show anywhere on the page or are in any anchor text of a link that points to it.

    I also did propose ways to determine or specify things like the intend and others at Matts blog. Some might make sense to provide to webmasters themselves, that they can state what they mean.

    Combine that with mechanisms to compare the provided info with what Google figured out by themselves already (and use the info from the webmaster only for validation or in border line cases) and with some trust factors that develop over time (trust in how accurate and honest the webmaster is with the specification of those properties) and you might got something that could work without requiring A.I. nor to force webmasters to lie or Google to devalue any paid link that is relevant for the user.

    The side effect of this is that Google will get the means to match the webmasters intention with the users. If it is a sales page, link to it and say, yes, that pages purpose is to buy XYZ and if users express the intent to buy XYZ, please rank me higher than if the intent of the user is different.

    Marketers that still want to get the untargeted traffic that converts horrible have not much choice but don’t provide any attributes that express intent and can try to blur stuff as much as possible to rank for the various searches with different user intents. Unless they suck, natural links will probably follow which have the correct attribution and the SE does not have to care about the ones by the Marketer himself without it.

    Does this make sense?

    Was it GoodKarma (Greg Niland) who said the following? Can’t remember. It was actually directed to SE spammers and not SEs, but you can revert it and address the SEs.

    If people search for “disney land”, show them Disney Land related content.

    If people search for “buy porn”, show them porn that is available to buy.

  10. “Regarding figuring out relevance. It does not require AI to do that.”

    Yeah it does. On-page factors are too easy to game. It’s like if I say I’m Donald Trump, you have to take my word for it. Then what stops 1,000 people from claiming they’re all Donald Trump?

    Google evolved to a link-based algo because it had no other choice:

    http://www.seo4fun.com/blog/2006/12/13/why-google-will-not-move-away-from-pagerank.html

    “Why Google will not move away from PageRank”

    Anyway, at this stage in the game, I think its more productive for people to stop worrying about what Google is going to do and instead focus on buying smarter links.

  11. Google is stopped the sponsor links for paid links, paid link, link paid and comnbinations.. But still there are advertisters bidding on paidlink, paidlinks.. Just google stopped because of there market name or value. We can do any thing on Gooooooooooooogle…. We had software we can break the Software…

    Hint: Aways a software engineer keeps bugs like this by that they will cont his/her job…. ;)

  12. Amongst some webmasters PR has less relevancy than in the past. Better to have keywords on the top page of a search engine than just a high PR. Having said that, advertisers and purchasers of links need good PRs. Very difficult situation.

  13. There has to be a better way to stop cheating the system other than penalizing sites which have a few paid for links. I think Google is shooting itself in the foot over this one.

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