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Paid Reviews Examples by Matt Cutts and Paid Links

Matt Cutts wrote two weeks ago at his blog a post about selling links that pass PageRank.

I wanted to comment at his blog, but 500+ comments made me shy away from it and write a full post here at SearchEngineJournal.com instead. Matt presented a number of (allegedly) paid reviews/posts (there is no absolute proof that the author was paid) to demonstrate how badly paid reviews are and why nofollow should be used on any paid review because of it.

I suggest reading Matts post first get familiarized with his examples to which I will refer below.

Although the presented examples are bad, I would like to say something about them.

First of all did I not read in most of the posts that “radio surgery” is new. It’s written ambiguous, admitted, but that is not a crime and happens far too often. I remember a post of mine from March this year, where a Google engineer understood that I referred to Google as Nazis, which I did not. :)

The “proud to introduce the (Leksell) Gamma Knife” is misleading, but this error could also be made by a poor writer. The “let me introduce” kind of syntax is often used in infomercials on TV, even if the product is already years old.

Quote Matt:

“Now I’m going to ask you to put on your regular user hat. If you’ve just learned that you or a family member have a tumor, would you prefer that radio surgery (spelling corrected by CCU) overview article from the Mayo Clinic, or from a site which appears to be promoting a specific manufacturer of medical equipment via paid posts?”

I don’t Like Bad Content, Paid and Unpaid
I would prefer not to see a lot of other bad content in the SERPS too, paid or unpaid does not matter to me, because bad content does not get any better only because it was not paid for. I even speculate that paid content is probably more likely to be accurate and correct than unpaid content is. I am surprised that the supposed buyer of the reviews did ask the poster to correct factual incorrect statements and obvious typos.

In addition to that would I also do some diligence before I believe anybody about a subject like the one provided as an example. Just by looking at the other posts at the blog, the guy in Matt’s first example would have lost his credibility with me instantly. I was debating at SEOMoz multiple times about the need to double check any information that are critical, when it came to the debate about poor quality content or errors in articles in Wikipedia.

Those errors were not done by people who got paid a dime for their work.

I also bet that this blogger does not have a very strong readership that reads his posts frequently and trusts his authority. It’s a blogger blog; I recognize the template design, ask your colleagues from Blogger to provide some stats for the Atom feed of that blog. I bet the guy has less than 5 subscribers where 2 or 3 of them are by himself (Bloglines, Google Reader etc.).

I have read a number of paid reviews that were actually pretty good. Keep in mind that it does not matter if a post is paid or not, but who is writing it, why and how. Honest reviewers who provided paid reviews get paid for the time it takes them to review the item, do their own research and diligence and to write up the review. This is all time that is being spent and the amount of time spent has direct impact on the quality of the review. The less time spent = the less quality the review. It’s like with a carpenter who builds a table for you. If the carpenter works quick and dirty and only cares about the money, your table will have a low quality. If the carpenter has a good reputation and loves his job, he will need longer to craft the table for you and the end-result will be of superior quality.

Affiliate Marketing Prejudges
Some of the comments to Matts post defer from the main issue by bringing affiliate sites into the game, which I like even less than Matts original post. Here are some quotes:

“So with the new rules, what are the odds of treating all those horrible affiliate links that cause generic, volume junk, web sites to out rank quality web sites with quality content?? Those seem to quality as paid links by any reasonable definition of paid links yet we see these sites constantly running to the top of the SERPs simply because they started a broad band affiliate program.”

“Now, my question is this. How soon until affiliate links are killed? I can foresee the next big push to this pay per post thing is that bloggers will be hired to write posts and insert affiliate links into the posts. The same spammy stuff gets written and these same spammy posts will rise high in the SERPs, but instead of passing link juice, they will be passing actual sales.”

And

“And thanks. I am now going back to change all of the links in my paid posts over to affiliate links. I might as well increase my income.”

I know that there is a lot of prejudges regarding affiliate marketing. I just noticed it again during PubCon. Affiliate marketing has a reputation problem, IMO a much more severe one than SEO has.

I also was at BlogWorld Expo where affiliate marketers tried to help bloggers to get something back for their time spent on blogging and providing quality content to their readers. As you might know, tend most blogs to convert poorly when it comes to side-bar banner ads, top banners or Google AdSense Ads.

In contradiction to that report some affiliate bloggers revenues that pay most monthly bills of an average American family generated by a single post on their well trafficked blog. The affiliate blogger was not writing BS. He could not afford this, because his reputation would have suffered significantly as a result of it.

I came back from the Expo and tried to think of ways to convince bloggers that affiliate programs can work for them, as long as they don’t write the content because of the pay and let the paying advertiser dictate what they write and how. I posted my suggestions here.

Affiliate Links = Paid Links?!
This brings up a good and still open question that seems to be avoided by Matt Cutts like “the devil avoids the holy water”.
People asked repeatedly on his blog and in posts he probably read, if Google considers affiliate links to be paid links or not.

Matt stated that Google is not interested in those links when it comes to “reporting paid links” in his post about how to report paid links from April 14, 2007, but that does not mean that they are discounted or that not using nofollow on affiliate links will not result in a penalty.

I am aware that Matt is not a fan of affiliate marketing and I can understand to some degree his prejudges against affiliates, especially if you consider affiliate marketing in the past, but I hope that me and others might be able to convince him that affiliate marketing is the way to go for small publishers to monetize their content to pay for hosting and the time they spent on creating the content.

I will make it easy for Matt this time. Does Google consider affiliate links to be paid links? Here are four possible answers to choose from. Just say 1, 2, 3 or 4. That would bring us a step forward in the debate.

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. It depends
  4. We are not sure yet

Thank you. Please also think about my comments regarding the paid reviews. You must admit that my arguments are not far fetched and worth thinking about. Cheers!

Carsten Cumbrowski
Affiliate Marketer, Anti-nofollow for paid links Advocate and owner of the resources site for Internet Marketing at Cumbrowski.com

e6149739a0ceadb8fde822225838bd26 64 Paid Reviews Examples by Matt Cutts and Paid Links
Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and Affiliate Manager. Carsten has over 10 years experience in Web Development and 20 years in programming and computers in general. He has a personal Internet Marketing Resources site at Cumbrowski.com. To learn more about Carsten, check out the "About Page" at his web site. For additional contact options see this page.

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17 thoughts on “Paid Reviews Examples by Matt Cutts and Paid Links

  1. It’s technically Google’s fault that they rely so much on the number of incoming links to a URI to measure its relevance…

    It’s totally unfair to tell webmasters on what they can and cannot do.

    And banning or blacking their positions in the search engine results is totally unjustified just because you think that the person is paying to get incoming links…

    Find a better way to find relevant results. Don’t blame the web publishers for the mess that gets into your results.

  2. If Google really wanted to establish credibility about their sincerity, they should remove the Sponsor Links from the top of the organic SERPs.

    The fundamental principles are similar, even if there are technical differences in survival strategies.

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/selling-links-that-pass-pagerank/#comment-117690

    There are just too few options for small Websites and small businesses to compete successfully with the giants to spend tens of thousands weekly to get the prime positions on the SERPs.

    You insist that Webmasters voluntarily give up their competitive tactics – but offer them no hope in return, while you continue with your greed.

    Link popularity was innovative in its day, but Sergey and Larry were not forward thinking enough to access how it would change the search e-cology once ambitious Google finally became dominant.

  3. Matt has been on a rampage about paid links. In Google’s defense, they can do whatever they want. The only thing we can do is stop using them.

  4. “The only thing we can do is stop using them.”

    This sounds more and more like a good plan over the time actually. People repeat that too frequent nowadays. It starts with talk and one day it suddenly happens. :)

  5. There are two problems:
    1. quality of results
    2. monetization of results
    In order to stop using G we’d need a better and less greedy alternative generic search engine or a myriad of vertical ones. Just how better those alternatives need to be is unknown!

  6. “I hope that me and others might be able to convince him that affiliate marketing is the way to go for small publishers to monetize their content to pay for hosting and the time they spent on creating the content”

    Sorry, maybe I’m the only Con on this site. How much is web hosting for an account to allow your own php-based blog where you live? Five US Dollars a month? Ten? Don’t let anyone in North America and Europe tell me they can’t afford that!
    Time spent? Either you have a job that already pays. So you don’t actually need the extra income, which of course would be nice to have. And if you don’t have a regular job you’d just consider your whole income model with paid content. Or – as any mother would say – “get a decent job”. ;-)

    Google doesn’t stop or hinder anyone to use paid links or content. Peroid. They just won’t give you a good night’s kiss in exchange. Just accept that for the time being you won’t get both: paying customers and a good ranking at Google.

  7. Hi Carsten, the short answer is 3 depending on the affiliate link. Here’s a slightly longer answer: I wrote about this a bit on our webmaster help group discussion at http://groups.google.com/group/Google_Webmaster_Help-Indexing/msg/7db86afb08801278
    where I said “we’ve spent most of our time talking about paying money for text links or paid posts, because Google does a pretty good job of
    detecting and handling things like affiliate links or banner ads. In addition, many banner ads (whether they be the 468×80 kind or the
    125×125 kind) end up doing at least one redirect through a 302. If you’re a site owner, one rule of thumb I’d recommend is that if you’re
    being directly paid to place a link, that link shouldn’t affect search engines, but we haven’t talked much about those advertising banners
    because Google detects and handles such banner ads quite well. ”

    The fact is that many affiliate links go through several redirects and don’t flow PageRank, so Google wouldn’t be concerned with such links at all. However, if your affiliate link were a direct static link that passes PageRank and you get paid for even placing that affiliate link on your site whether or not someone clicks on it, that would look pretty close to a paid link to us.

  8. Hi Thomas,

    thanks for your comment.

    Regarding the blog, I will not go into details with that. You probably do not have your own blog with a large readership that you built up over the years, because you would not have said what you did. You probably also don’t have some personal friends who run a high traffic blog that eats more and more of their time to the point where they don’t have a “life” anymore beyond the blog.

    Back to the topic of the post.

    “Google doesn’t stop or hinder anyone to use paid links or content. Period. ”

    Fine, I did not say anything against that, but I would like to know what a paid link is, in the eyes of Google. As far as I know did Google not provide a definition of “paid”. As already pointed out by other, every link is paid if you boil it down to the basics. The only thing that differentiates them is the HOW they are paid and the HOW MUCH.

    There was already some progress made regarding the definition, but it is a bit unclear in some areas. I don’t want to get penalized by Google while I build my sites for the user and not for them, because of a different understanding of what they consider paid and I don’t.

    Sounds simple, eh? Well, getting answers is not. Trust me. Other people stated opinions, but Google didn’t so far.

  9. I agree with Thomas when he said that everybody nowadays can afford an hosting plan to host a blog, but completely disagree when he said that we should find a decent job and not trust in blogosphere to monetirize something.

    Suppose a real case many years ago. At that time it didn’t exist the blog, and so my experience was completely based on a full web site, made with ASP 1.0. At that time I started that web site, and hosting plan in 1999 didn’t cost a bunch of dollars like today.
    I spent for two years about 120$ / month just to be hosted and provided my conoissance for free through that web site, without any way to monetirize anything.
    Just some banner (friend banner) first and the last 3 month paied banner that never never never re-paid me the monthly fee.

    So … it was 2001 … and my first experience (and I was one of the greatest web site about that argument) was put side by side within other web site within econominal income provided by banners, link, ads and whatever you want.

    So my free time sacrified for nothing and never repaid. I worked alone because no revenue could afford me any useful help, against company …

    What do you think where is my web site? In the WC of course, while other company’s web site today still lives.

    So, the right answer as Matt Cutt, is the number 3 … but at Google they start to rely more on human resource for this kind of check and not simply thinking that algorithm could solve everything.

    They need more personnel … Matt you can start to evaluate some CV. I could be available if you are looking some Italian guy.

  10. Thanks for the comment Matt. It must have been stuck, because it appeared after my last comment on the site (thanks Loren).

    I expected an answer like this, which is good and also bad in some respect.

    I am sure that Google is aware of the fact that there is a (slow) but noticeable trend in affiliate marketing towards tracking mechanisms that link to merchant sites directly where the link does pass PR from the affiliate site to the advertisers website.

    The SEO benefit is only one reason for this trend, but not the most important one.

    The main reason is the increased blocking of affiliate links and deletion of network tracking cookies by browser plug-ins (blocking the ads) and even by anti-virus/ad/spyware vendors (deleting the cookies), which causes 5% and more in loss of commission for affiliate publishers (and revenue loss to the network, which usually charges a percentage of the commission paid to publishers as fee for their services).

    So this issue will only become bigger for Google and has to be addressed eventually. I suggest to read the post aimed for Bloggers about how to leverage affiliate marketing and what the slip falls are. I referred to it in my original post.

    Cheers!
    Carsten

  11. Whilst I applaud Googles war on paid links for the simple reason that it levels the playing field. Can you imagine what would happen if Sony (for example) decided to get in on the paid link business and bought a few million back links?

    The point is that it shouldn’t be those with the deepest pockets always rank for what they want.

    The other point to bare in mind is that Google isn’t the only search engine out there, and the others are no where near as advanced in tackling the paid links problem. So even if Google were to get the perfect solution in place today, paid links will still work for some years to come.

  12. Now Google is the police and webmasters are the thiefs… Over the years, Google has been dictating what we can do and what we can’t. I do not find anything wrong with a honest reviews that allow visitors to leave a comment on.

    For instance, once i wanted to change my web host provider and decided to search for a particular host on the net. I found the top ten results with 60% of it belonging to some blogs that do reviews on hosting company. (They are paid by hosting companies).

    I went into one of it which did an honest review on one of the company and stated the good features of it, however the blogger missed all the other bad features such as poor customer service. These points were however brought up by many visitors who left tons of comments on it. The blogger was doing the right thing by allowing honest comments to show up on paid reviews. However, his site was penalized by Google’s recent PR update and went down from PR3 – PR0.

    Is this called fairness? You can’t judge a site by just looking at their paid links. That site was providing relevant and informative contents.

  13. Paid or not is not an indicator for quality and relevance. A paid review can be good or bad, a free review is also not always good, it can even be worse than any paid review that is out there, because in the case of a paid review did the reviewer spent most likely at least some time on the subject and did some due diligence and did not just write the first thing that was “falling out of his head”.

  14. Hi Carsten

    I really enjoy the way that you write.

    So should we only advertise our clients websites on websites that have the ability to bring direct business and not buy links for the purpose of effecting page rank.

    This seems fair yet our competitors clients are paying for links and rating higher on the engines then ours. Yet when we tell this to our clients they do not understand as their competitors are displayed higher on the search results.