This is part two of the article: “Reign of Bread and Whip. The New Google Aristocracy“.
Now here is a misconception that I would like to correct. People that buy links do this to gain ranking for a term that is relevant for that page. Even links on sites about Linux that say “buy Viagra”, point to places where you can buy the blue pills by Pfizer.
The anchor text is contextual relevant to the page the link is pointing to. If it makes the site rank #1 for buy Viagra in the SERPs, great, that is exactly what the user was looking for, or not? We don’t live in the pre-dot com crash days where the number of page impressions mattered for advertising rates and thus traffic was everything and relevance was nothing. Sites that were selling porn tried to rank for popular off topic keywords like “Disney” for traffic. That is definitely harming users. It has been a long time since I saw a SERP that had complete irrelevant results for my search phrase. Stuff I was not looking for I get plenty nowadays, especially for ambiguous terms.
The keywords can be found on the pages alright, Google just did not understand what I meant. Even with queries that included a phrase, 3-4 additional keywords and 2-3 negative keywords did I not find what I was looking for on the top 100 results. Only a few of sites returned were spammy. Personal search enabled did also not help. Paid links had nothing to do with this, but the lack of understanding what I was looking for. After 10-15 different queries would have the “slowest” human being understood what I was looking for and what I was exactly NOT looking for. I only ended up with supplemental results that actually were spam for the same stuff I did not want to see in the non-spammy results. Good job. This happens to me more frequent nowadays than it did in the past. There is something you should really be concerned about.
The “buy Viagra” link on the Linux site (example by Matt Cutts) is an off topic link for the page where the link is placed on, but on topic in regards to the anchor text of the link to the other commercial website. There is no harm to the user and you can’t compare with intrusive Ads like PopUps. It only could harm the reputation of site that allows those Ads. The exception are visible links to adult sites from sites target to children for example, but that harm has nothing to do with SEO and search engines. But why do people do buy links? The types of links that are sold the most give you an answer to that question.
White hat SEO will help you rank and in many spaces and verticals might that be enough, however, for some verticals it is not.
For very competitive verticals do you have to exploit the flaws in Google’s ranking methods to get the extra little boost to make it in the business. The PPC verticals (Pills, Porn, Casino) are the most competitive ones, followed by the financial businesses vertical.
But a link helps everybody in this game so why not buying relevant links that are good for SEO, branding and traffic (in that order)?
While aggressive off topic link buying does exist, is most of the link buying actually done where the site the link is purchased is not extremely off topic to even completely on topic. A site selling books that links to a travel website to book flights is contextual off topic, but not entirely. Some human traffic is probably generated, but the conversion will be very poorly. A link purchased there will probably serve SEO purposes the most, but it will also generate traffic and revenue and can as well help with your branding. If the link is on a site that is completely on target, the human traffic, conversion and branding benefits will be larger and the SEO benefit might or might not be less than those other benefits. It’s still there though. Why should you render the SEO benefit of the link useless, because Google threatens you to penalize you and the advertiser if you don’t? Does that sound right?
Now it becomes even more complicated with links in editorial content, especially affiliate links. The whole business model of an affiliate site, is the monetization of your content or service by linking to an advertiser with unique tracking code to pay you commission for referred business.
Affiliates get only paid for performance, so relevance is import for conversion and generate income. Unlike display advertising or contextual Ads, are affiliate links editorial and where chosen by the affiliate with the idea to get paid. There is a growing trend of SEO friendly tracking links in the affiliate marketing space. This moves affiliates more and more into the fire zone of Google who did not specify to this date, if affiliate links fall under the classification as “paid links” or not. It would it still be an editorial, but plain link if pay per performance would not be the business model of that site.
What are the options for the affiliate with all those editorial “paid links” on the site?
- Add nofollow to all of them and discount all the links for Google, although they should count?
- Isn’t nofollow a signal of mistrust or non-editorial content? That what the purpose and that is how webmaster used it since it’s introduction to fight blog spam.
- How will Google know why the nofollow attribute was added to a link?
- Will it not hurt your own reputation if you indicate that most of the content you reference is not trustworthy or that the site is full of non-editorial content?
What are the alternatives?
- Plain links only and as a result of that no income from affiliate programs? It’s hard to sustain life and business without revenue, so you will eventually move back in with mom and dad and hope that communism will eventually take over to provide the constitutional right for food and shelter. Well, you will be alive, but not live. Better than dead, right? Maybe, maybe not.
- Same as option 1. + putting AdSense ads on the site which are not editorial and probably less quality than your own editorial links, if you have done a good job as an editor. You will probably make less, but avoid to move back in with mom and dad and a site that is of less quality and a not so good user experience as it used to be. Oh, yes, at least you will be able to (maybe) prevent that you have to move back in with your parents and wait for communism to take over.
- Say to yourself “Screw Google!” and keep the links the way they are, don’t add AdSense to the site and hope that Google will not decide that you are a big link seller and torch your site. Sorry, the guy who checked was only following the steps to find “paid links” and he did. Your site was about a subject he did not know anything to make any judgment if you did a good editorial job or not. Tough luck and have fun to get a hold of somebody at Google to talk about your little misunderstanding to get your site back into the index.
Not very pretty choices, aren’t they? Why did we end up with those three options, where one is worse than the other? Three seems to be the most reasonable, but it is not a very good option to build and grow your business. Affiliates are screwed no matter what, but even if you are not an affiliate in decide to take some money for links for whatever reason, which includes SEO purposes.
Who is Google to tell you not to do it?
It’s not illegal and in most cases also not unethical.
This is a segregation and the general exclusion and penalization of a minority because of prejudges and misconception. It is a bad signal sent by Google to the outside world and people who trust Google will adopt the belief and some will even condemn and penalize members of this minority as a result of that. From all the discussions I had with representatives from Google came across that this is actually not Google’s belief. However, all signals sent so far conflict this and draw a different picture. It would be good, if Google would change the type of signals they send out.
Google did not say that which paid links are bad, except that all paid links that pass link juice and help with ranking are bad, if they are not excluded. How does Google determine with 100% certainty if a link was paid for or not and for which exact reasons and the amount of impact of each reason on the buying decision? They can’t , at least not to 100%. There will be false positives, regardless of the case. A punishment of webmasters who do not comply, knowingly or unknowingly will result in victims, casualties of war, collateral damage, name it what you want. Those victims are often small business and a punishment like this could mean the end of the young business as a result of this. Google plans to revert from laser guided missiles back to old fashioned carpet bombing to protect something they don’t “own” anymore. With the paid link reporting form at the webmaster central console are they attempting to create the equivalent of an East German IM network.
Google is creating a state of uncertainty and stirr fear and mistrust among the web community. Their reporting paid links form is the institution of executive means (reporting paid links) for juristictive elements (Webmaster guidelines) by somebody with legislative power (we made them #1, remember?). Google is not the government, or are they?
Economically power is equivalent to strong influential political power in the real world. The instituted juristictive elements enforced by executive means is abuse of this power and would be the rape of a democracy if done in the real world.
That this happens already in the real world is no secret and bad enough, because it endangers democracy and creates the potential of a extreme shift in the political landscape that could result in an non-democratic and absolutarian system. This is no wild theory and did happen in the real world before. History can attest to that over and over again with more or less extreme consequences.
If Google still believes in its on Philosophies, then they actually should send different signals out to the world and engage in the search for alternative solutions to the problem, which includes the community as a whole and encourages engagement, until the problems can be solved in a different manner, e.g. improved algorithms that eliminate that problem.
The question ask in the panel was: Are paid links evil?
My answer to that question is: “Paid links” are neutral, they can’t be good or evil. They can only be relevant or irrelevant.
Putting the stamp on them that they are irrelevant is as wrong as to consider them relevant in any case. Google obviously cannot always distinguish between the two cases. Rather than working on a solution together with the web community to be able to make this distinction are they trying to solve the problem by elimination and punishment of anybody who refuses to comply. What is next? Punishment for attempting the prevention of extermination of paid links and also the punishment of the counter action of attempts to make them become extinct?
Remember! Webmasters are also Google user. They also tend to influence other users regarding the choice of services online, e.g. which search engine to use. While Google has the dominant position in the industry will most webmasters obey to the demands by Google in fear to get punished if they don’t. Other webmaster will report their pear for various reasons, including for the reason to save their own neck. People who follow because of fear rather than because they like you to follow are not very loyal to the leader and will turn the back on that leader, if they get the chance to do so.
History teaches us the lesson that those types of leaderships always end bad for the leader. The end of the leader is in the majority of cases very sudden, violent and bloody. In the business world would this translate to having a lot of business in the past and all of the sudden no business within in a short period of time, because of a mass migration of customers to somewhere else.
The drop in customer satisfaction to second place behind Yahoo! might or might not be a warning that Google entered a path that leads to somewhere where they would not like to be.
I wrote a number of posts here at Search Engine Journal about the subjects of “Paid Links”, Google’s “PageRank” problems and the “nofollow” attribute.
- Matt Cutts Update on Paid Links Discussion – Q&A
posted on May 14th, 2007
- Fixing Google Web 2.0 Style
posted on May 2nd, 2007
- Is Google Thinking That Affiliates Are Worthless
posted on March 3rd, 2007
- Nofollow Leverages Mistrust Among People
posted on February 11th, 2007
- A Link Is Not A Vote, It’s A Pointer
posted on January 26th, 2007
- PageRank is dead and NOFOLLOW will NOT Save it!
posted on December 21st, 2006
p.s. Here are the Reign of Bread and Whip Outtakes. Fun stuff, but you don’t miss out, if you don’t read it :).