Paid Reviews Examples by Matt Cutts and Paid Links

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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

Carsten Cumbrowski
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... Read Full Bio
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