Paid Links Brouhaha

Matt Cutts, of Google, recently wrote about some of his employer's efforts to ferret out paid links. Namely, they are testing algorithms to detect such links; providing a form to allow people to report on the use of paid links; and recommending that anyone that takes payment for links clearly disclose this payment.

Links, of course, are important factors for improving search engine rankings and so naturally people have in many cases opted to pay for such links. In fact, niche markets have been created around the concept of buying/selling links. Matt's comments and Google's efforts seem to suggest that this market is in jeopardy and the sites that participated in it may be in for some ranking penalties. Ouch.

Aaron Wall thinks that this latest move is indicative of Google's desire to, "broker all ad deals, and many forms of paid links are more efficient than AdWords is." Andy Beard feels that Google is sliding down the slippery slope of evildom. And Graywolf asks, "How can so many PhD's be so wrong?"

There's no question that this move by Google is controversial. I do think that they'll be able to negatively impact sites that broker such deals because these sites publicly display their inventory. Crawling such sites and making the whole process algorithmic is probably a couple of days worth of work for the spam team at Google. I'm even guessing that the mere threat of a penalty is causing some people to cancel their accounts. I know of one person who has done so, but shall remain nameless!

I also think that the paid link reporting form opens the door for certain individuals to harm competing sites. This reporting ability falls in a grey area for me where it's not entirely wrong to do, but also not entirely right. I see a lot of paid links out on websites and diminishing their value could certainly make things easier for some of my clients. At the same time, are directory submissions considered paid links such that having my clients reported will harm them? Even worse, can someone create a junk site and link to competitors and pretend the links are paid?

See why this qualifies as a brouhaha?

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5 Comments

  1. I think people who care about their relationship with Google are better off using one of the ad suppliers who use javascript, so their ads don't place hard dofollow links on your site. I would much rather have Google send me lots and lots of visitors over the long run than take a little money now from someone who wants me to place a few text links that have nothing to do with my niche on my site.

  2. Marios Alexandrou

    Susan, Thanks for stopping by. I spend much of my day doing SEO so I'm certainly familiar with it. For a blog you probably don't need to worry about half of what you read. It's when you get in to competitive markets that all the little tips together can pull your site head of others.

  3. Marios, this is my first visit to your site. I actually came here researching DoFollow but after commenting there decided to pop over to your home page and see what you had posted recently. I am certainly glad I did. Like many bloggers I am still in the infancy of understanding SEO. I know it's important, and I know it is something I want to learn but where to begin is the mystery. There are so many sites that proclaim to know all there is to know about SEO that it makes my head hurt. Anyway, to my comment about this particular article. I agree that this particular move by Google is very controversial and that they will be able to impact sites like Commission Junction and others. Of course, I am up for a job at Google so don't tell them I said anything bad about them ok? Now as to their motivation behind these actions, I would truly like to say they are altruistic but that is more than likely not correct. Regardless of why they are doing what they are doing, it will have an impact not only on sites that broker paid links but the sites that spend their time and money on getting such links. Now there are people who say that paid links, reviews or what have you are ruining the Internet and they are welcome to their opinion. I for one believe that the Internet is no different than any other venture. It takes time, effort and money to play the Internet game and if bloggers or whomever can make money to help cover those costs then they should be allowed to do so without being villainized. Sorry off on a tangent there. So much to say, so little time. I could probably spend several days just commenting on this site but instead I will get out of here so others can comment. Thanks and I will definitely be back.

  4. Marios Alexandrou

    Matt, I think Google will be smarter about what they flag as a paid link. Just because a link is one-way doesn't mean it has been paid for. However, 5 links in a block with no surrounding copy that point to unrelated sites have probably been paid for. Or a page with links that change every fews months might trigger further investigation since paid links are often removed from a site when the payments stop. I don't think they'll be able to find all of them of course, so many paid links are obvious that I'm sure they could hit a big chunk of them.

  5. What a shame if Google sticks with this policy. Are they going to assume that every single one way link is paid? This smacks of over control if you were to ask me.

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