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?