Debate Over Paid Links Continues

Apr 23, 2007 • 10:42 am | comments (5) by twitter | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

An extremely lengthy debate has commenced on WebmasterWorld about paid links after Matt's earlier post about Google seeking out reports from webmasters who acknowledge that other sites are selling links.

A very frustrated user writes in to say that he is entitled to monetize his site just as Google can monetize by selling ad space:

Google has a problem with their algo. It is in large part due to their dominance as a search engine. They can solve their own problem without infringinn on the right of others to make money....

If Google can sell adspace, then I can damn well sell ad space. Further, I can do so according to my own policies and guidelines, not those imposed by Google.

He's not alone. Google sells links, so why shouldn't webmasters be penalized for doing the same?

But others are taking Matt's announcement seriously. If you add nofollow to paid links, you're safe. If you diversify, you'll do better.

An interesting quote has come up:

"Their attitude is more like: 'You can do anything you want to your pages, and we can do anything we want to with our index---like exclude your pages.'" --Google Hacks (O'Reilly)

The discussion is pretty extensive. There are many individuals supporting adding nofollow to these paid links so as to inform Google that you are they will not promote competitive sites, but there are others who feel that this is hurting them substantially. A few members have to emphasize that the concern is only about paid links and not other links.

What do you think? The discussion is still heated, and you can write in at WebmasterWorld.

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Michael Martinez

04/23/2007 05:54 pm

SEOs need to stop obsessing about PageRank. This issue goes well beyond whether paid links help sites get crawled. People are looking for rankings success through link anchor text. If Google would just stop allowing links to pass anchor text, they would fix their problem and everyone else's immediately. Then they could just focus on relevance like they should be.


04/23/2007 08:02 pm

Google always says build for users and not for search engines. Yet, they want you to add NoFollow to all your paid links. That's building for search engines, not users. Users don't care about nofollow at all. Google is a multi-billion dollar company. They could pay some high school kids $6 an hour to point out paid links on sites if they really want to, or they could use a fancy algorithm to do it. Either way, it's not the job of webmasters to tell Google what is or isn't a paid link or even what kind of links should or shouldn't be trusted. That's Google's job to do that. After all, Google is the one who decided that links determine ranking. That was their decision. They could use other signals to get the ranking job done.

Marcin Sochacki

04/23/2007 11:42 pm

@Michael: It's not only about anchor text. Paid links still do pass some of the PageRank value to the linked website, thus destroying the system of natural recommendations, which works much better for organic results. Basically, what you get in organic results nowadays in commercial queries is not much different from ads -- they pay for links and get high ranking. The ranking is not related to their real relevance, but to the amount they spent. @Blackbeard: "Yet, they want you to add NoFollow to all your paid links. That's building for search engines, not users. Users don't care about nofollow at all." Let's not forget that paid links ARE meant for search engines in the first place. So it's not Google, who breaks the rule you're talking about here. I put more thoughts here:

Michael Martinez

04/24/2007 06:04 pm

Martin, "links still do pass some of the PageRank value to the linked website, thus destroying the system of natural recommendations" reveals the basic misunderstanding that permeates SEO discussions today. PageRank is a measurement of "quality derived from popularity", not a measurement of relevance or "recommendations". You get the recommendations from the link anchor text. We can live with the PageRank because it generally doesn't impact the quality of natural search results. Relevance scores outweigh PageRank considerably in Google's SERPs. It's the link anchor text that people keep accruing through various means that manipulate the search results.

Marcin Sochacki

05/02/2007 06:25 pm

@Michael: I don't really understand your distinction in the second paragraph. IMO, if people link to a site, regardless of the anchor text, it usually means that they recommend it. So quality, popularity and recommendations are highly correlated. The question how much PageRank impacts SERPs is an open one, but for sure it was not abandoned completely. It still has high importance for ranking. Otherwise -- how come the paid links are *WAY* more expensive on PR=7 sites than, say PR=5?

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