Google Declares War on Paid Links: But Why Now?

Dec 3, 2007 • 7:49 am | comments (7) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization
 

This weekend has been a landmark time in the SEO industry. To huge blog posts, with dozens of policy changes over the past couple of weeks, have been instrumental in what makes this weekend so significant. The official Google Webmaster Central blog has a post by Matt Cutts and Maile Ohye named Information about buying and selling links that pass PageRank and Matt Cutts himself wrote his own post with extreme examples of paid links named Selling links that pass PageRank. Matt's blog has over 200 comments already, and the discussion throughout the SEO world is running rampant.

Here is a quick run down of some (not all) of the threads out in the space on this topic:

I have read most of all of that conversation, and skimmed the rest. Overall, we learn a few things from it:

  • Some are upset with the harsh, real-life example Matt Cutts used in his blog. Not all cases of paid links are that extreme. But to Matt's favor, Google has to worry about the extreme and non-extreme cases.
  • Even in cases with Google, "editorial" posts by the Google Checkout Blog may be seen as paid in nature, is a matter of what is perceived. (this is important for later)
  • Which may be why Google has removed the requirement to say you are guilty of something when you file a reconsideration request.
  • Google is becoming more careful with how they link from their other properties. In fact, they redirected a bunch of static links through a robots.txt to block any PR passage.
  • Google has now disallowed AdWords ads that mention selling PageRank. But I now see some new ads for those types of keywords.
  • Google has hit hundreds of sites that sell text ads that can pass PageRank

The list goes on, but I feel those are the most discussed topics here.

As I wrote in my Theory: How Does Google Determine Which Sites Sell Links? it was us, SEOs and Webmasters who caused the drop in sites PageRank that sell links. But it goes much much further than that. If you look at much of what Google and Matt Cutts is saying, they admit to having a really tough time finding which links are paid and which are not. In fact, that is why Google has been so aggressive with encouraging SEOs and Webmasters to report paid links, without us, Google would not be able to fight paid links.

Google said they have no problem with banner ads or affiliate links. Matt said:

We've spent most of our time talking about paying money for text links or paid posts, because Google does a pretty good job of detecting and handling things like affiliate links or banner ads.

Since Google has a really hard time detecting paid links, they need manual intervention. That is where we came in and provided Google with all this data. Data they can use to press the big red button and data they can use to improve their paid link algorithms.

Do I blame Google. No way! They had to do this. It was smart. But for us to complain about this after we, ourselves, reported sites that were buying or selling links? We can't complain as an industry.

The bottom line is that Google has no choice but to do what they can to make sure their algorithms do not get manipulated. Google was lacking in one area - paid links - so they asked us for help - which we graciously provided.

The main issue is what is a bad paid link? Google cannot say, so now they must wipe out all paid links no matter of editorial conduct. But they can't. They can't wipe out Yahoo Directory links, they can't wipe out every paid link. So they have to pick and choose. That is where people get upset. Either all paid links get wiped out or none. The gray area of search has just expanded a whole lot with this, a whole lot.

Forum discussion at the following threads:

I hope to have an even more comprehensive post at Search Engine Land within a couple hours, if possible.

Previous story: Google Index Count Dropping? Is Your Google Index Count Less?
 

Comments:

Search◊ Engines Web

12/03/2007 01:32 pm

Another sad aspect to this draconian sweeping policy - is the irony that up to three Paid Sponsor Links can be above the Organics. Thought they are not getting link benefits - they are getting something even more precious. The fact that big dollars can INSTANTLY buy you a position above others who probably have worked and sweated FOR YEARS to get to the top of page one. Regardless of what Yahoo or MSN are doing - you can make up your own minds to be as honest and virtuous as you are lecturing everyone else to be. Having sponsor links above the organics is unethical when you are promoting yourself as being so pure and sincere. They even changed the background color recently to get more clicks

Search◊ Engines Web

12/03/2007 01:33 pm

Another sad aspect to this draconian sweeping policy - is the irony that up to three Paid Sponsor Links can be above the Organics. Thought they are not getting link benefits - they are getting something even more precious. The fact that big dollars can INSTANTLY buy you a position above others who probably have worked and sweated FOR YEARS to get to the top of page one. Regardless of what Yahoo or MSN are doing - you can make up your own minds to be as honest and virtuous as you are lecturing everyone else to be. Having sponsor links above the organics is unethical when you are promoting yourself as being so pure and sincere. They even changed the background color recently to get more clicks

Lex G

12/03/2007 02:57 pm

I believe that it's all about control in the long term ... Wherever there is cash flow there is a policy in order to ensure it goes a certain direction ...

Michael Martinez

12/03/2007 04:16 pm

I never thought I would see the day when Matt Cutts would stoop so low as to be dishonest, but it sadly seems that day has come. His recent over-the-top posts have been misleading, and it is starting to look like they intentionally misleading. Matt, you need to step down and reconsideer your position on Google's unethical business practices.

bill

12/03/2007 05:38 pm

I've just read most of the comments on the matt cutts blog and several others. Here is a key point.... what good is it to promote natural or universal search if they openlly defend thier "paid link" actions buy saying that the bot's have problems detecting simple links [ weather paid or not]. To make it worse if they can not read [ like someone mention] how can they tell what is a legitimate link vrse a paid. I personally don't have paid links except for affiliate links that Matt says is ok and detectible by bots? But is he sure. And I agree with michael statement - if it's about money and which way it flows, soon thier attempts at purchasing a affiliate company [ you know] can mean they will make rules about affiliate links.......

Bill Kruse

12/04/2007 03:12 pm

Google's business model is, 1) people come to the engine because they believe the organic results to be genuine and pure and so of benefit to them personally, 2) Google can make money selling visibility next to these search results to paying customers. If the general public learn that the supposedly pure organic results are anything but then they won't bother using the engine, no-one will buy Google's sponsored links, Google is stuffed and that's it. So, paid links have to go. What's hard to understand? While we're on the subject, links from the Yahoo directory aren't paid links. Let's not forget that. There's a clear distinction between pay for inclusion and pay for consideration. BB

Robbie

12/09/2007 10:00 am

I was just wondering why you have added nofollow to your advert to text link ads but not to any other ad. By the way I think that the war on paid links is out of order however we were all given fair warning.

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