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.

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