Matt Cutts [post] requested that people use their account in the webmaster central console to report sites that are selling links. This kicked off a storm, among the webmasters and SEO community, which was bound to happen. Here are a few of my thoughts about this whole paid link issue.
It’s Just The Next Step
Over the past few years we’ve seen all kinds of methods used to try and artificially inflate a site’s PageRank, but every step of the way Google has been making updates to discount these methods, which have included:
1) Link farms
2) Reciprocal links
3) 3 way links
There may be others, but these have been the most obvious methods tackled.
This Isn’t New
Matt warned about paying for links specifically for PageRank purposes back in September 2005. In that post he says:
Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines.
I talked to my business partner about it and the only thing that really came out of our conversation was how they would detect paid links and how aggressive the algo would become. Our concern is that if they turned up the wick too high it would catch valid, non paid links.
Although being caught in the cross fire and being wrongly identified as buying or selling text links wouldn’t be fun for myself or any of my clients, I do think that Google will be stepping very cautiously on this issue.
People Have Been Asking For This
One thing I heard at SES London was that people wanted a way to report paid links specifically
Redirects Pass PageRank
The suggested guidelines for anyone selling links is to use the rel=nofollow attribute, which prevents link popularity from being passed on, or to use a redirect script, which is Disallowed in the robots.txt file. Something which some people may not have picked up on, is that the latter method actually confirms that redirect scripts actually do pass on link popularity.
Some people are stretching the definition to include affiliate links or other links which are given through some means of compensation. Remember Google’s goal is to identify sites that sell links for PR. Affiliate links are not put in place to artificially inflate PR, infact by their very nature, they don’t do that because most often they aren’t text links with a key phrase as the link text. The link either goes through a 3rd party tracking script or includes some affiliate id, which is not ideal for PR inflating.
But Google Sells Links – It’s Hypocritical!
Yes they do, but those links are not intended to artificially inflate a site’s PageRank, they’re designed to send traffic.
Doesn’t Google Have the Resources To Do This?
Yes of course they do, but what better way to gather many examples, than from people in the field who are monitoring their competitors. Let’s face it, many people do a lot worse than reporting a bit of paid link spam.
You Democrats Can’t Have It Both Ways!
1) At pubcon 2006 Matt Cutts did a red/blue poll and the overwhelming majority were blue.
2) People complain that Digg.com isn’t being democratic when it pulls certain stories
3) Since Al Gore invented the internet (yeah I know… ) it should be a democratic state right? ;-)
But you complain when Google wants to put a stop to sites buying their way up instead of obtaining links based on their merit?
So You Like What Google Is Doing?
Yes, I love it. I have even sent in my own paid link spam report. It levels the playing field and hopefully gets rid of a lot of junk. I want to see quality content in the SERPs and on sites I visit – all those obvious paid links don’t add any value to me reading the site and I never click on them.