Links May Or May Not Be Evil

In the ongoing battle against the forces of evil, and anything that may disrupt Google’s profit potential, Matt Cutts appears to be in wind-up mode:

One thing I heard at SES London was that people wanted a way to report paid links specifically. I’d like to get a few paid link reports anyway because I’m excited about trying some ideas here at Google to augment our existing algorithms. Google may provide a special form for paid link reports at some point, but in the mean time, here’s a couple of ways that anyone can use to report paid links

What kind of sad-act turns up to a search conference and tells Matt Cutts: “I want a way to report paid links”?!

I have a few questions:

  • What is a paid link?
  • Does money change hands?
  • If money doesn’t change hands, is it still a paid link?
  • If money does change hands, how would anyone know?
  • Are contra deals payment?
  • Are favours payment?
  • Are partnerships payment?
  • Is this link from Google to Bearing Point a paid link?
  • Can you spot the paid link in my blogroll on the left? There isn’t one, but how would you really know?
  • Does Yahoo Directory sell paid links?
  • If a link is both editorial and paid, is it a paid link?
  • What’s to stop someone buying a “paid link” in order to frame a competitor?
  • If it says “paid link”, but isn’t, is it still a paid link?
  • FUD?
  • Can’t the engineers figure out which links are important and which aren’t, or do they need to “employ” people, working for free, to help them?

Matt also looks at hidden links in this post, before outlining the hoops Google would like webmasters to jump through when dealing with links of the “paid” variety, whatever that means:

…a pretty good opportunity to talk about a simple litmus test for paid links and how to tell if a paid link violates search engines’ quality guidelines. If you want to sell a link, you should at least provide machine-readable disclosure for paid links by making your link in a way that doesn’t affect search engines. There’s a ton of ways to do that. For example, you could make a paid link go through a redirect where the redirect url is robot’ed out using robots.txt. You could also use the rel=nofollow attribute. I’ve said as much many times before, but I wanted to give a heads-up because Google is going to be looking at paid links more closely in the future.

The other best practice I’d advise is to provide human readable disclosure that a link/review/article is paid. You could put a badge on your site to disclose that some links, posts, or reviews are paid, but including the disclosure on a per-post level would better. Even something as simple as “This is a paid review” fulfills the human-readable aspect of disclosing a paid article. Google’s quality guidelines are more concerned with the machine-readable aspect of disclosing paid links/posts…

Aaron reverse spins well:

Google is still indexing those lolita preteen results, ranks all these .edu ringtone pages, and lets not forget that Google continues to deliver AdSense ads on sites they banned for being spam. If Google doesn’t CLEARLY mark their own paid links, encourages publishers to blend them into content, and doesn’t police their own network, why do they think they have the right to police other sites?

BTW: Matt made this comment, which should be of interest to those speculating about trust ratings at the domain level:

Google (and I’m sure most search engines) have algorithms that assess the trust to put in individual links, individual pages, and entire sites.

  1. Florin CostacheFlorin Costache04-16-2007

    Hmmm. “Google buys DoubleClick” + “Report paid links as spam” = now isn’t this the hypocritical move of the decade?

  2. Peter Da VanzoPeter Da Vanzo04-16-2007

    I think Google’s hypocrisy level is closely aligned to their share value….

  3. bilgibilgi04-17-2007

    if google starts to ban the paid links , i believe another reporting war will start. if a site is competitive to you , report it:D .

    on the other side , there are too many QUALITY web directories . will google ban this directory or people who buy links from this directories.

    i think google wants to finish itself. 🙁

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