Google to penalize bloggers selling links?

Yeah, I couldn’t stay away from my blog, I’m stuck in Merced with lots of Farsi-speaking relatives of Maryam’s — I don’t speak Farsi, so instead, read my feeds, which brings me to this post.

So, today Matt Cutts, my favorite Google-employed blogger, caused a bit of uproar by writing several posts today suggesting that bloggers and others identify their links that are paid for, rather than genuinely-earned links — even going so far to tell us how turn in other bloggers who are accepting paid links. Matt recommended disclosing paid links: “The other best practice I’d advise is to provide human readable disclosure that a link/review/article is paid.”

I’ll link to TechMeme because his post is already getting an interesting conversation going.

Anyway, this has an SEOs panties up in a bunch. Tony Hung asks “is this Google’s achilles heel?”

I think they are missing the point. Google is shooting a bowling ball over PayPerPost’s bow (and, yes, I’m still speaking at PayPerPost’s PostieCon on June 1 — PodTech decided to pay my way — I’m giving a talk titled “it’s a Google World.” Which is why I’m interested in anything Google does about paid links).

Disclosure: I will disclose anything I get paid to do +in+ the post I do it.

Can Google detect paid content listing? Of course, especially if done explicitly like PayPerPost (or other paid linking services) do it.

Especially if that system is semi public, like PayPerPost is. All Google would need to do is have a group of employees join systems like PayPerPost and they’d get a detailed listing of who is trying to buy links. Someone just needs to enter those into a database, and watch the results, and they’d be able to reduce their ability to get into Google’s ranking system.

The real message? They will swat down anyone who really does a good job of selling advertising into Google’s page rank system. PayPerPost is just the most public example of someone selling access to Google’s search engine’s result set but there are others and Matt’s series of posts makes it clear he’s looking to track others.

Why does Google care? Well, Google’s relevancy rankings will be hurt if people can buy their way onto their pages instead of earn their way to those search results pages by doing the best content, etc. Lots of people are doing comparisons of Google’s search results to Yahoo, Ask, and Microsoft’s search engines. If Google’s result set isn’t the best Google’s market share will start to go down as people figure out there are better engines out there. That, in turn, will hurt Google’s advertising business.

Not to mention that if advertisers know there’s a cheaper way to get onto Google’s search engine than by buying an ad, they’ll go with that system. So, Google has a LOT of incentive to swat down PayPerPost and pay-per-link style systems.

Matt was just warning us all that if you don’t disclose ON THE POST ITSELF you might get penalized in Google’s PageRank system.

What do you think?

101 thoughts on “Google to penalize bloggers selling links?

  1. What if Google had a party and nobody came? I’m guilty of using “google” to mean “search the internet”… What if I just said “search inquiry” instead? What if I took “google” off my list of “favorites”, and entered every search engine known to function on my list of “favorites”, and used them each in a random fashion? Would one small voice, mine, help to shape the future of the internet? Because I just want to embed CJ text link ads wherever I want to, thank you very much! And if I want to blog about my favorite paper towels and window blinds, more power to me! And if I happen to get a check for my time, how is that different than writing copy for television commercials? If I said “Winston tastes good” would you say “like a (clap, clap) cigarette should”?????

  2. I predicted something like this a while ago, and I actually think reducing the PageRank effectiveness of paid links will be a good thing. It will level the playing field and put the onus back on producing quality content that people want to naturally link to, not what search engines want to count.

  3. I predicted something like this a while ago, and I actually think reducing the PageRank effectiveness of paid links will be a good thing. It will level the playing field and put the onus back on producing quality content that people want to naturally link to, not what search engines want to count.

  4. Im fairly new to the blog scene, but it is unavoidable not to notice the blogosphere bowing to the gods of google.

    There does seem to be some basic freedom violation here, though Im not sure what it is yet.

    Robert, do you see this ever winding up being a class action law suit against google regarding this paid link thing?

    Eric

  5. Im fairly new to the blog scene, but it is unavoidable not to notice the blogosphere bowing to the gods of google.

    There does seem to be some basic freedom violation here, though Im not sure what it is yet.

    Robert, do you see this ever winding up being a class action law suit against google regarding this paid link thing?

    Eric

  6. One thing that really bugs me with this is “rel=nofollow” was designed to annotate untrusted links. It has been stigmatized to mean, “I really can’t vouch for this link”. Google is trying to strongarm webmasters by creating an army of self-interested snitches to brand paid links as “untrusted”, irregardless of their relevancy to my content and my feelings about the advertiser.

    It seems to me that rel=”nofollow” was a Trojan horse after all…

  7. One thing that really bugs me with this is “rel=nofollow” was designed to annotate untrusted links. It has been stigmatized to mean, “I really can’t vouch for this link”. Google is trying to strongarm webmasters by creating an army of self-interested snitches to brand paid links as “untrusted”, irregardless of their relevancy to my content and my feelings about the advertiser.

    It seems to me that rel=”nofollow” was a Trojan horse after all…

  8. Bottom line: Fear sells.

    I’ve seen Google penalize sites and whole networks for crappy SEO paid links since 2002. This is nothing new. But the timing and targeting of this piece of FUD with the DoubleClick purchase is rather interesting.

    Google’s whole business model is based on paid links, which is becoming more in-line with competitors like Text Link Ads and Pay Per Post as Google gives AdWords/Adsense users more control over exactly where their ads appear. Independent text link advertising agencies or even worse, independent site owners selling their own link advertising, are Google’s biggest threat to their bottom line. Therefore making webmasters think that setting up their own text link advertising or going through a non-Google source could potentially get you penalized in Google organic search is a great way to drive fear-driven Google sales.

    Just keep saying it over and over: Google is not the web. Google has indexed a sliver of the web and is a fine and dandy tool when it works. But really, content and links, which are simply relationships between websites are the web. And for the web to grow, people need to be able to monetize their websites in a free market economy as they please without feeling bullied into giving anyone else a cut of the revenue. Monetization is the only way that people can afford to create the high quality content that should be the basis of search engine rankings anyhow.

  9. Bottom line: Fear sells.

    I’ve seen Google penalize sites and whole networks for crappy SEO paid links since 2002. This is nothing new. But the timing and targeting of this piece of FUD with the DoubleClick purchase is rather interesting.

    Google’s whole business model is based on paid links, which is becoming more in-line with competitors like Text Link Ads and Pay Per Post as Google gives AdWords/Adsense users more control over exactly where their ads appear. Independent text link advertising agencies or even worse, independent site owners selling their own link advertising, are Google’s biggest threat to their bottom line. Therefore making webmasters think that setting up their own text link advertising or going through a non-Google source could potentially get you penalized in Google organic search is a great way to drive fear-driven Google sales.

    Just keep saying it over and over: Google is not the web. Google has indexed a sliver of the web and is a fine and dandy tool when it works. But really, content and links, which are simply relationships between websites are the web. And for the web to grow, people need to be able to monetize their websites in a free market economy as they please without feeling bullied into giving anyone else a cut of the revenue. Monetization is the only way that people can afford to create the high quality content that should be the basis of search engine rankings anyhow.

  10. i’d be happy to teach you farsi. here’s a poem you can tell maryam-joon:
    ====================
    Gar bemirad dokhtari
    Az ghabr-e u ruyad goli
    Gar bemirand dokhtaraan
    Donyaa golestaan mishavad
    ====================

  11. i’d be happy to teach you farsi. here’s a poem you can tell maryam-joon:
    ====================
    Gar bemirad dokhtari
    Az ghabr-e u ruyad goli
    Gar bemirand dokhtaraan
    Donyaa golestaan mishavad
    ====================

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  13. @38: “…They should work on fixing the system…”

    Matt’s call was for reports of cases where people see paid hyperlinking going on, and is designed to solicit feedback in order to do precisely what you suggest.

  14. @38: “…They should work on fixing the system…”

    Matt’s call was for reports of cases where people see paid hyperlinking going on, and is designed to solicit feedback in order to do precisely what you suggest.

  15. The system its self is flawed. They should work on fixing the system rather than controlling people within it. I can understand and appreciate the desire to differentiate between paid and unpaid links, but Google’s attempt appears disingenuous. It looks more like they want to control the link economy that they created than accept the natural effects of such an economy.

    Here’s my response:
    http://www.elainevigneault.com/2007/04/15/dont-make-money-online-make-fun.html

  16. The system its self is flawed. They should work on fixing the system rather than controlling people within it. I can understand and appreciate the desire to differentiate between paid and unpaid links, but Google’s attempt appears disingenuous. It looks more like they want to control the link economy that they created than accept the natural effects of such an economy.

    Here’s my response:
    http://www.elainevigneault.com/2007/04/15/dont-make-money-online-make-fun.html

  17. Robert@29, I am not saying do not give different weightage to link organically gained vs paid link.

    But a search engine’s job is to observe the internet as is and report back the relevant site to a searcher. Design new algorithms as necessary. But dictating what people should do is wrong for the longterm. It is against the very notion of liberty and if I could use the “e” word, it is pure evil.

    Let people do whatever they want to do with their websites. May be new business models will come out which are beneficial for people. May be that’s the reason that the idea of paid-links creates a notion of punishment from google. If there were several equally popular search engines then one would not see the dictation on how the web should look like from a search-engine.

    I should re-emphasize, a search-engine’s job is not to dictate the evolution of web. Its job is to observe the web as is and list the most relevant websites to a searcher.

    Microsoft followed this in the development of its core product, i.e., OS. Microsoft never said you should not use your computer for such and such use. Even if those uses sometime create security risks. Instead Microsoft tried to adapt the OS to people’s need and not adapt the needs of people to the OS. If you do not dictate people and give a tool then you empower them.

    Google has empowered the people by improving a tool, called web-search. If they dictate the web then they are going for short-term gain at the expense of long-term.

  18. Robert@29, I am not saying do not give different weightage to link organically gained vs paid link.

    But a search engine’s job is to observe the internet as is and report back the relevant site to a searcher. Design new algorithms as necessary. But dictating what people should do is wrong for the longterm. It is against the very notion of liberty and if I could use the “e” word, it is pure evil.

    Let people do whatever they want to do with their websites. May be new business models will come out which are beneficial for people. May be that’s the reason that the idea of paid-links creates a notion of punishment from google. If there were several equally popular search engines then one would not see the dictation on how the web should look like from a search-engine.

    I should re-emphasize, a search-engine’s job is not to dictate the evolution of web. Its job is to observe the web as is and list the most relevant websites to a searcher.

    Microsoft followed this in the development of its core product, i.e., OS. Microsoft never said you should not use your computer for such and such use. Even if those uses sometime create security risks. Instead Microsoft tried to adapt the OS to people’s need and not adapt the needs of people to the OS. If you do not dictate people and give a tool then you empower them.

    Google has empowered the people by improving a tool, called web-search. If they dictate the web then they are going for short-term gain at the expense of long-term.

  19. @34,

    Easy. People pay to surf through their ISP, some monthly, some annually.

    A company could be set up that is, in effect, an ISP of sorts, but which controls this commercial-free alternet. You pay to play, but all sites within this private network are forced to remain ad-free, no commercialization whatsoever. Easy to do and easy to enforce. By default, no links from outside sites would enter in or leave this alternet, done by ACLs/firewalls. Easy as pie.

    I see no ads on the net if I choose not to. I don’t like being marketed to. So to say it’s impossible is simply not true. Of course, there would need to be a certain threshold of users to make it feasible, but feasible it is.

  20. @34,

    Easy. People pay to surf through their ISP, some monthly, some annually.

    A company could be set up that is, in effect, an ISP of sorts, but which controls this commercial-free alternet. You pay to play, but all sites within this private network are forced to remain ad-free, no commercialization whatsoever. Easy to do and easy to enforce. By default, no links from outside sites would enter in or leave this alternet, done by ACLs/firewalls. Easy as pie.

    I see no ads on the net if I choose not to. I don’t like being marketed to. So to say it’s impossible is simply not true. Of course, there would need to be a certain threshold of users to make it feasible, but feasible it is.

  21. Wreck,

    You’re dreaming if you think you can have an ad-free Internet and not have money change hands in some fashion. It’s just that you’ll have a pay-to-play model instead of an ad-based model. It’s similar to the differences between cable TV premium stations and commercial TV. You can pay the cable bill and skip the commercials or you can put up with the commercials and keep what you’d spend on cable (assuming you were in an area that picked up commercial TV…some areas you’re just stuck with it no matter what.)

    How do you propose site owners pay for bandwidth and hosting? Should they just give it away? Why? What incentive is there for them to do such a thing?

  22. Wreck,

    You’re dreaming if you think you can have an ad-free Internet and not have money change hands in some fashion. It’s just that you’ll have a pay-to-play model instead of an ad-based model. It’s similar to the differences between cable TV premium stations and commercial TV. You can pay the cable bill and skip the commercials or you can put up with the commercials and keep what you’d spend on cable (assuming you were in an area that picked up commercial TV…some areas you’re just stuck with it no matter what.)

    How do you propose site owners pay for bandwidth and hosting? Should they just give it away? Why? What incentive is there for them to do such a thing?

  23. Google, like MS’s OS/Office monopoly, has become far too powerful in it’s control over a large portion of how the Internet is presented to people and how they interact. This is further proof that the Internet needs less commercialization, not more.

  24. Google, like MS’s OS/Office monopoly, has become far too powerful in it’s control over a large portion of how the Internet is presented to people and how they interact. This is further proof that the Internet needs less commercialization, not more.

  25. Wreck: I don’t care if 100% of you want to start such an alternet. I guarantee you that it would turn commercial within a week. Why? Because when money is involved people change their behavior. And money WOULD get involved in such a system. Guaranteed!

    It might look different than the system we have today.

  26. Wreck: I don’t care if 100% of you want to start such an alternet. I guarantee you that it would turn commercial within a week. Why? Because when money is involved people change their behavior. And money WOULD get involved in such a system. Guaranteed!

    It might look different than the system we have today.

  27. Robert,

    I disagree. I suggest to you that if you took a poll on this very blog, you’d find quite a bit of support for an ad-free, commercial free “alternet”.

    People like me who block ads and who hate the monetizing of every last scrap of the net would buy into something like this.

    Why don’t you run a poll and ask. It’s very easy to set something like this up. As a matter of fact, in NY and other large cities, there are “alternets” which are invite only, and they are substantial in membership. Nothing commericial allowed and people love it. Now, extrapolate this into something like craiglist, but only the masses are allowed (the punters, everyday people), blogs and personal sites only with no commercial interests allowed.

    I know this would take off if given the attention and time required.

  28. Robert,

    I disagree. I suggest to you that if you took a poll on this very blog, you’d find quite a bit of support for an ad-free, commercial free “alternet”.

    People like me who block ads and who hate the monetizing of every last scrap of the net would buy into something like this.

    Why don’t you run a poll and ask. It’s very easy to set something like this up. As a matter of fact, in NY and other large cities, there are “alternets” which are invite only, and they are substantial in membership. Nothing commericial allowed and people love it. Now, extrapolate this into something like craiglist, but only the masses are allowed (the punters, everyday people), blogs and personal sites only with no commercial interests allowed.

    I know this would take off if given the attention and time required.

  29. I think Matt Cutts confirmed what many believed was true long ago, and I appreciate him doing it.

    I disclose at the top of every paid post (and there aren’t that many). It’s not a big deal, and it’s required by PPP anyway.

    Here’s something that really bothers me, though. Google has just introduced an augmentation of their text links that includes linking text within a post to their own advertising. (3/21/07) Isn’t it a little bit of a conflict of interest for them to come out and say that undisclosed links will devalue one’s search results when they are doing the exact same thing?

    Ad formats: You can create text ads, image ads, or our new text link ad format in your pay-per-action campaign. Text link ads are brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher’s page. These Javascript-based ads will display like regular hyperlinks and allow publishers to embed these links inline with other text to promote your product or service.

  30. Kamal: relevancy on a search engine is a tough topic, which is why Microsoft still hasn’t caught up to Google even after spending a LOT of resources on it.

    But, not grokking that organically-gained links are more important than links than are gamed through financial gain defines for me one reason why Microsoft hasn’t caught up to Google.

  31. Kamal: relevancy on a search engine is a tough topic, which is why Microsoft still hasn’t caught up to Google even after spending a LOT of resources on it.

    But, not grokking that organically-gained links are more important than links than are gamed through financial gain defines for me one reason why Microsoft hasn’t caught up to Google.

  32. I think Matt Cutts confirmed what many believed was true long ago, and I appreciate him doing it.

    I disclose at the top of every paid post (and there aren’t that many). It’s not a big deal, and it’s required by PPP anyway.

    Here’s something that really bothers me, though. Google has just introduced an augmentation of their text links that includes linking text within a post to their own advertising. (3/21/07) Isn’t it a little bit of a conflict of interest for them to come out and say that undisclosed links will devalue one’s search results when they are doing the exact same thing?

    Ad formats: You can create text ads, image ads, or our new text link ad format in your pay-per-action campaign. Text link ads are brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher’s page. These Javascript-based ads will display like regular hyperlinks and allow publishers to embed these links inline with other text to promote your product or service.

  33. I think we need a second, ad-free Internet that is completely non-commercial. No ads, nothing sponsored. Just blogs, info, etc.

    This could easily be done and paid for by people willing to use the system.

  34. I think we need a second, ad-free Internet that is completely non-commercial. No ads, nothing sponsored. Just blogs, info, etc.

    This could easily be done and paid for by people willing to use the system.

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