On Sunday Danny Sullivan posted to say that Google might indeed penalize sites selling links by drops in ranking and or PageRank. Danny’s post set off another round in the paid links debate with SEOs and bloggers weighing in on all sides of the issue. Instead of overwhelming you more than usual in tomorrow’s This Week In SEO post I decided to break out some of the links I’ve collected the last few days and present them here.
Much about Google’s stance on paid links has been clouded in FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). We don’t really know how Google will treat links they determine are purchased or how they’ll treat sites buying and selling links. The general thought (or perhaps hope) has been that Google would simply discount the specific links from passing PageRank. There’s been talk Google would prevent all links on a site found to be selling links from passing PR and there has been a lot of fear that Google may penalize sites selling links more harshly by affecting how well the site’s pages rank.
Danny’s post seems to confirm these last two with examples of The Stanford Daily site and the site of graphic designer David Airey. These two cases along with a few others that have been talked about the last few months might indicate that Google is taking things to a new level in fighting link buying.
Loren Baker disagreed with Danny’s conclusions.
Personally, I find the Stanford Daily as being a horrible example of a site loosing Google PageRank and credibility just because of link selling. The reason the Stanford Daily lost its PageRank and was penalized is because of obviously irresponsible and irrelevant link selling. Not link selling alone.
Adam also took issue with Danny, mostly over the choice of the word ‘Official’ in Danny’s post as though everything he was saying had been confirmed by Google. Danny does mention pinging Google and getting confirmation, but as Adam rightly points out that doesn’t make it so.
- Google PageRank Update & Link Selling
- How YOU, the Web Marketer, are Led to Slaughter by “Industry Leaders”
Both Aaron Wall and Michael Gray have been critical of Google’s reaction to the whole issue. Aaron advises
If you are a webmaster assume that Google is lying to you and ignore them.
I agree to a lesser extent. I’m not sure you need to assume Google is lying, but it’s a good idea not to rely solely on Google for your traffic. Google is showing that it will take all that traffic away if they decide they don’t like something you are doing on your site.
Michael compares Google to the RIA and sees Google as desperately trying to hold onto their growing monopoly of online advertising. I do think much of Google’s moves are designed to spread fear since it’s impossible for them to discover every case of link buying. Since some paid links will go undetected Google is trying to scare site owners away from the practice.
- Google is Becoming Wikipedia Without the Talk Page
- Why Google is the Recording Industry of the 21st Century
A big part of the debate is Google’s recommendation to use the rel=”nofollow” attribute on all links for which you receive money. Earlier in the week Matt Cutts started a thread on the Webmaster Central Google Group on the appropriate uses for nofollow, though oddly absent was any mention of paid links. Loren again followed up making mention of what Matt had previously stated on his own blog.
If you sell links, you should mark them with the nofollow tag. Not doing so can affect your reputation in Google.
My favorite posts from the week all come from Jennifer Layock’s series. Jennifer’s first post looks at the history of nofollow from it’s beginnings as a way to combat blog comment spam to it’s evolution as a way to protect yourself from Google penalties. Part 2 discusses whether or not Google’s policies will be enforced across the board or if some sites will be immune from penalty. She also talks about why the warnings from Google that all of this was coming are not a defense for what they are doing now. Part 3 explores the options Google has and why she thinks they’re choosing the wrong one. Part 4 is coming, though not available as I’m writing. I’ll add it once it becomes available.
If you read any of the posts I’ve linked to here please read these. Jennifer has done an excellent job of covering the issues and I’d say my own views align closely with Jennifer’s views.
- NoFollow is for Blog Spam…no Paid Text Links, wait…Paid Ads…Aww Heck, Just Stop Linking and Let Calacanis Decide the Rankings – Part One
- NoFollow is for Blog Spam…no Paid Text Links, wait…Paid Ads…Aww Heck, Just Stop Linking and Let Calacanis Decide the Rankings – Part Two
- Part Three – NoFollow is for Blog Spam…no Paid Text Links, wait…Paid Ads…Aww Heck, Just Stop Linking and Let Calacanis Decide the Rankings
Many will tell you that regardless of what Google wants, says, or does, link selling and buying will continue, though it will be driven further underground. I completely agree. Google will never be able to determine if some links are bought and sold. If you and I were to speak on the phone and you agreed to pay me something to add a link to your content how would Google distinguish that link from any other. Sites link to each other all the time and in many cases it’s impossible to determine if money exchanged hands for the links. As part of this round of paid links talks we’re getting more on how to profit selling links and how to stay under the radar if you are.
Barry Schwartz collected some links from earlier in this week and posted a roundup. Some I’ve already linked to above, but most will be new. If you still want more open your favorite rss reader and visit any seo blog you subscribe to. Chances are there’s at least one post on the subject from the last few days.
What Do I think About Paid Links?
I have to admit it’s easy to get lost somewhat in this debate. If you ask me I’ll tell you what Google is doing is absolutely wrong, but I wonder if they have the right to be wrong in the way they are. I’ve always maintained that Google is a business and they have every right to do what they want with their business. Google doesn’t owe you or me or anyone else a certain rank in their results. We have no right to expect traffic from Google.
Still I think Google is wrong. I’ll hold to things I’ve said in the past about paid links
And add that Google is showing an uncharming arrogance through all of this not befitting a company that claims to do no evil. They’re overreacting to a problem and are going to hurt many honest businesses in the process. It’s true they don’t owe you ranking, but we all know how important the traffic Google sends can be. While I maintain Google has a right to do what it pleases with it’s business I also maintain that they should never penalize a site for something it shouldn’t reasonably be expected to know.
The average mom and pop site has no idea what a nofollow attribute is. The average mom and pop probably has no idea there’s even an issue with buying and selling a link. And in all honesty there’s no reason why they should. If someone approaches mom and pop to pay for a link in their sidebar or footer mom and pop might very well see it as a nice way to help with the costs of the site. Why would they think there’s anything wrong in accepting the deal and why should they know Google could come down on them for not adding a nofollow?
Google may have the right to do what they want, but should they punish honest people for their own mess. Let’s face it Google won’t penalize big name sites if they choose to sell links. Google needs those big name sites in their index. But Google will punish you and me and mom and pop for doing the same thing they’ll let large corporations get away with.
Google should not punish people for making reasonable decisions and it’s beginning to look like that’s where they’re heading if they aren’t already there. The obvious solution would be to discount any link Google discovers has been bought and sold. Give it no weight whatsoever in the algorithm as is their right. Google could even go so far as to discount links it only suspects of having been bought and none of us would be any the wiser.
Google is also being very hypocritical given they sell more links than anyone through AdWords. Of course one way to hold onto your marketshare is to scare everyone else out of the market. You can’t profit from a link on your site unless that link happens to come from AdSense and Google gets its cut.
Google is taking things to the extreme with it’s FUD campaign. It’s an indication they really can’t detect link buying all that well and instead of trying to figure out how they’re going to scare you away from using them instead. Google wants you to clean up the mess they created for themselves by making you worry about what will happen if you don’t.
I wish Google would realize that despite their efforts link buying will continue. Paid links will become harder to detect and they won’t go away. What might go away are some honest businesses that get caught up in Google’s fight and never understand what happened. Google could easily put much of this debate to rest by openly stating what they plan to do when they discover a site selling links. They prefer the uncertainty since the uncertainty will scare many away from the practice.
Like it or not this issue isn’t going anywhere any time soon.