Will Google Offer Amnesty To SocialSpark & PayPerPost Bloggers?

Since the first real information came out about Izea’s (PayPerPost) new SocialSpark service, that is in testing but will formerly launch in January my excitement has been a little tempered.

As I wrote in my initial preview of SocialSpark, there will be new metrics for gauging the authority and influence of a blog, to help determine advertising spend, not only based upon traffic and demographics, but also on past performance with CPM and CPC data also being made available.

With SocialSpark, any required links will be nofollow, though there is an option for editorial links without a nofollow.

All the negotiation about a particular campaign will be 100% transparent, thus there will be an audit trail to prove that an advertiser didn’t require specific linking, and that audit trail will be open for public, or search engine approval.

There will be full disclosure within each post, with a link though to that 100% transparent audit trail, far exceeding any stipulations or recommendation from either the FTC or WOMMA.

Advertisers will no longer be able to require a positive tone, everything will be neutral, bloggers can write what they want, but that may affect click-through rates and return on investment.

Based upon this, everything seems at least on the surface to be everything a search engine would want to see and encourage.

This Isn’t Going To Work

At least not without some cooperation from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask.

Other than the 100% transparency, a lot of this has really been available using the PayPerPost Direct system introduced by Izea 6 months ago.

Whilst on the surface the form for PayPerPost Direct suggests that advertisers were able to make specific requests for the tone, and specify linking, PayPerPost direct also provided a negotiation interface.

In many ways you can look on the initial order process as being purely suggestions, and the real final negotiated terms were often vastly different to any initial enquiry.

That was certainly the case for every review I wrote, yet I still received a PageRank penalty

In some cases I even finished the negotiation process, but just didn’t have time for a full review, so declined or gave a quick link for free.

But I have still received a penalty to my Google Toolbar PageRank, either -1 or possibly -2

A totally open system, with absolute disclosure and a full audit trail is the ideal scenario for internet users, and the search engines really have to make a choice, embrace the openness, or everything IS GOING TO GO UNDERGROUND.

PageRank Is STILL In The Equation

You will notice on the following exclusive screenshots that PageRank is still being displayed on the new interface, and Ted tells me that a final decision as to whether Alexa and PageRank will remain is still to be made.

If it does remain, I would hope they are looked at as the least important statistic, those used to find new publishers who haven’t been using the SocialRank code on their site for long enough to generate reliable statistics.

SocialSpark PageRank

Difficult Choices

Both search engines and bloggers have difficult choices to make in the coming months.

The PayPerPost MarketPlace represents 11,000+ Advertisers and 85,000+ Bloggers, and I am sure that is set to increase.

It is noticeable that only a fraction of even PayPerPost bloggers have actually received some kind of penalty, and those are typically ones who were prominent in the PayPerPost Direct marketplace.

The funny or sad thing is that there has been a lot of collateral damage. As an example take Rob’s situation. To my knowledge he has never written a review for PayPerPost, yet is listed in the marketplace, mainly just to check out the system.
As far as I can see, and I have been reading his blog since he had just 3 subscribers, he also doesn’t sell links, hell he doesn’t even link to his own niche sites from his blog.

Rob’s PageRank took a -2 penalty purely from association

Thousands Of Sites Remain Unpunished

There are plenty of sites that are selling PageRank pasing 125×125 advertising spots that have slipped under the radar, yet sites such as SERoundTable and Search Engine Journal have been quite obviously targeted.

I know sites where Matt Cutts is a frequent visitor, and has even read paid reviews which have not had a penalty to their Google Toolbar PageRank applied.
The reviews were not “under the radar” but written by an authority in the topic being discussed.

There are many very prominent sites who every week, or every month blatantly thank their sponsors in what amounts to a post just full of PageRank passing links with no other content.
At one time these pages contained at least an introductory paragraph for each one, but often you will just see 8 or 10 links with no other content.

Time For An Olive Branch

Isn’t it easier for search engines to encourage good practice that is accountable, than to punish sites indiscriminately or based on some level of personal bias.
Without doubt there is bias and double standards in penalties that so far have been applied, and this is not a purely automatic process.

To finish here are a couple more exclusive screenshots to wet your appetite, featuring some of the statistics available in the new interface, and what appears to be a search result.

SocialSpark Statistics

Social Spark Search Results

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  1. says

    I wonder this might be why my blog is being punished by -3 by stoopid google.

    If you are in my place do you ask for reconsider?

  2. says

    Very pertinent Andy. I was thinking it might be interesting to sign up for Pay Per Post just to see what advertisers would find my blog of interest but at the last minute I decided not to because of this whole PR thing. Score a point for Google.

    • says

      Andrew I do try my best to give something a little more perceptive than repeating a press release or leaked information.

      I wouldn’t say now is a good time to start writing paid posts, unless we can first of all persuade Ran Fiskin and Danny Sullivan to write one just to make a statement ;)

  3. says

    Very nice Andy.

    For me, I think the question is whether or not it’s the “100% transparency” that Google (in particular) is after.

    It seems to me, it’s not. Or at the very least, not enough.

    Clearly delineating links to be “advertising” etc. so that there would be absolutely no question to anyone visiting the page as to precisely what they are doesn’t seem to be enough.

    It seems to me that not only must it be made crystal clear to anyone visiting a page/site, it will only be deemed “acceptable” if it’s made crystal clear to the spiders and algorithms as well.

    • says


      Some of the posts I have written as “Paid Reviews” had upwards of 20 links, some to the person making the request, but also some to other sites.
      That is something that wasn’t really possible under a typical marketplace scenario, and certainly couldn’t happen without extensive negotiation.

      Would it be fair to just have the site paying the money in such a review have every single one of the links nofollowed? I don’t know so, especially as I was choosing if and when to link, and what anchor text to use.

      The links are editorial, I am being paid for my time, and effectively being given a penalty for using a specific payment processor for my consulting.

      I noticed Andrew has just written an excellent overview of the changes SEOmoz have done on Yelp.

      If someone from SEOmoz had written something on their own blog, they probably would have been forced to use nofollow on the links, because just as I am paid a token sum for writing reviews, SEOmoz earn thousands for SEO consultation from Yelp

  4. says

    Why can’t all of you social marketing geniuses just say enough already with having to kowtow to any one company? I don’t know about you guys, and Andy in particular as well as Dosh, but let’s be real and start doing other things. Don’t even look at pagerank anymore. Don’t sell advertising based on it. Let’s all just get on with our lives and put our money and advertising where it works the best. If adwords works for you, do it. Social marketing to me is starting to blow away Google’s ads easily. Long ago it blew past Yahoo ads which I pulled completely – no more Overture for me. Everyone reading this and the many other articles on the topic, simply tune out of any company that tells you what you can or can’t do.

    • says

      Michael if you can suggest another way to gauge the influence of a blogger before an advertising purchase I am all ears, no matter how easily it can be gamed.

      PageRank currently is the only measure of who links to you rather than how many people link to you.

      It is also one of public perception, nothing to do with SEO or selling adverts. The public are told that PageRank is a measure of the quality of the information they are reading, and base purchase or other actions upon it.

      The CPM and CPC metrics from SocialSpark will be interesting, but will still not identify whether the click was from an influential “linkerati” or just a curious passer by.

    • says

      I had better go and check your article to ensure you were not doing some nasty linking to increase supplemental results or boost the ranking of negative reviews about your competitors ;)

  5. says

    Would it be fair to just have the site paying the money in such a review have every single one of the links nofollowed? I don’t know so, especially as I was choosing if and when to link, and what anchor text to use.

    Precisely the problem I have, at least in part.

    It’s not up to you or I whether a link should or should not “pass value”. I can certainly tell them specifically “not to” but it’s not an option for me to “define” whether or not they should. That’s their choice.

    If they don’t want to pass value, then fine, don’t. But where I strongly disagree is to draw a line in the sand, not define what/were that line is, then decide that that line has been crossed and “penalize” or otherwise “defame” the owner for doing so.

    If I gave every trick-or-treater that came to my home on halloween an extra candy bar if they linked to me, are the “black helicopters” going to swoop in and take away their “green pixie sticks.”?

    Demanding that an expert who derives income for the services they provide, to tell another expert who derives income for the services they provide how to do their job, or to do it for them, IMO is a tad bit out of whack.

  6. says

    Andy thanks for the mention and well said too. I hope you don’t mind if I expand a little on my own experience.

    You are right, I like most people in this space went in and had a look and experimented with adding links (nofollowed I might add) to the tiny url links that PPP provided as add on options. I never did take up any of their options as most of what I saw didn’t really pertain to my blog audience or niche. PPP may well be the reason why Ive been dinged, but then again there are of course a number of possible other reasons.Perhaps it was one of my other posts that discussed the launch of reviewme or maybe it was the single paid review I did for sponsored reviews for the bidvertiser product, or perhaps it was my support for dofollow, or maybe it was for the odd post I’ve wriiten criticising what goog do and how they do it sometimes, or maybe its my nofollowed aff url to TLA. Ive certainly never outputted a single TLA adlink.

    Recently I also noticed a tail off on some of the terms I previously ranked pretty well on, so suspect that some of what’s been applied to me is filtering through to my ranking ability too.

    What may be clear is that they have taken linking (in any form) to TLA or PPP or reviewme as some kind of endorsement for a service that they are diametrically opposed to, despite their nofollow requests it would seem in the absence of any other explanation that this is the approach they’ve adopted by way of sending out the message that if you support such services, then you run the risk of eventual exclusion.

    The upshot is that I’ll never know for certain the reason why I was dinged.

    What I do know is that to expect a person to use that reinclusion thing and lay down like someone begging forgiveness for some perceived crime against the Googmanity is a little bit rich and not really something I believe is justified or feel comfortable doing. I’ll still blog, I’ll still write good stuff and bad! Google can most certainly live without me and thankfully as can I without Google, it’s just a little sad and ultimately negative of them to behave like this.

    I was brought up to stand up to bullies behave in a way that treated people with courtesy and respect. I can’t lie when I say that in some ways I am disappointed with them as I thought they were bigger people than this, yet the evidence of their actions seems to suggest that not all of them are; which leads me on to this whole thing about who is applying these penalties and under what kind of guidance.I’d say its been a scripted approach with a one look glance perhaps by some who might not be fully appraised with what they are doing. All we can do is speculate and draw conclusions. Be they right or wrong they’ll fit the hypothesis of the ev idence presented, and the evidence presented suggests that all of this stuff was pretty uneccessary.

    As for an amnesty…who knows. It seems that if you say the right things and take the right actions then they’ll lift whatevcer it is that they’ve applied to you. At least that’s been the experience of SEG.



    • says

      Rob I look on amnesty as a little beyond begging for a pardon after putting right any wrongly perceived wrongs.

      I think this is especially true when many of supposed wrongs were not, and still are not clearly defined or evenly applied, with the sites most influential to search results.

      Google’s current practice is also extremely unfair to the self employed who do not have the right to link through to the people feeding their families.

  7. says

    Amnesty? Remember who was asking for other webmasters to identify sites that had the evil links in the first place?
    It is total war. Complete with double agents.
    This has not been about reader experience or anything like it was told when we were asked to report on our “unpatriotic” neighbors and friends.
    Expect amnesty when Google buys out Izea or TLA. Or, they go under.

  8. says

    What I’m finding particularly interesting about this whole PR situation is that Google seems to specifically be targeting blogs.

    I know of a few popular, high PR sites that blatantly sell for TLA. Even the link to their “advertise on this site” link to TLA is followed. Yet, no PR penalty. However, these sites are not blogs and are not related to the SEO/SEM and Blogging markets.

    I’m equally curious as to why sites displaying graphic ads without nofollow, but with good alt/title text are not being slapped. Sure, a 125×125 button isn’t quite as SEF as a text link, but when done right, still offers a SEO benefit. Looking at the justifications that Google is giving, one would think that graphical ads would not be exempt.

    The question in my mind is, will Google’s recent actions force ad services like TLA to use nofollow on links or switch to graphical links, thus reducing the perceived benefit of using their services? Or will everything go underground?

    I suspect the latter, though I would prefer a much more open approach.

    Google would have a lot easier time making it’s case against sponsored links if a huge portion of it’s business wasn’t tied up in selling contextual ad space. This just comes across too much like squeezing the competition.

  9. says

    I don’t think they will offer anything! Google just wants to take over the entire online advertising industry. There won’t be any escape f0r any bloggers and I believe that the next PR update it would be more severe since Google has the first trial run earlier last month..

    They know what to look for… they will hammer you hard..

    On the other hand, PPP starts to be flexible when in comes to disclosure.. You don’t need one on your post if you have sitewide.. I wonder what Google is gonna do about this? Punish sites which has a disclosure logo?

  10. says

    Thanks Andy for the very informative articles you have written on this whole issue. I’m pretty conflicted on this – on the one hand I can see Google’s point of view, and as a small-time webmaster I would like to compete on a level-playing field in the organic serps, and not get beaten just because my competitors have more cash.

    On the other hand, it is the small-time webmaster who is most likely to not have a clue about pagerank and the “evilness” of buying links – most are just gonna think “Wow, easy money for a few more advertising links” and go for it. Which is fine if Google are just penalizing pagerank, but could be devastating if at some point that has an effect on the organic SERPS.

  11. says

    Well I just discovered that I have been penalized also – down to a 3 from a 4 at http://www.snoskred.org so let’s party! ;) I’m having a competition to celebrate.

    I have to agree with Michael, I’m done with Google. I no longer care what they do to me. I will survive without them if I have to. I’m going to run my blog my way, and I’m not going to let what they might do to me change that.

    I really am tired of having their big foot hanging over my head. I have to try and create a blog which won’t be affected if they decide to squish me with their foot. That’s the challenge now.

    I don’t think they even care how much anger and resentment they are creating. Again, I say we have to take our power back. We gave the power to them. We can remove it.

    Andy, what are the chances of holding a No-Google day – or perhaps a no google week, from December 24 ending at Midnight on December the 31st? I’ve heard people whispering about it for a while, let’s do it and show them we’re unhappy. Maybe then they’ll realise they don’t have the power they think they do.


    • says

      I took a severe hit, down from pr 5 to pr 3 – it definitely affects my bottom line, but even more frustrating, it affects my apparent credibility.

      And that really annoys me. You see, I come from a newspaper background, and to me, the absence of advertising strongly implies the lack of any influence. I’m nowhere near the print-media ideal of 60% – which I think excessive, frankly. But I do think of relevant, screened advertising as being an enhancement.

      As for paid posts – well, frankly, I think it a lot more honest to do a paid post than it is to belong to something like “Pajamas Media.” Either way, one is paid. But in order to succeed as a “postie” (for whatever service) you really do ultimately have to tell the truth.

      More importantly, in order to stand out from the crowd of crap traffic producers, you have to come up with something new. For instance, when I “shilled” for LED xmas lighting, it occured to me that red led christmas lights were as good or probably better than whatever the military provided the Marines for bunker lighting, and would not strain power sources or screw with night vision.

      So I suggested that Army Moms and Dads throw a string or six into a care package – and even took the extra step of looking for tiny generators that could live in a dufflebag thrown into the back of a humvee.

      SEO and such makes my eyes roll, to be honest. I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to it. Frankly, I realized early on that I had a choice – I could right good posts – or I could do kinda crappy posts that sucked in engines.

      I’m a Blogger, Jim, not an SEO guy.

      I’d just as soon that you guys did what you do, just like I do, and the engines paid attention to that, but I’d also like them to remember that most of us do not care about gaming the system, so long as the system works.

      And if it stops working, we are simply going to find another system, ‘because we really are not all that invested in ANY search engine. Not even Google.

  12. says

    What about an International Association of Webmasters Against Google? iawag.org???

    Seriously though, I do think the only chance of Google changing its policies with regards to PR is through sufficient enough pressure from the webmaster community. But it will take a lot, IMHO.

  13. says

    I am so confused by all of this. I’ve learned a lot from this post, but I still don’t completely understand what’s happening. I recently took a hit to my PR. I was at PR4 and got knocked down to a PR2. Is that because I am doing PPP? It seems kind of crazy that people are trying to get a higher pagerank to get better opps on PPP, but are being penalized by Google for advertising through PPP. What can I do to get my PR back? Is this Social Spark going to be a “side” thing for PPP and still have PPP going or is PPP going to be taken over by SS? And what is Argus that I was reading on PPP message boards? Sorry for all the questions, but you seem to be the most knowledgeable person that I’ve read so far. Thanks for any info you can provide. You can email me directly if you’d like.


  14. says

    Hey Andy, you may need to write another post today about PR. A good number of people took a hit again last night. Most bloggers that I know (and some sites too) are all now sitting at 0 (myself included). Thoughts?

  15. says

    No, Google will likely not forgive. My PR dropped from a 4 (where it had been for almost 2 years), to a 2, and now to a 0.

    I have removed every sponsored spot, and all links and code I can find to PPP. I want my PR back, and I realize my punishment for blogging for pay might be permanant – in which case, I’ll have to start all over again with a new URL.

    My opinion of Google has certainly changed, though. I’ll play the game … but I’m no longer a fan. I guess “don’t be evil” is a thing of the past.

  16. says

    Agreed Andy: “All the negotiation about a particular campaign will be 100% transparent” – this requires the SE’s to pay real people to police. The SE’s will likely follow only AFTER it’s proven itself in the market place.
    Google started the PR monster, it’s time they killed it.

  17. says

    Agreed Andy: “All the negotiation about a particular campaign will be 100% transparent” – this requires the SE’s to pay real people to police. The SE’s will likely follow only AFTER it’s proven itself in the market place. Google started the PR monster, it’s time they killed it.

  18. jamie says


    When will the governement start to take a bigger stand on this… When google controls 60-70% of the search world they control a lot of power.

    They shouldnt be able to control what an individual site does… you would also think they would have held off this paid link stuff til after the doubleclick deal went through… so they would clearly lock up the advertisng world…

  19. says


    Do you know if this is still going on? I have signed up for Social Spark and Payperpost before I found out about this…
    My google rank is 0. is that because I have to many affiliate ads on my page?


    • says

      You need to nofollow every paid link, and make sure in your disclosure policy that you state that any paid reviews have nofollow on the links.

      Then file for a Google reconsideration within Webmaster tools