Before I deal the FUD I’m going to ask you to put on your “regular user hat”

I have had a chance to deal with the odd email over the last 2 weeks whilst moving house, but I knew I should respond to this paid links post by Matt Cutts as soon as I was able to do so with some level of detail.

So far the best estimate for having a landline for internet access provided by the Polish national carrier is 10 months, so I am using a GSM solution which in my remote part of Poland seems to clock in slightly faster than what I would expect from UMTS so might be giving me a slow HSDPA signal.

I really wish I had been able to respond sooner, because I am actually quite disappointed in the way “facts” were portrayed, and because from what I can see no SEOs actually did any in depth research of what Matt was presenting.

I Did Some Homework

Two weeks ago, I think on the Sunday after Matt posted I read the post and the first 400 or so comments, plus all the stories related to it that appeared on Sphinn. I am going to try to cover a few different angles that I haven’t seen elsewhere, though that doesn’t mean these opinions haven’t been already been voiced by someone. There is only so much catching up you can do after 2 weeks out of the trenches.

Was This Really Cleared By Legal?

Maybe Google have run out of PHDs to hire in the legal department, but it seems there is a real grammatical clanger here.

Now I’m going to ask you to put on your regular user hat. If you’ve just learned that you or a family member have a tumor, would you prefer that radiosurgery overview article from the Mayo Clinic, or from a site which appears to be promoting a specific manufacturer of medical equipment via paid posts? My guess is that you’d prefer the Mayo Clinic.

The site in Matt’s screenshot isn’t the one that might appear in the search results as a result of the “paid” links. The site that would appear is the one being linked to. This one which has been around just as long as the paid reviews when checking on archive.org

The oldest version of the site even seems to have a link to investor information, though that is not in the archive, so it seems very strongly to suggest that the domain was intended for use by the manufacturers of the Gamma Knife in some way.

I notice Matt didn’t link through to the final site so people could do a fair evaluation. Matt was certainly suggesting Google’s line was that the site in some way was junk that didn’t deserve to be in the search results and that the other sites linked to had more reason to appear.

Another site that also seems to be by the manufacturer is this one on GammaKnife.org

It seems to me the manufacturer, Elekta, the registered trademark and patent holder were trying to do some understandable reputation management and SEO work, or someone was doing it on their behalf, because at least from my location if you search in Google for “Gamma Knife” Elekta’s corporate website doesn’t appear.

That is about the same as John Chow not ranking for John Chow.

Maybe they have some problems with their website design they might want to fix first, and maybe they should have done that before thinking about paid reviews, but to suggest any of their sites don’t deserve some kind of placement is misleading.

They are not “just one manufacturer” – they hold the trademark for what they wanted a satellite site to rank for.

Language

Lets face it, the people who generally need money enough to write reviews for $10 are not normally PHDs, though many people who write for PayPerPost are highly qualified, certainly more than I am.

Then again my wife just finished her Masters, and though in Europe it is not looked on as politically correct to brag about how well you pass a masters, she averages over 4.5/5 so walked away with an A or 5/5 overall grade.

Most people look on her being fluent in English, though she doesn’t write English as much as she should and thus makes stupid mistakes.

If she was under pressure to write 200 words in 15 minutes she would struggle without my help to write flawless English.

Payment

There is no way to prove whether the person writing the paid posts actually received payment. The posts might have been rejected for all kinds of reasons, such as the number of reviews that seem to be paid posted one after the other, and the general low quality.

Disclosure

I checked 2 of the posts depicted in Matt’s screenshots. The first had a very clear disclosure in the sidebar, and the 4th had a disclosure policy badge that links to a clear disclosure policy.

As far as humans are concerned I would class that as better disclosure than Matt personally uses for posts such as his recent recap of everything Google and how often do you see Matt openly criticize his employer.

There are lots of posts on Matt’s blog, if you were wearing a “regular user hat” and just appeared on a permalink page from a search result, where you wouldn’t realise that Matt is writing as an employee and shareholder.

In fact, if you stumbled across these entries on the web, you might not know whether someone got paid for writing these posts.

Matt has a disclaimer, but it is not in the content of every post (yes I am also guilty that my disclosure policy plugin is currently switched off due to a bug I haven’t had time to fix, but I have in post disclosure of some kind regardless for every paid post/review)

A Blacker Than Black Example Flawed, How About Grey?

I might be biased, but I think the gamma knife example whilst at first glance was a travesty, when you delve into it a little you realise that Google’s argument in that particular case was just as equally flawed.

What would happen if they tried to explain the links their own media buyers bought from the recent Leweb3 site, or various SEO conferences without nofollow.

Those are clearly advertising links, and if you take either the spirit or the letter of “Google’s Paid Links Law”, they are guilty. If Google doesn’t set a good clear example, how can they expect the rest of the internet to understand what exactly is or isn’t allowed?

I do agree in the case of the gamma knife that the posts were most likely ordered for SEO reasons, just like many press releases about mundane events get published, or junk articles get syndicated.

The saddest thing is that none of the trusted resources Matt listed actually link through to the manufacturer of Gamma Knife, Elekta other than Wikipedia… with a nofollow link.

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Comments

  1. says

    That is the first thing I thought as well. “That site is not going to be in the top ten, the site it is linking to is, which looks pretty darn relevant to me.”

    No one but those running BL checks on the site would ever see the paid post.

    Good post I totally agree.

  2. says

    By Matt reasoning his “unofficial blog” should be deindexed from Google for all the Gooogle plugs,,,especially the last one gPC and gOS…but who am to say that.

    I am not God…EvilGoogle is….and the song goes on,,,,Do not Be Evil..:)

  3. says

    It all started ever since Google invented “nofollow”.

    Most webmasters now know the gist of what Google will do about paid links, however no one except Google knows what links are considered “paid links”. By Google’s definition, it will regard certain sponsored links as “non-paid links”, while certain suspicious links to be paid links without any question.

  4. says

    Even if the evidences and examples given by matt are not strong enough , but the points he wanted to emphasize are correct i.e.

    1)If you are writing a paid post , mention clearly that it is a paid post.

    2)Do not just favor the product to earn money , blog about both its pros and cons , and that demands extensive research , which most bloggers hesitate from.

    • says

      Matt was giving it as a clear example approved by his PR and legal department.

      Ultimately Google are not interested in whether the review was of good quality or not, but on the supposed “damage” such reviews do to their search results.

      Matt’s post didn’t achieve its purpose based upon my research, because he falsely suggested that the sites he provided screenshots of would be the ones appearing in the SERPs instead of the Mayo clinic, when in fact for terms like Gamma Knife the trademark holder and patent holder might appear, which is appropriate.

      This is supposing that these satellite sites were an experiment for the patent holder, but it seems they were experimenting with paid reviews on a non primary domain, but the information on the sites certainly seems to be as valid as Wikipedia content, maybe more so, as you would expect from a patent holder for the technology.

      If Google can’t effectively clear up what it thinks of as something totally black, how can they ever reduce the width of the vast grey area?

  5. says

    I don’t know if you were pointing our that John Chow doesn’t rank for John Chow, but he doesn’t, in case you were wondering. The parody site JohnCow.com ranks for John Chow. Crummy relevance, imho. Matter of fact, he’s not on page one at all for John Chow.

  6. Jamma says

    I’m still waiting for someone to point out the “moral travesty” of a searcher coming across a MFA site or an article written by someone who doesn’t have an informed clue about a specific medical issue, just to rake in google adsense clicks as well as the quality of google’s advertisers in the adwords programs for health related issues.

    Matt has been very lucky that no one questions goog’s motives and morality for allowing this poor/low standard of quality so it can profit off it.

  7. Feydakin says

    @Jamma, read Matt’s blog thread.. A few of us have been beating the ethics of not allowing paid links without no follow while at the same time allowing anyone to buy their way to the top of the SERPs though AdWords..

    It’s not ok to sell links to help a site rank #1.. But it is ok to accept money to place an advertisement above the natural listings.. Seems like a massive ethical issue to me..

  8. says

    uGux has a good point.
    Wikipedia is a terrible authority on a lot of subjects yet still ranks well with Google. If I were a “regular user” I might be mislead by the information given there. The trouble is not paid links, it is simply bad information.
    There is lots of bad information on the web. You Tube is an example. In You Tube’s case, the highest quality content they have is usually something they do not have the copyright to show.
    An excellent post Andy, and you are right on!
    Matt Cutts is over rated. Very little of what he says is very helpful and most of it can be found from much more reliable sources.

  9. says

    @Andy Beard: “Matt was giving it as a clear example approved by his PR and legal department.”

    But just because his example isn’t infallible doesn’t mean his argument is incorrect.

    • says

      It doesn’t mean it is correct either.

      This was the first public attempt by Google to prove that paid links and reviews have a negative effect on search results, and as such you would expect it to be flawless.

      There are other aspects of this that Google and in particular Matt Cutts are trying to warp, such as all search engines looking on paid links the same.

      Just a year ago all the search engines were asked at SES Chicago about how they treat paid links, and whilst Matt clarified the statement in a comment on SEOmoz, none of the search engines were suggesting that they would be dishing out severe penalties to sites that wrote the occasional piece of paid content.
      http://www.seomoz.org/blog/search-engines-say-ok-to-payperpost-services

  10. ny seo says

    its not really prudent to shoot first ask questions later Google (GOOG). (i wonder if the analysts at investment banks are paying attention)

    and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. how useful can G’s tactic be if they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    insert additional trite cliché here:______________

  11. says

    Hi – Andy- glad to see you back. Hope you are emerging from moving hell…
    I was very very disappointed with Matt’s post. The post is supposed to clearly show how the average user is negatively impacted by the use of paid links and how paid links can skew results and create less accurate SERPs. What it really did was underline the problem Google is facing in determining a “real” link.

    If the problem is : what makes a page have the most authority is how many other relevant sites link to it – And results can be fixed by acquiring inbound links through other means other than organic.
    Then what is the answer?
    What is organic anyway?
    Is it organic when i start a new blog and ask 20 link builders that I know to mention my new site on some of their sites?
    Is it organic when one of those link builders the next day asks me to digg some of their articles?IS it organic when I pay some on in third-world country $1.00 for every inbound link they acquire>

    If natural linking is the way you want a system to work and natural links are impossible to detect then knocking out sites with paid links is a drop in the bucket.
    In a system where links are the method of currency and you can counterfeit so easily then the whole economy will eventually collapse.

    I would be curious to hear what you think the solution to Google’s dilemma is.

    Lisa

  12. says

    Hi Andy, I mentioned in both the first and second paragraphs that I was investigating the query “radiosurgery”; My first screenshot also only used that anchortext, so that was the query I was digging into.

    In my experience, when a user types a broad query such as “radiosurgery” they typically want overviews, tutorials, and introductions to the topic rather than a) paid posts showing up in the search results, or alternatively b) websites that received links mainly from paid posts.

    I did research into the site buying links, but decided not to highlight that site because it was beside the point. But I’m aware of not only braintumortreatment.org but also things like truthaboutradiosurgery.com (which has a lot of duplicate content compared to braintumortreatment.org) that appear to be by the same person. Ultimately when writing the post I decided that running multiple sites with duplicate content was beside the point of the paid link post, so I consciously decided not to talk much about the site receiving paid links in my post.

    • says

      I have now checked all 4 sites, and they all had some form of disclosure for human visitors, though one of the sites the post is now a 404 error

      There is a fair amount of duplicate content in those 2 sites, but they are still not your usual thin affiliate sites, too much care has been taken with references and the registration symbols for the trademark. No Adsense in sight – looks like an SEO experiment to me by someone being very careful but still taking care to offer quality information.

      One of the posts you highlighted is using gamma knife as anchor text.
      Another links through to the gammaknife.org site

      http://www.millionbabyboomers.com/baby_boomers_blog/2007/04/brain_tumor_tre.html

      That site is owned by Elekta

      Domain ID:D51642222-LROR
      Domain Name:GAMMAKNIFE.ORG
      Created On:12-Jan-2001 11:54:34 UTC
      Last Updated On:05-Dec-2007 09:57:30 UTC
      Expiration Date:12-Jan-2009 11:54:34 UTC
      Sponsoring Registrar:Group NBT plc aka NetNames (R60-LROR)
      Status:OK
      Registrant ID:059628353-NETBEN
      Registrant Name:Elekta AB
      Registrant Organization:Elekta AB
      Registrant Street1:BOX 7593
      Registrant Street2:Kungstensgaten 18
      Registrant Street3:
      Registrant City:Stockholm
      Registrant State/Province:
      Registrant Postal Code:103 93
      Registrant Country:SE
      Registrant Phone:+46.858725597
      Registrant Phone Ext.:
      Registrant FAX:
      Registrant FAX Ext.:
      Registrant Email:Marika.Yeung@elekta.com
      Admin ID:059403066-NETBEN
      Admin Name:Marika Yeung
      Admin Organization:Elekta Instrument AB
      Admin Street1:BOX 7593
      Admin Street2:
      Admin Street3:
      Admin City:Stockholm
      Admin State/Province:
      Admin Postal Code:103 93
      Admin Country:SE
      Admin Phone:+46.858725597
      Admin Phone Ext.:
      Admin FAX:+46.858725500
      Admin FAX Ext.:
      Admin Email:Marika.Yeung@elekta.com
      Tech ID:70710230-NETBENT
      Tech Name:Netnames USA Hostmaster
      Tech Organization:NetNames USA Inc.
      Tech Street1:NetNames USA Inc.
      Tech Street2:430 W. 14th # 401
      Tech Street3:
      Tech City:New York
      Tech State/Province:n/a
      Tech Postal Code:NY 10014
      Tech Country:US
      Tech Phone:+44.2126274599
      Tech Phone Ext.:
      Tech FAX:+44.2126275744
      Tech FAX Ext.:
      Tech Email:tech@netnamesusa.com
      Name Server:NS59.1AND1.CO.UK
      Name Server:NS60.1AND1.CO.UK

      The “braintumortreatment” site is registered by the same person as “truthaboutradiosurgery” and their house seems to be for sale. I can’t find a direct employment connection with Elekta but the sites do not smell like affiliate sites.

      Matt, if your argument is that some non native speakers of English who don’t know much about SEO are writing about topics they don’t know a huge amount about, for close to minimum wage, fair enough, but that is the blogosphere with or without paid posts, and if they weren’t writing paid posts, they would be creating MFA sites and chosing their content based on high paying adsense keywords, not based upon their knowledge.
      If a political candidate decided that a certain aspect of healthcare was important to them, and their supporters linked through, I am sure that would also be a fairly irrelevant result.

      If someone wasn’t earning money from writing a blog post, the money would go to someone else for a different way of promoting a website, outsourcing articles, press releases, viral content such as screensavers, free reports, WordPress Themes etc

      At the end of the day a few low end blogs who have hardly any links themselves on a particular topic from other authorities shouldn’t affect search results very much, and if they do there is something wrong.

      Blogs with higher authority are likely to be more topic focused, and reviews are ordered more for professional opinion or marketing.

      As an example I am currently deciding if I have time to review Wordze, a keyword research tool.
      They haven’t requested any links at all in the review, I didn’t need to request that I have full editorial control.

      I could use an affiliate link and not use nofollow, and that link could well pass juice through redirects.

      Opting to just use a normal editorial link, for some reason Google would want me to stick nofollow on it.

      Either way I would still get paid for my time, experience, and for the exposure I give.

      At the end of the day the payment is more of a token gesture of respect for my time, and the only influence is on whether I write about them, or maybe about whether Google Reader might eventually give some control over private RSS subscriptions, or how many more results Technorati give for links to older blog posts, or maybe why people should move to Feedblitz for email subscriptions because they are CAN SPAM compliant.

      $130 is just one hour of a competent SEO’s time, maybe 2 at a stretch if they are cheap in the US.

      If I spend a few hours on a review of Wordze, they can’t be buying a link from me.

      Even if I disagree with people I still give them SEO friendly links, because that is better for my readers.

      Rules need to be fair and equal… common sense needs to prevail and it shouldn’t take years to clear up grey areas

      It is going to be fun seeing how many articles are written about things like Payday Loans on Google Knol

  13. says

    In my experience, when a user types a broad query such as “radiosurgery” they typically want overviews, tutorials, and introductions to the topic rather than a) paid posts showing up in the search results, or alternatively b) websites that received links mainly from paid posts.

    Are users also eager to see sponsored link posts ahead of all other results as well?
    If the goal is giving user best search experience then placing sponsored links at bottom of search results would be best.

  14. says

    I think it’s a flawed argument as well Andy…I mean I can make posts hyping up a site and one can argue that it ruins the relevancy of the search results. The fact that you are paid directly isn’t much difference since if the goal was to manipulate SERPS one could certainly do it by hyping up their own products or affiliates for free…Good read

  15. says

    “Are users also eager to see sponsored link posts ahead of all other results as well?”

    Lisa, we do think of ads as a type of search and try to show the most relevant ads we can (not just the ones where the advertiser is willing to pay the most). We also apply relevancy tests on whether to show ads on the top vs. the side, so that we only promote ads from the right-hand side to the top slot if we think that they’re very useful.

  16. says

    Matt- thanks for taking time to reply to my somewhat flip question.
    Getting a site to top of results pages for a set of keywords *seems* to be a matter of to whom you give your money. I do write at length about the conflict in Mission: Organizing The World’s Information (minus everything we didn’t get paid for)
    Having clean results and then taking money to circumvent those results are a conflict.. Slapping paid link/sponsored link above the link doesn’t change the placement of the link. The perception for searcher is that the top result is the BEST result. To buy desirable SERP placement you can buy paid links from a third party or you can pay Google.
    By knocking out sites that sell links you also knock out competition- but you also drive UP the prices of high ranking sites that sell links and create another market for cheap links on zero or low rank sites. The problem was inadvertently created by Google in the first place by making links the cornerstone of Page Rank.

  17. says

    I came to introduce something new but MattTheCat is Shamelessly Plugging in Adsense for EvilGoogle.

    Actually the little shadow Avatar looks like him..:)
    I guess better to be a shadow than TheSpamMan…

    Okay back to reality! Andy after years of being a commentetor I decided to change hats and become a Blogger. Maybe it is just in time anyway, because I am getting tired of blogging in cemeteries. I am running out of popular blogs to blog on because I seem to be the most favorite commentetor to Ban!

    I should thank Matt Cutts for that, being he was the first one to Ban me, with a public ridicule of his famous post, “How to ban a users by Nuking them with an SQL command!”

    Well if it was not Matt, I am sure someone else would have done it. Matt is the Clint Eastwood: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!

    I am not really a Socialite, nor am I a GraveDigger; so, no FaceBook or Digg for me!

    But as a commentator, I am going to miss it a lot. It is really nice to visit different Bloggers and get to know their world! Maybe I will never become a real Blogger and will always have one foot here and one foot there. Maybe I am slow and retarded, or just FuBar!

    Well I let the Netizens figure that out for themselves, and I do hope they use consensus not electoral. The voting system really sucks now days. Everyone pulling the switch in mass Hysteria!

    Anyway, I better save some Rant for my Blog..:)
    So anyone interested in giving me some feedback on a BlogoSphere please drop by http://www.igorthetroll.com/blog/

    Oh and go to the /blogtest/ folder of the domain for MyBlog, because I want to get it Google ready before going live.

    Thank you all, and especially Andy for being my BigBloggerBrother.

    Igor

    • says

      Igor you will find blogs are much better than commenting everywhere, and you can always link through and use pingbacks and trackbacks.

      As long as what people write complies with my comment policy, their comment stays and gets a link for their contribution.

      Complying with my comments policy for most individuals is fairly easy, though lots of comments get deleted or links removed.

      Ultimately I want a link to be a reference to the person leaving the comment, not to junk thin affiliate sites with little or no personal information.
      Not to company sites unless someone links using their own name etc.

      I have no problems with anchor text, as long as in some way the site still identifies with them. I do check these things.

      At the end of the day what people write in comments stays on the web. If people say something stupid, it is going to remain, and I am unlikely to accept payment for having a comment removed ;)

  18. says

    Andy, though you raise some interesting points, I think its fair to point out that, believe it or not, Google is listing.

    Example: the search community criticized Google for displaying ads for keywords like “buy links.” That’s an actionable, constructive criticsm – what did Matt Cutts do? He disabled many of those AdWords ads.

    Another example: I think you’ve criticized Google several times over the fact that you have to admit guilt to file reconsideration but what if you believe you are innocent?

    “I don’t want to force people to make a claim that they’ve violated our guidelines in order to do a reconsideration request. I believe that we’ve already softened our language on that form once and that we added the option to say “something happened on this domain before I got to it.”

    But your feedback is something that I’ve heard before, and I’ll try to have someone at Google look at what we can do to remove that concern.”

    You see what I’m getting at? Google is listening; bloggers can either raise hell comparing Google to the gestapo and terrorists which wastes MY TIME as a reader and makes me no money reading it, credits bloggers with no mindshare because they are just rehashing the same message over and over again, and most importantly, will be ignored for the most part by Googlers because the criticism “Google is a terrorist” is not actionable – or bloggers can resist the temptation of launching attack bait in the hopes of gaining links and traffic and raise actionable issues Googlers can do something about.

    At the end of the day, you aren’t raising an actionable concern. Until someone builds Artificial Intelligence into Google, Google will continue to be a link-based engine. It’s easy for people to sit on their asses and say “a computer should be able to tell the difference between an image of an apple and an orange.” Image recognition is easy for humans to do; its not easy for machines. And same goes for understanding and evaluating the quality of a paid review based on content analysis. Machines don’t understand language.

    • says

      Halfdeck I do appreciate that Google will possibly be making changes in that direction.

      I have never complained about TLA advertising, but the potential changes to the wording on the reconsideration forms is a good thing though those that have happened whilst it is softer language, still imply guilt.

      By submitting this form, I acknowledge that:

      * This site no longer violates Google’s quality guidelines.
      * I have read and agree to abide by Google’s quality guidelines.

      “no longer” – that mean you are acknowledging it did in the past, thus you still have to plead guilty.

      I did include actionable things in the post

      1. Level playing field – do I have to name sites that Matt reads and haven’t received a penalty for paid reviews?
      2. Image advertising that passes pagerank – clearing up the grey area and Google’s own advertising is actionable – I mentioned Leweb3 previously in a comment on Matt’s blog, so it isn’t the first time
      3. Disclosure – it only took me 6 months to encourage Jason Calacanis to get some disclosure in his sidebar, even though he was insisting people writing paid posts should have it in the top of every post. If Matt wants champion in post disclosure for humans, from everyone, he needs to do it himself.
      4. I would appreciate Matt nofollowing every link he makes to Google from his private blog.
      International employment law is murky, but in many countries a subcontracted employee has similar rights to a full time employee and stockholder. Google is dictating that subcontractors could receive a penalty for linking to their employers with a followable link, even though they have been doing it before Google existed.

      5. Do you really think it is necessary for Google to evaluate the possible value of a paid review any differently to normal content that is on topic?
      If a paid review itself can rank highly in the search engines, and receive editorial links and valuable comments, logic dictates that the links from the review have value as well.

      Maybe I should just publish SEOed press releases for $20 – I could automate it, and advertisers would still get the same value from the links and complete editorial control.
      The only real difference is that it wouldn’t take me hours to research and write the reviews, and there would be no opinion.

      I have been raising actionable things for Google since this blog was reawakened last October.
      One of the primary purposes was to clear up some of the grey area preventing me from honestly accepting investment offers in a startup.

      If I could turn back the clock a year and have just 100 subscribers but the grey areas cleared up I would be extremely happy.

  19. says

    Your last comment prompted me to give the site name as anchor text :) …

    Definitely the post is worth a lot.. You have said what it feels when we put in the hats of a webmaster. when we were kicked in for a tag which is not even in w3c.

    But Andy.. is there anything we can do? coz google said they reduce the relevance in their own search engine.. not ours.. they said they will decrease the size of the green bar on the tool bar provided by them, not ours. Paid posts do influence the link juice, but what is the exact procedure to identify?

    No follow? no way coz many a user doesn’t even know what that stuff is.. and the blogspot blogs(they are the ones with most number of paid posts, i believe)have the nofollow attribute as the default option.. OOps.! did i forgot that blogger is owned by google..?

    No offense meant Mr. Google, coz you are providing some of the best services around. Am a fan of thy services in many area.

      • says

        No problem! I would not want EvilGoogle to penalize your site, or to make some of your visitors feel bad, but if Andy had to moderate a link, it must have been very serious..:)

        Let’s see if Google indexes the page!

  20. says

    “”no longer” – that mean you are acknowledging it did in the past, thus you still have to plead guilty.”

    Of course. In the quote I posted, Matt agrees with you on that.

    “do I have to name sites that Matt reads and haven’t received a penalty for paid reviews?”

    As Danny Sullivan wrote somewhere, Google chose not to apply visible PageRank penalties to every link selling site Google knows about. Nevermind the fact that the TBPR penalty is more of a slap on the wrist than a real penalty (if other sites are foolish enough to use toolbar PR for ranking metric you should take it up with them, not Google), just because the toolbar PR remains untouched does not mean the site’s outbound links were not devalued.

    “Image advertising that passes pagerank”

    Image ads aren’t necessarily paid links. I’ve negotiated image ad deals for a client without any money changing hands. If a web designer, for example, links to one of its clients who provided positive testimonal for the design work, which cost $3,000, that link is not necessarily a paid link depending on the intention behind the payment.

    Also, considering that these paid link discussions lead to text link brokers losing an avenue of advertising, I like to see less talk, not more. What do we gain by exposing link buy opportunities to Google? Nothing. By the time we’re done with this conversation, SEOs/link buyers will run out of places to buy links. We’ve moved far away from the “below the radar” principle.

    “I would appreciate Matt nofollowing every link he makes to Google from his private blog.”

    The paid link debate is not about money changing hands. It’s about intent of payment. Is Google paying Matt Cutts to have its search results rank higher on Google? No? End of story.

    “Do you really think it is necessary for Google to evaluate the possible value of a paid review any differently to normal content that is on topic?”

    Of course Google *should* judge pages based on information usefulness, accuracy, entertainment value, style, wit, etc – not on any superficial fingerprints like a PayPerPost gif image or the words “payperpost” somewhere on a site or the fact that someone paid for the review. Journalists, reporters, novelists are paid for covering an issue or a product (though if Anderson Cooper was doing a report on Walmart, Walmart wouldn’t be the one paying Anderson for his time, and in cases where CNN covers a subsidiary of AOL/Time Warner, they disclose).

    But Google, even if it wanted to rank pages on merit, doesn’t have the technology to do so. It is relying on links because right now there’s no other way. So yeah, it is absolutely necessary for Google to do what its doing. Is it right? No. But Google has no other choice. In 10 years, maybe things will be different. But it is utterly ridiculous to push for “solutions” (e.g. Google should move away from link based analysis) that cannot be implemented.

  21. Kevin says

    Then why not just remove every other listing? Since you’ve already concluded for everyone out there which site they’d prefer via a guess, what’s the point of having any other listings?

    would you prefer that radiosurgery overview article from the Mayo Clinic, or from a site which appears to be promoting a specific manufacturer of medical equipment via paid posts? My guess is that you’d prefer the Mayo Clinic.

  22. says

    I find it interesting that Google and Matt seem to have -just- realized that most bloggers do not know anything about what they are blogging about and are just talking out their hindquarters. I, for one, thought that was common knowledge.

    On that basis, we should really be working on removing just about the entire blogosphere, shouldn’t we? It’s okay to not know what you are talking about for free; but to be paid and ignorant is a sin.

  23. says

    “but to be paid and ignorant is a sin.”

    You think Google gives a rats’ ass about ethics? Paid links threaten Google’s business model. It’s that simple. And if you’re pissed about the inability to make money selling links which, in general, make very little money compared to other types of revenue streams, you need to either quit the online marketing racket or find a better monetization scheme, because if you care that much about your TLA or PPP you aren’t making alot of dough.

    Stop banging your head against the wall – which leads you nowhere – and focus on taking control of your own destiny and on making insane amounts of cash instead of worry about someone else’s company. Selling links will never make you rich.

    • says

      I am looking at the bigger more lucrative picture all the time, and have been turning down investment and consulting gigs for the last year hoping that the grey area would become more clearly defined.

      What would happen if Jason Calacanis decided to turn Mahalo into a viable tagspace, and divided up 50% of Mahalo equity ($50M) between those people who used it.

      What would happen if there was also revenue sharing involved?

      Employees and shareholders seem to be allowed to influence search results, Matt does it all the time from his personal blog.

      Paid links are bad but clean affiliate links are ok? How can Google tell whether there is a backend script that is picking up referral data?
      I know affiliate sites that use clean linking and work by referrer currently.

      What would happen if Amazon or Ebay had used clean links from the outset?

      What if someone sells links but adds parameters to them for more accurate referral tracking?

      What happens if someone offers clean PPC links that pass juice?

      What is the difference between a linking scheme that affects pagerank and what both Technorati and WordPress.com do with tagspace?
      How about answers.com and their autolinking plugin?

      I try to keep my arguments focused on issues that directly affect my future business plans, which are certainly intended to make me more than $20 per hour writing paid posts.

      The paid posts I have written up until now have had some additional strategic value, or were just useful enough for my audience to be worth writing about anyway.

  24. says

    Andy, with Google being strong armed against paid links and PPP it is depriving many bloggers any income that they may earn by contributing to the blogosphere.

    Google by taking away the only income that the bloggers can earn is constraining and squashing the voice of the people.

    Bloggers are in the forefront of journalism they are the voice of the underprivileged and underrepresented minoroties.

    Through Google a blogger post can be discovered and read, so new information can surface to light!

    If Google wants to keep its results relevent it has tons of ways of doing it! There are many filter technologies available that can be used to filter our the junk, and detect relevency without penalizing bloggers for paid links.

    @Matt Cutts, since when Google has become an authority on a topic? Google is nothing more than a search engine! A search engine is used for search not to claim authority.

    If one needs to know an authority on a particular subject they can refer to WikiPedia and other industry resources that use human editors to scrutenize the author’s publication.

    Matt, are you guys not working on Knol to enable you to identify authority?

    Googling for brain surgery and finding Igor The Frankenstein as the first result for brain surgery and going there to make an appoitment is not going to happen!

  25. says

    My own line of thinking has been a simple one – focusing on a “paid link” is not the same as, although it may be an indicator of, lack of relevancy.

    There are many professional reviews done on the web every day. Money exchanges hands, and those reviews contribute in a positive way to the web. Relevant links within such content should count just as much as a link posted in any content which is “unpaid”.

    As previous commentators have said, why on earth can Google not filter the poor quality, irrelevant content from the quality content, where links are concerned? They are a search engine, it’s the entire reason they exist, isn’t it?

    Labelling paid links as ‘bad’ is going to do no one any favours. Nulling links within content that a reader would consider poor quality, or irrelevant, is.

    Bottom line: people who write well, and who’s work would otherwise be considered an asset to the web, should not be penalised because they were paid for something.

    I am left with only 2 choices at the end of all this. Either Google is not up to the job of proper filtering, or they actively choose to put the blame on the webmaster, and paid content. Which is it?

  26. says

    Simon, here, here, a voice of reason speaks!

    Google a 207 billion market value company blaming the little Webmaster for earning a few hundred dollars a month to support their passion for journalism.

    Pathetic, Pathetic, Pathetic!

    Google is stealing candy from children!

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