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 Iâ€™m going to ask you to put on your regular user hat. If youâ€™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 youâ€™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.
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.
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.
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.