Matt Cutts has again been writing about paid links and has also jumped into the sponsored themes discussion, invoking the power of the Google Webspam team from behind the protection of a carefully worded disclaimer.
As Matt says:-
This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.
Disclaimers are strange things…
Matt can basically discuss anything he likes, whether true, false or possibly true in the future, without his parent company being held liable for anti-competitive practices. It would be very interesting to see if that disclaimer would hold up in court, with Matt being head of the Webspam department.
On his unofficial blog he is in the position to cause an awful lot of financial damage to a lot of very well funded startups, and a fair number of massive internet corporations.
Google is in a Monopoly Position
Whilst everyone has a choice about which search engine they use, they have a significant market share of search traffic, and also a significant market share of the website monetization market, recently increased by the acquisition of DoubleClick (there is an agreement in place, but paperwork isn’t finalised)
What is a Paid Link?
We shouldn’t really think about whether a specific link is paid for, but whether there is a monetary benefit in making the link to another site.
Matt Cutts is an employee and probably has a lot of stock options in Google, yet constantly links through to his employer, from which Google benefit.
Microsoft bloggers frequently blog about Microsoft launches, and even have a mailing list set up.
Yahoo employees blog about Yahoo sites.
If you are a large corporation there are a number of ways to get millions of inbound links.
- Have an affiliate program – use clever redirects on the affiliate links – Google and specifically Matt Cutts has never suggested people report sites that contain affiliate links that are not blocked from being crawled by search engines.
- Buy websites with massive link equity – how much is The Internet Movie Database worth to Amazon from an SEO perspective? Shopping.com and Epinions.com were Ebay purchases. When you go to these sites there isn’t a nofollow link in sight.
- Create Widgets – there are tons of widgets that pass on link equity
Once a large corporation has a lot of existing link equity, it is easy for them to pass this on to money generating sites and services.
Companies are allowed to buy links from the Yahoo directory, which is well known to confer a large amount of trust to a domain, and has been propping up Google’s algorithms for years.
Will we soon see Google state that the Yahoo directory should be made nofollow for all paid inclusions? Matt Cutts has previously stated that the Yahoo directory is OK because there is editorial review.
Matt Cutts has been speaking out saying he agrees with Matt Mullenweg on Sponsored Themes.
A company is paying a theme author as a subcontractor to create and maintain a WordPress theme, and there is attribution to the designer, and the company paying for the work.
Maybe it is a charitable contribution and the designer chose to include a link as a thank you.
How many consultants provide links through to the companies they work for?
How many software firms provide links through to their major corporate clients?
If you make a donation to someone, and they decide to give you a link back, is that a paid link?
If you are a consultant, and are paid to analyse a company, but to make the findings known publicly, are you supposed to stick nofollow on all the links?
If you are a VC or Angel investor, should you have to use NoFollow linking through to companies in your investment portfolio?
Are developers working on an open-source project allowed a link back to their sites (cough WordPress), and then use that link equity to dominate search engines on whatever topic they please?
If you are a blog network, or large internet content producer, is it gaming Google to have links to your sister sites, whether there is a direct financial connection or not?
An interesting twist on this is the WPNI Blogroll. They are providing link equity to the members who are then showing adverts – even if the adverts weren’t converting, would you carry them for the links and traffic?
Should a not for profit organisation link through to their paid members with a live link? One of the benefits is always being included in the members directory, and not just for traffic. These are often high quality credible relevant links, and easy to buy.
A large number of WordPress developers have paid links on their personal sites, as do theme and plugin developers.
If you write a blog post, thanking your sponsors, should you use nofollow?
Some people give away prizes for links, or offer some kind of reciprocation. Links have value, and Google invented the value of a followable link, not webmasters.
If you are a expert in a particular field, and someone asks you to write a review of their site, and the type of review you write means that writing that content might take 10 hours of your time to do due diligence, is it wrong to accept some kind of monetary contribution?
In such a situation, why would you be forced to use nofollow on all links to the site being reviewed?
I guarantee I spend a lot more time on a paid review than someone working for Yahoo for their paid directory.
Imagine someone created a commercial Wikipedia, and paid $5 for every link made to it.
You might think that is crazy, but 100,000,000 links with good anchortext would create a website that would rank for almost any term imaginable, and the company would be worth far more than $1bn, and would certainly bring in more than $100,000,000 revenue each year.
There is another evil twist you could add to the mix as well…
I have read through the comments on Matts blog from where this is being orchestrated.
Why is it coming from Matt’s blog and not the Google Webmaster blog?
Why the focus on the effect of paid links and reviews for small webmasters rather than on the major corporations?
This is like a witch hunt with a disclaimer attached
Where is the precise definition of a paid link?
Biting The Bullet
I am actually proud of the paid reviews I have written, and I am so confident that they are not webspam, I am going to “bite the bullet”.
I have already submitted The Matt Cutts blog as webspam, because he is frequently linking through to his employer with undisclosed links.
Now I am doing what many would think of as being unthinkable, I am submitting my own content to Google’s Webspam form
Here is what I have just submitted to Google
I am submitting my own content, because it is my own strong belief that there is nothing “webspam” related to the paid reviews I write, and am willing to submit them for scrutiny.
I should also note I also give away half my earning from those reviews to WordPress plugin developers.
I would love an official response that I can publish stating whether Google has any problems with the quality of work I have done for my clients, or the fact that I include live followable links in the reviews I write.
Do you think I am going to get an official response?
Do Google employees have the balls to decide whether something is spam, or will they just blame it on their algorithms?