Jonathan Leger – SEO And Internet Marketing Blog Internet Marketing Blog

30Jan/08Off

What is really a “paid” link anyway?

This post is going to be a bit controversial, but I think it needs to be written. I want to talk about Google's policy of going after sites that offer "paid" links, and why it's a slippery slope to have that policy (even if their actions were hardly a surprise).

First, The Issue At Hand

You are probably already aware that Google has gone on the warpath against paid links. Their Webmaster Help Center has an entry entitled "Why should I report paid links to Google?". It discusses the reasons why Google feels you should report people who are buying or selling links to or from their websites.

Google's algorithm is unable to tell the difference between a paid link and one given "freely" (what they consider freely, anyway -- more on that in a bit). Why is it incapable? Because there's no technical difference between a link that's been purchased with cash and a link that has been made for some other reason. The HTML code is the same. The only way you can tell the difference is if the site selling the link puts "Sponsored" or "Advertisement" or something to that effect on the page, marking the link as paid.

Since Google is incapable of telling the difference between a paid link and a "natural" one, and because so many webmasters are aware of the impact of their site ranking in Google because of links, up until now it's been a natural business decision to purchase links that will help a site rank better. A wise business owner might reason, "It costs me $1,000 a month in links to rank in Google for keywords that earn me $5,000 a month in profits. That's a sound investment." And so they've buy, and rank, and earn.

Google isn't happy with this. From their perspective, this de facto process of purchasing rankings undermines the integrity of their algorithm. They want the best results possible to display in the top search results, and from their perspective buying your way to the top isn't "fair" (unless you buy your way in via AdWords, of course).

Google "Slaps" the Link Sellers

In an effort to stop this practice, Google manually reduced the PageRank of a number of high-profile link sellers last year, resulting in quite the panic among link brokers. PageRank is the currency of link sellers (even though it's a myth that high PageRank means good rankings), and so they naturally freaked. A PR4 link doesn't command near the price as a PR7 or PR8 link does.

I find it rather naive of Google to be so shocked that this process has been going on. Honestly, for as long as Google has been number one people have bought and sold links. Textlinkbrokers.com, Backlinks.com and Text-link-ads.com have been around since 2003, and they're hardly the first of their kind (just some of the first to allow buying and selling links in such an organized fashion).

Google is big business, and as long as top rankings mean more dollars for business owners, they will continue to see the dollars it takes to rank in Google in the light of what return they will see for their investment. Google's current attempts to manually "slap" sites that sell links by reducing their PageRank will not stop this practice. All it will do is cause the practice to go a bit further underground.

Make no mistake: what Google did last year was manual. Human reviewers made the decision to demote specific link selling web sites. I know this because there are huge volumes of sites that are still selling links without any negative impact from Google. The sites that continue to sell links without grave consequences are the sites that were rather smarter about the manner in which they go about selling those links (no "Sponsor" or "Advertisement" banner giving them away as link sellers, and no blatant solicitations for buying links on their sites).

Link Buyers Aren't Slapped

Google is not able to penalize sites which buy links from these sources, not without opening a huge can of worms. The minute Google starts counting any sort of external link against the linked-to site, there will be a flood of site owners running out and putting up links to their competitors with large red "SPONSORED" flags all over the pages, in an effort to get their competition "slapped".

They will go out on a link buying frenzy with their huge budgets to make sure they stick it to the competition before the competition sticks it to them. So Google is targeting the sites selling the links, not the sites buying them.

What Really is a "Paid" Link?

Okay, enough history. Let's get into the heart of the matter. What constitutes a "paid" link? From Google's actions last year, it seems that they consider a transaction of dollars between the link buyer and seller to be a "paid" link. They claim in the Webmaster Help Center article about reporting links (cited above) that Google "works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results."

Baloney.

If Google was really interested in discounting all links "intended to manipulate search engine results", they would completely devalue all links from articles that get syndicated from places like EzineArticles.com. Those links drive traffic, which is "okay" from Google's perspective, but they are there at least as much for SEO manipulation purposes (both from the article sites themselves and from the sites which choose to publish the articles). I've yet to see an article publisher who uses the NOFOLLOW tag in the links within their articles, and I have yet to see Google deindex or penalize an article because they're not using NOFOLLOW.

Here's where the concept of a "paid" link starts to get fuzzy. If you wrote the article that you're syndicating yourself, perhaps it can be argued that the link was not "paid" for (though it certainly had a cost in terms of time). But if you paid a writer to produce the article for you, and you turn around and syndicate that article to get more links to your site, have you not, in fact, paid for those links?

Google says to "syndicate carefully" because of duplicate content issues, but they do not say not to syndicate. By the way they discuss syndication throughout their help text and their blog, it's clear that they see content syndication as an acceptable form of self-promotion -- which they should.

And really, when a site syndicates your content, are they doing so out of the goodness of their hearts? No, they're not. They're doing so because it earns them money, usually from advertising revenue. So even if you are not paying the site owner for that link on the page, the advertisers are. So somebody has paid for that link to be there, even if it wasn't you.

Let's take this even further. Let's say that you have an article written and posted to your web site. The article was very expensive, because it was very good, real "link bait" material as it's called in the SEO world. Because it's so good it generates hundreds of links back to it, which results in great rankings in Google. Did you not, in fact, pay for those links when you paid the author?

It's true that you didn't know precisely how many links you were getting, and that you didn't pay the sites any cash to put up the links, but you bought those links just the same. You bought them with great content, which cost you money. Google recommends creating great content in their Webmaster Guidelines -- again, rightly so.

Those same Webmaster Guidlines cause even more trouble for Google's rage against the purchased link. One of the things Google suggests you do to get your site noticed and ranked is to "submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites."

Now, it doesn't cost you anything to get listed in ODP, so that's safe, but Yahoo! offers a $299 "expedited review" option. Would that count as a "paid" link if you opted for that?

And then Google recommends submitting to "other industry-specific expert sites." Many "industry specific" directories are not free. You have to pay to be listed in them. Doesn't that constitute a "paid" link? So why does Google recommend that you get listed at these sites?

Even the directories that don't require dollars to be listed usually require a link back. That's a transaction. One thing of value for another thing of value. It was bought, whether dollars changed hands or not.

Then you have sites that sell services which help you trade links with other webmasters. Is paying for those services the equivalent of "buying" links? Are the sites offering those services "selling" links, even if they're just a broker between two sites performing a transaction that neither is paying the other for (not in dollars anyway)?

And what about affiliate links? If I put an affiliate link in an article on my site to a product that I do not own, and somebody buys that product through my link, earning me and the product vendor money, did not the publisher pay for that link? He certainly gave me a monetary incentive to put the link up. Shouldn't Google be cracking down on the millions of affiliate links out there? After all, savvy vendors are using their affiliate programs to boost their rankings in Google.

I hope you're starting to see the very fuzzy line between what is and is not a "paid" link. I truly feel that Google's "slap" reaction is one of desperation, not well thought-out logical reasoning. Seriously, does Google think link buying and selling will stop because of a few site devaluations? Hardly. It'll just get even harder to detect as the sellers get smarter.

Google's actions only further confirmed what most SEO folks already knew: paid links work. If anything, Google's actions will embolden more site owners to buy links!

Google has already admitted that their algorithm cannot detect paid links. They admitted that when they started asking people to manually report paid links. If their algorithm could detect them, there'd be no reason to waste people's time reporting them, would there?

I don't fault Google for taking steps to try and preserve the integrity of their rankings. I don't want spam sites in the top results every time I use Google to search, either (and I only use Google when I search). They are the best, and I think that's great.

I just find it hypocritical that they are trying to prevent purchased links as part of those preservation efforts. Google is a multi-billion dollar corporation, not a non-profit. It is at the center of a very real online economy. Ranking well in Google means cash in the bank for businesses. As long as that is the case, there will be a market for getting ranked. As long as ranking in Google requires links, that market will be for links.

Honestly, when a government builds a new highway, do they fault the business owners who buy property alongside that highway? Do they fault the businesses for buying the biggest, most noticeable sign in order to attract the most customers? Of course not. That's business.

Again I say: Google is not a non-profit, they are a business. It seems hypocritical to me to try and instill fear into webmasters who dare view their ranking in Google the same way they view an ad they might put in a magazine: if it earns more than it costs, it's worth paying for.

That is, after all, what Google really boils down to for businesses: another source of customers.

Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Related Internet Marketing Q&A

Comments (139) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Not to mention, I hate paid links as well.

  2. You’re 100% right, someone is paying for the link somewhere. This is what happens when hasty decisions are made without considering the net-wide implications of what is being implemented.

  3. Another great post as usual!

    I’ve often thought about how easy it would be for Google to discount links from article directories, after reading this you’ve helped me see the greater picture.

    Post by post you help take the confusion out of IM and for that i thank you.

    Jayen

  4. Google is trying to stop Microsoft from purchasing Yahoo siting unfair trade practices. What???? Take a good look in the mirror boys.

  5. It’s like this… who is google to say i cannot sell ad space on a site i own? Thats basically what that boils down to, and is wrong.
    And lest they forget, they are a business, and are still subject to the laws of this country, and would not be suprised if someone slaps them w/ a suit in the near future, and wins. Just because their business is internet, doesn’t except them from unfair trade practice laws, etc.

    Watch your step, google.

  6. I agree with a lot you have said Jonathan, but for one major point – I am not sure you are right about Google not penalizing those who have bought links.

    Last year I had about 100 sites showing links from Linksmaster. These sites ranged between PR2 and PR4. Almost overnight they were ALL de-indexed, and the only common factor between the sites was Linksmaster.

    Of course the problem was that on the links page I had an ad for LM in the vain hope that I might earn some affiliate income.

    Regards

    John

  7. Harry:

    Well, we just disagree on that point then. I feel that buying links to rank in Google is like paying for an ad in a magazine. If it makes more than it costs, it’s good business.

    Spammers buy links, and non-spammers buy links. Spammers write articles, and non-spammers write articles. Spammers use bookmark sites, and non-spammers use bookmark sites.

    The act doesn’t judge the intention, not in this case. That’s my opinion.

  8. Jonathan you replied on February 1st, 2008 6:27 pm

    “So you can say you don’t want your SERPs paid for, but like it or not, with an algo based on links, they’re paid for just the same.”

    Whilst it is true that nothing is really ‘free’, everything has a cost even if it is only the lost opportunity of doing some thing else, I am using a narrower definition of ‘paid for’ than the one you are using.

    You will get backlinks to your site because of the quality of its content and the discussions you initiate, yes….at the very least this ‘costs’ your time and effort.

    This ‘cost’ is fundamentally different to that which arises when a website owner pays actual $s to another site owner for a link on their site.

    It is this kind of direct purchase that I think is wrong, & SERPS that simply reflect such purchases have little value.

    If Google dont act against “purchased links as part of their preservation efforts” they’re just giving an open invite to spammers, which you acknowledge would not be a good thing.

    Harry

  9. Google will never be able to stop link buying, unless they find some other way of ranking websites, and thats nearly impossible…

    Isn’t it Jonathan?

    Janno

  10. Surely not all back links can be determined by Google if paid or not, just yet. But if you’re serious in building a long term online business, you would rather not take any risks to be penalized and feel sorry at the end.

    Google is about quality results for the users. If anybody can just join a linking scheme and rank highly, imagine what kind of results people will get if they search on Google. Full of spam and crappy websites.

    You can’t chase the algorithm. It is constantly changing. Things may work today but may not work tomorrow. Scheme can rank you today and can ban you tomorrow.

    The rule is simple. Build a quality and useful sites and back links will follow naturally.

  11. Harry:

    My point is that whether they want them to be commercial or not, the SERPs are commercial. They’re commercial for businesses who aren’t buying links, because they’re paying to get links in different ways (content creation, link trading, directory submissions, etc. as outlined in my post).

    So you can say you don’t want your SERPs paid for, but like it or not, with an algo based on links, they’re paid for just the same.

  12. Jonathan you said on January 30th, 2008 4:13 pm

    “I would agree with you if Google were non-profit, but they’re not”.

    Your comment misses my point. I dont doubt that Google are/will be relentless in their pursuit of corporate profits, nor do I believe they have my interests at heart.

    People use Google search becuse they believe the results are to some extent independant. Becuse we use them Google can sell ads.

    So long as this remains true Google will do what it can to protect what it perceives to be the integrity of its results.

    My point is that if website owners can get SERPs through buying links, then I believe that the results will be devalued.

    SERPs based on what website owners are prepared to pay to buy links are no better than PR fluff. If Google went down that road then …..time for a new search engine.

    It will be interesting to see if the Microsoft bid for Yahoo goes ahead and whether they adopt a paid for SERP policy.

    I’m willing to bet that they wont do so.

    Harry

  13. Good article there Jon, nice work.

    Neil.

  14. Another quality article by Jon.I never miss your rant.Thnk you.

  15. Spot on Jon.!
    It’s all about revenue,! I feel the only reason for the hypocrisy is that Google believe the harder it is to climb the ranks the more likely sites will pay the excessive costs to advertise with Google to get on page 1 for keyword specific search, Anyway i am a poor guy, So i will attempt all i can (with my limited newbie knowledge)
    to organically climb with org content bi daily, segment submission to article/Blog sites, a couple of themed reciprocal links and ANY other links/back links i can scratch together.
    Many Thanks for your Newsletter, It is very informative and helpful.
    Maybe I’m dumb ( I am very new to this) But surely the link loops are the obvious solution to slide past Google Greed.?
    You could have limitless quantities and they ALL appear to be one way in and no backs.? any advise/help for SEO would be greatly appreciated, Jim. ………all-ways AT hotmail.com

  16. Jon,

    I enjoy your posts and find them useful.

    One paragraph might want further exploration.

    You say:

    “Let’s say that you have an article written and posted to your web site. The article was very expensive, because it was very good, real “link bait” material as it’s called in the SEO world. Because it’s so good it generates hundreds of links back to it, which results in great rankings in Google. Did you not, in fact, pay for those links when you paid the author?”

    That scenario adds to the quality of the world wide web by adding useful content — quite a different scenario from paying for links to poor quality content.

    Best regards,

    Steve

  17. once again great post, the information I find in the comments helps me greatly.
    Thanks
    George

  18. Jonathan, you replied, “… However, your hesitance is precisely what Google was trying to accomplish in their latest actions. Put fear in the hearts of webmasters to prevent them from doing what works — getting links.”

    Your points are well made friend. I thought I was bold not knowing Google was winning a psychological battle against me. It’s time to get out from this and ‘buy’ links with confidence. :)

    Thanks.

  19. Google became the giant that they are because they have the best search engine for the end user – the searcher. Although it is the advertisers that keep them in business financially, the searcher is still king. We have the ultimate control of Google’s fate by our voting power shown by using it to search or not.

  20. I’m not disagreeing with you, but the rules are the rules.

  21. Jon, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google offers you a job soon. Of course, that could be good for you but we’ll miss you!

  22. “Did you not, in fact, pay for those links when you paid the author?

    It’s true that you didn’t know precisely how many links you were getting, and that you didn’t pay the sites any cash to put up the links, but you bought those links just the same.”

    Not the same at all. If the article is good you might get some links, but it’s not as direct as actually buying a link.

    Great post to muddy the waters and rally the IM’ers. Viva la 3-way links.

  23. Jonathan

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Penalising sites for selling links will simply mean the sites selling links will evolove and make it much harder for people to identify if the site is selling links or not.

    More power to the link sellers in the end – works for me.

    Mike

  24. I have to say I agree. And what is paid and not according to google just does not make sense. So they are against paid links but yet they endorse paid links. Whoever came up with what a paid link is and isn’t just does not make sense. At all.

    Heidi

  25. I think what Google is really after are sites that give a link for anyone who is willing to pay, and quality means nothing.

    Yahoo and some other sites charge a fee but they don’t guarantee ranking. In other words, quality counts. These are not the sites that Google has been taking action against.

  26. My question to Google is that isn’t putting up AdSense getting paid links?

  27. I suppose that is one of the penalties we “little guys” have to pay when trying to operate within a virtual monopoly (Google), and against larger and more established operations who almost always seem to rank at the top of the major competitive keywords and search terms.

    Whilst I enjoyed the article (always do), there wasn’t much there that was new or even relevant to my position at the bottom of the pile.

    In some respects seo is like collecting green stamps…

    You get to within an inch of affording the prize you want and suddenly thr rules change and you start again.

    The fact is; if we want to rank with Google then we have to play by their ever changing rules

  28. Jonathan,

    I found this to be a very insightful, well informed post. You laid the facts out in a very compelling manner. The search engines would do well to read your post and rethink their tactics.

  29. Hi Jon,

    When I think back into world history, Google reminds me of Hitler. Wanting total power & domination. Even going as far as trying to recruit Internet Nazis to turn other people in.

  30. Hi Jonathan,

    You raise some very valid points. But as you said:

    “…Google is not a non-profit, they are a business….”

    Exactly, it’s all about the money.

    Google has they power and use that power to abliterate the competitors that cut into companies profits. At the same time, scare everyone else who consider going down that path.

    That way, they continue to grow more powerful.

    That way, they continue to make billions.

    Regards
    Aidan Rogers

  31. When is a text link not a text link? When it’s a banner/image. A lnk is a link is a link. – Google is eating itself and the twit who came up with this unworkable idea should be sacked.

    What about all those sites that have a page titled ‘resources’ which is where they link to other sites for no monetary or SEO gain?

    Not everyone is an Internet Marketer or trying to ‘finesse’ their rankings.

    Megooglemania :-D – Bring on the FTC!

    Excellent, well thought out, post mate! Let’s hope someone at Google with a degree of sense reads it!

  32. As usual Jon you are speaking a lot of sense. It’s a shame google is not so sensible. I do think you ought to be a little careful though. Google could quite easily come along and work out what you’re doing with 3WL. Stealth is the way forward (or am I just paranoid?)

    Dave.

  33. Jon,

    Nice article again…

    What i think is big G doesnot want others to sell link and drive traffic to their site. They want people to pay for adwords and drive traffice to their site.

    If you rank high in organic search by getting links from high pr site, then you wont spend on PPC or spend less on PPC.

    They want to make all moeny themselves and act like the law and lawmaker on the net.

    Pankaj

  34. Hi Jonathan,

    Last September three of my sites suddenly lost their PR (3 / 4) and went to PR 0. Until now I wasn’t able to find out why.

    Two are blogs of mine that have text-link-ads at the bottom… the third site has not paid links on it, but a lot of affiliates promote it.

    {snip: no personal urls in the comments please}

    The interesting part… all three still have their pages listed in Google, it’s just the PR that vanished.

    Best regards,

    Frank Bauer

  35. for me it good ..but i still dont understand what interest can i get it

  36. Jon,

    Effective “Mind-control” of the internet population is part of Googles’ “social engineering” algorythm… in itself part of the Master Algo we all worship :-)

    Just look back in history how Google managed to shape webmasters’ way of building sites (xml sitemaps, themed LSI pages, original content, duplicate content penalties etc.) with their “Social Algo”… Google argues: “Make an example of a few high profile sites by devaluing them, stripping pagerank and banishing them to Google Hell… and the WORD will spread like wildfire… all across the internet and instill FEAR in all those MINDS wondering whether to purchase links or not”.

    THE RESULT? : The SEED has been planted in your mind, the niggling thought of your site possibly being de-indexed playes on your mind… it’s an INVISBLE SCREEN shaping everything you value and build-upon regarding link building, link acquiring or link purchasing.

    This Social Experiment will continue ad infinitum to satisfy the BIG G’s PROFIT MOTIVE… now… do you always follow Google’s Gospel or do you have (as webmaster) multiple, original traffic/customer acquisition strategies in place to minimize the GOOGLE IMPACT?

    Regards, Gerrit

  37. Google is protecting their own link empire. Maybe they just want paid links from their adwords. It is not fair because they too is accepting payment for promotions. Whatever you call it, links are for popularity and promotional purpose.

  38. Jon,

    It would seem as though Google have not thought this one through fully, which seems to be endemic in big business these days.

    20 years of working for a major British credit card company often saw different departments actively working against each other, which would have been funny if it hadn’t affected our annual bonuses.

    If Google are going to instigate some form or policy, whether it’s regarding paid links or whatever, then they have to be able to define their terms completely and unambiguously, otherwise webmasters will just be guessing about what’s allowed and what’s not.

    And as Google will always be playing catch-up with the latest methods of manipulating their algo, it seems to me that we’ll always be able to find ways to get around whatever policies they try to implement.

  39. Jon,

    Again well written article. I’m one of those victim for Google’s manual slap. They zeroed my PR. I’m still happy because they haven’t de-indexed my pages.

  40. This is such a very good article. You continue to work and share your thoughts.

  41. Hey Jon,

    You always put such great articles on up here. I for one never understood google and what they deem important. I am so glad to have this site to explain things in lamens terms. I think paid links are great and more power to the people who are smart enough to see the benefit and take advantage. That is just smart business.

    Thanks

  42. Well said Jon.

    I for one do not have the budget for a paid link. For now anyway. Wow you are really educating your readers here, unlike all other gurus who bombard me with promo emails every day. Keep up the good work!

    Mike

  43. Jon,

    Well said. I’ve had this same problem with Google’s penalization of sites which purchase paid links. I mean isn’t one of their main revenue earners ,Google (“G”) Adwords, indirectly allowing poeple to purchase links on other webites. Then there is the grey area of Yahoo! offering money for a listing in their index. Although G claims the cost is for a website review.

    Read a similar post to yours from the guys at Vilesilencer.com in Oct of last year (You can find it here http://info.vilesilencer.com/blog/?p=52)

    This guy was pretty ticked off about it and mentioned that Google did it without even notifying people of changes to their policies for pagerank.

    Although Matt Cutts made mention of it as far back as Sept 2005 in his blog http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-links-and-pagerank
    and it’s mentioned vaguely in Google’s webmaster guidelines
    http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html
    “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank” who really reads those things and would apply it to their business.

    Vilesilencer.com also made a glaring discovery. People were and still are using Adwords to offer services of buying a high PR link for “guaranteed top results”

    If G is stamping down on paid linking why would it be allowing webmasters to offer those services on their Ad service?

    ……..Food for thought

  44. Hi Jon,

    Once again…nice input for webmasters. I think adwords is not paid links, it’s pure advertising. Just my opinion
    Thanks

  45. Johnathan,

    This was a great article. I’ve always been a little confused about Page Rank since I see sights with tons of traffic according to Alexa & Compete.com and they have PR0 or low PR pages. I’ve seen other sites with considerably less traffic with PR4. Either way, it’s NOT the PR that brings me to their site.

    In regards to buying links, I think Google’s Page Rank system created a stinker of a problem for them. I don’t think they anticipated that inbound links would become a “currency” that would be “divorced” from its underlying (intended) value. (Like the switch in our monetary system from the gold standard.) Of course escapades like “miserable failure” or “coolest-guy-on-the-planet” were also things that the googaneers had to program around.

    I really think that Google views paid-links as tainting their PR system and since that’s a major premise for their system, it cuts the heart of their index’s “integrity.” To that end I’m sure they are spending big bucks trying to identify, threaten and eradicate link sales that carry PR.

    Not fair you say? Hypocritical? Perhaps. But, consider this, any time Google puts up an advert with a link (like Adsense), it’s always identified as an ad, and Google makes money on it. Anytime Google displays a plain link that is NOT identified as advertising, the link is usually clean. With Adsense, and with Google’s SERPs, the ads are relevant to the surfer’s search. And, I don’t think most surfers are confused about which links are ads, and which ones are straight links. One of Google’s issues, according to Matt Cutts, is that the surfer assumes that since a link is present on a web site that there is some kind of implied endorsement by the referring site. If that link isn’t there because the referrer checked-out and endorses the site, then the surfer’s expectations will not be met. In other words, Google’s view is that paid links will have no relevance to the surfer, and will only inflate the page rank of the receiving web site. (This also implies that the referring webmaster will NOT exercise good judgment in only accepting paid links that relate to his site.)

    Having said all of that (to make Google think I’m in their corner) the bottom line is … paid links are competition to Google. It’s revenue they can’t touch and it screws with their system.

    Anyone want to bet that this will get a lot “worse” before it gets better?

    Regards,

    Chris

  46. A huge Internet mega corp. like Google will do what it wants and of course they are hoping it will make them more money. Everyone else will be studying them to try and figure out how to use their power and rank for their own advancement. ……normal business.

    No matter what Google does to “try to keep it fair” money will always win over “fair”.

    Like you said, any marketer is actually buying links one way or the other and to stop one way of buying links there will be one huge mess. Google will have to go their Corporate direction…….making their stockholders happy. Another search engine will rise to the top as soon as surfers get sick of seeing the top paid links of Google.

  47. Excellent post as usual, Jon.

    I think it’s a good effort by Google though; maybe the results and feedback from users will cause them to stop, or perhaps adjust their ruling.

    IMO, for now, they’re trying to stop links that are outright BOUGHT with cash; as in “I wanna pay $50 for a LINK on your page”; THIS sort of sale.

    I’d venture to say the other forms of “paying” in your post are not really a problem for them.

    They’re saying no to “paid” links not because money is exchanging hands. For instance, you pay a writer to write a good article to submit to Ezinearticles. Google WANTS that!

    Perhaps the word “paid link” has a kinda fuzzy notation, but I think their intentions are extremely logical, and the efforts are plausible.

    They’re not trying to control; just trying to moderate.

  48. Link buyers are like heroin addict and link seller like smugglers. So, in real life which one get chased and arrested by the police? Guess Google just do the traditional way.

  49. hi Jonathan, I’m a newbie in site establishment, and your articles are eye openers! and I agree with you. after all, this is all about google’s hypocrisy behind every action and their tricks to manipulate the markets for themselves, it’s all about to bring more costumers to their own “paid links” called Adwords. we can clearly see the message behind this crap: “it’s okay to buy / sell links, as long as it is done through Adwords”.

    glad to ever know your site! your articles are good eye openers!

  50. Damn good article. Is it possible that there are stil smart guys around? A joke there. Bravo. Sometimes google seem to be contradictory to its own rules. I am a member of an affliate program which gives subdomains free to their members. This summer, google or let me say Matt Cutts got it into his head to deindex all those sites. We are talking of thousands of websites here. That isn’t just fair. I the forum, however I noticed that somebody used th 4 letter word to describe the google engineer in question.
    The bottom line according to my opinion is that we might be facing a domination attempt hers by the “almighty google”.. Adwords etc… got what I mean?

  51. Absolutely agree with your post here, Maybe its to extreme to say that google disallow a paid link contents was because they afraid of losing customer for their adwords. Or in other way, google want to say that Adwords is not paid link it was advertising, so what is the different?

  52. yes, suddenly my page from pr2 to pr0 now. that’s bad.

  53. It looks like Google is trying to take action over something they can’t control. As you said, they probably just made things worse with that move. I never bought any links myself. I just don’t have a budget for that. Maybe someday I will. But then again, I’m happy with the linking strategy I use now. It might require more time and effort, but it also works very well in the long run.

    Luc

  54. Like Jon and probably most other people responding to this post, I go straight to Google when I am searching for information because I can usually find it fast.

    Google’s stubborn insistence that they should be able to choose what appears in their SERPs is a Catch-22, its what makes Google great, but is difficult for outside parties to manipulate.

    Yes Google has monopolized the Search Engine landscape, but we should not forget how they did it.

    They built a better mousetrap, at a great expense. Google is the classic success story, a
    couple of guys with a great idea, taking a chance and making it big.

    I wonder if those who complain about Google making money from AdWords would want to pay Google’s operating costs for just one hour, 15 minutes would probably put most of us in the poorhouse. Just like all of us, they also have a right to make money.

    We can argue about whether they are right or wrong but there is one thing that is beyond argument and that is their success. They have paid their dues and they own their SERPs and they have the right to do with them whatever they please, short of anything illegal.

    Since we all want free access to traffic that they generate at a huge cost it will be pretty hard to argue that we have somehow been disenfranchised.

    If Google did not protect the relevance of their SERPs we would not be here worrying over their stand on paid links, we would be talking about the “evil” policies of whoever took their place as the next Search Engine giant.

    I think that what Google does is great, it provides incredible opportunities for all of us.

    Jon for instance will make a lot of money, and rightfully so for his work on tools to help the rest of us get to where we want to be without having to work too hard to get there.

    There have been several comments about Jon spending a lot of time writing this post but I have it from good authority that he actually used Instant Article Wizard!

    Jim Nech

  55. Okay, — Jonathan,

    Slow Down!, There’s only so many hours in the day between work and work… and you are becoming prolific and addicting.

    Do a favor, throw a little fluff between the big stuff to allow time for accomplishing other tasks and fully digesting the information. Plus, there’s always additional ramifications to your topical discussions in need of further thought, research, analysis and digestion.

    I have always enjoyed your analysis, but today’s article sealed it for me…

    Remember, Logic doesn’t always prevail…

    Bean

  56. To the point. Thanks for clearing everything up for me. A fellow blogger has asked me about the PR slaps and sponsored posting but I can’t explain it like this. I’ll just send her over. :D

  57. Hi Jon,

    I enjoyed your post, as usual. I totally agree
    that the definition for a paid link is foggy and
    a relative thing, depending on your perspective.

    I agree that you can expand the definition of a
    paid link to include articles posted to article
    directories, etc. However, it’s really like
    comparing apples to oranges. An article
    supplies content and google loves good
    “content”. A truly paid for link supplies
    absolutely nothing in the way of content
    and new information. So, there is a rather
    hugh difference between them.

    Keep up the good work!

    All the best,
    Laurie

  58. Great article Jon!

    So to sum it up Google is perfectly happy if I spend my money on Adwords ot buy links on thousands of websites, but Google is extremely unhappy if I spend my money for one link on one website. As my dear old hero Mr. Spock would say–That is totally illogical.

    Then again, I have seen some pretty illogical search results from Google many times. Go to any article directory online, check out the article’s content and then check Google’s Adword links, at least half the time those links are totally irrevelant to the content of the page. (I’m not a computer wiz but I believe the problem springs from the fact that the ariticle directories use dynamic pages.) Those Adword links are on those pages because Google agreed to pay the site’s owner money if that link is clicked.
    Is Google so concerned with providing relevant content that they are going to penalize themselves for placing totally irrelevant paid links on millions of webpages daily? I think not.

    Google wants to penalize sites for accepting money for a link on the website they put a lot of blood sweat and tears into building to the point where it’s worth buying a link on. But Google wants us to give them money to put our links on that same website. So what Google is actually saying is it’s okay to buy links, just as long as you only buy them from Google. And its okay to post totally irrelevant links on your site that you can get paid for as long as the one paying you to posts the links is Google. That’s not only illogical, it goes against the very fiber of America’s economical system–free capitalism.

    Wonder if anyone at Google has read the laws regarding monopoly? Last I heard trying to corner the market using “threats or intimidation” was considered a crime. Maybe our dear Google should consider changing its name to “The Godfather”. Since they obviously want to make us a deal we can’t refuse!

    Just my two cents worth,
    KJ

  59. Hi Johnathan;

    Thanks for the great Post.

    I learned something new again today.
    I agree with you after reading your post,
    it seems all links are paid for “one way
    or another.”

    Did you send this to Google, so they
    can see how “silly” they have been?
    ———————————————————

  60. Well put, Jon. I’m not a fan of hypocrisy and it certainly reaks of it when it comes to the paid link issue, yet Google happily let people manipulate their positions in the Adwords scheme.

    As long as the almighty dollar is there, they’ll take it, it seems. Let people pay for advertising their site if they want to.

    Great article mate.

    Sean Rasmussen

  61. “If you want to find a very high page ranked site that will sell you a link at a moments notice…Look no further than your buddies at GOOGLE. they call it adwords.”

    That’s wrong. Adwords link don’t pass any Pagerank they are in Javascript.. Also, Google is completely okay with blatant paid links on your site if you use nofollow or Javascript.

    BTW I’ve found an interesting post:
    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/selling-links-that-pass-pagerank/

  62. OK jon lets call this what it is. Its a monopoly on googles part. simple enough.

    If you want to find a very high page ranked site that will sell you a link at a moments notice…Look no further than your buddies at GOOGLE. they call it adwords.

    They are the definition of link sellers. Anyone and everyone can buy a link from them in just a few minutes. They will even give you a $50 credit to get you started.

    come to think of it, isnt that how drug dealers sucker children in? The first ones on me kid!

    The reality is that most real webmasters will not sell a link to a complete spam site. If you have a site with good traffic and a high page rank that you have worked hard to obtain you are not going to whore out links to just anyone.

    Google likes certain directories because they are human edited. Guess what? So are pretty much all links sold by a PR 5 and up webstie. Very few owners will sell a link to a scraper site just to see his own PR get crushed.

    Dont be evil google says? its more like don’t miss an opportunity to pull a couple extra bucks out of people.

    By your example of spending 1k to make 5k from link buying wouldnt google just prefer you spend more than that and over time tweak your adwords account to do the same?

    the added bonus there is that they get the money. not an actual webmaster.

    maybe google has given up on the dont be evil thing finally.

  63. Hi,

    As always a great read, I was wondering if the people that purchased the links got slapped too and this answered my question.

    thanks for the great article.

    steve

  64. So what is the best method for getting top rankings on Google, everyone keeps telling me its possible and they can get me listed for a “large” sum of money.

    So how do i achieve this without paid links

  65. “As for your example — what prevents that same company from just writing hundreds or thousands of articles and spreading them around article directories and accomplishing the same thing?”

    The difference is that there is a review process on all article and link directories that are worth something. If they smell bulls*** they don’t approve it no matter whether you paid or haven’t paid for the link. There’s also more democracy on those directories. Right next to that article on Ezinearticles’ “related links” would be an article explaining that the previous article was bull****. It’s just more democracy: if many people would get scammed, perhaps 200 would write an article about it and submit it to the same article directories. There would be much publicity on the issue and eventually article directories would remove the scammy articles, just like they don’t accept porn articles now.

    You’re right, in the end “every link is paid” however some paid links are pure spam.

  66. Paul has said:
    “To earn those profits it must satisfy it’s customers.
    Googles customers are the advertisers, not the surfer who uses their search service.”

    I strongly dissagree with you. Look at the history, how Google pushed others out of business. What made Google huge and what keeps it huge are surfers, so many regular people which use Google because Google gives great search results. And Google does know who made them huge. Yes, they get money from advertisers but that’s because advertisers want their surfers, not the other way round. Google doesn’t need to go and convince any advertisers to give them money. Advertisers NEED Google, badly.

  67. Get Easy Backlinks:

    I understand what you are saying (though I think Matt Cutts is blowing smoke about the automated process — if they’ve put one together, it’s very, very poorly done based on the blatant link selling I’m seeing all over the web). The only evidence I’ve seen is that there’s a manual process going on.

    As for your example — what prevents that same company from just writing hundreds or thousands of articles and spreading them around article directories and accomplishing the same thing?

    What prevents them from getting links from the thousands of social bookmarking sites and getting ranked in the top?

    What prevents them from using the money they might use to buy links to create thousands of bogus sites just for the purpose of linking to their own site?

    What I’m getting at is that paid links are not the problem in that instance. It’s buyer beware on the web, and somebody with a serious medical condition would need to consult a physician before taking any drastic action.

    Besides, I don’t think it would take long for a company offering a bogus “cure” that manages to get top rankings for major keywords to get shut down by a court order.

    There is no line. All links are bought and sold. The price varies, and the method of payment varies (sometimes dollars, sometimes links, sometimes content), but they’re all bought and sold.

  68. Jonathan,
    Your blog is high quality, as always. I agree with everything you say. I think they created unnecessary negative publicity with those paid link related actions. Primarily because their hardly clear enough on what they’re after (and the nature of a “paid link” is such that the line cannot be drawn!).

    However, I’d like to add some comments, and even play devil’s, hm, sorry Google’s advocate for a while:

    Technically, you were not 100% correct Jonathan when you said they just do it manually. It doesn’t make much difference. Only that they can detect faster what they’re looking for. (I have to add: in some cases. Because, there are plenty of websites which blatantly sell links and experience no penalty.)

    They detect paid links semi-automatically, not 100% manually. They have robots which search for patterns Google engineered have subscribed as suspicious, and they say that in some cases the detection is completely automatic without any human review process. I quote Matt Cutts (from http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-to-report-paid-links/)
    He says:
    “…Our existing algorithms had already discounted these links without any people involved. However, our manual spamfighters had detected these links as well…”

    So what is important? What the hell they want? Through the years I’ve explain it to myself like this:
    Spam is everything what is not in the interest to visitors of Google and your site.

    It’s still vague, but I find it very actionable and it gets me in the right mindset when needed. For every thing I want to do with my site I can ask myself “Is this in the interest of visitors of my site?” and get an idea whether that’s something they would approve or not. Hey, at least that’s the way to keep myself less nervous, and it’s the best I got so far.

    Now imagine a situation where somebody has made a site about a method to cure cancer. The method is a complete scam and is very expensive. Now imagine how many people who search for cancer would be very interested to get a “new instant cure for cancer” – all of them. It’s not hard to imagine that this website can write false articles that their method has been approved by various doctors. Now, only thing they need to do is buy enough money to get top X positions on Google. Now imagine somebody in your family gets sick with cancer, you search Google and get scammed. Would you be happy if Google tells you “but that site bought many links, too many websites support this websites it’s a completely natural thing for it to stay at the top”?

    So, what is the difference? The difference is that money can be the only incentive somebody can get to link to such a scammy medical site. That’s not affiliate marketing. It takes more to sell products in affiliate marketing. You need to get to know the product somewhat, to tell something in your own words at least. It’s the person promoting the product, not a link. Pure affiliate links without anything else wouldn’t work…

    Again, the line is very thin, if it exists at all. But if they would count every link – it’s wouldn’t be democracy :(

  69. matt:

    Regarding Margaret’s experience, I have serious doubts it had anything to do with 3WL because we have a thousands of sites and that’s the only time I’ve ever heard of that happening.

    It’s more likely that she was affected by Google’s recent ranking update.

  70. Jon,

    I didn’t mean to give you the impression that I disagreed with you on this particular issue. I

    I don’t agree with their actions on this and some other issues.

  71. i wrote a typo..i mean to say it is NOW bringing in over $5 a day.

  72. A very comprehensive post Jonathan, it must have taken an age to put into words :o ) Nice Job!

    It is very difficult to second guess what Google will do next, what they will like and what they won’t, and so many little people – myself included – scurry around trying to build their businesses without getting stepped on in the next shake-up.

    Consequently, with all of the controversy surrounding link buying, etc, I have always stayed away from it and gone for free links. I suppose with article sites and social bookmarking, etc getting high PR links has got much easier and takes the edge off the paid links market.

  73. Hi Jon,

    You always write good opinon pieces.

    I have had a site lose 3 PR points after Google took action against some of the sites i had bought a directory listing in. It DID affect my traffic but interestingly not my adsense revenues, in fact, my EPC has increased! Its not bringing in over $5 a day on less than 50 uniques.

    A poster ‘Margeret’, mentioned something about the 3WL resource box. What do you think about that comment?

  74. Exactly like Jon said Google has “spinners” like Matt Cutts that spin information and are paid to intimidate and make people fear Google because they know some will be scared and not do what works….but seriously they can not detect paid links unless their is sponsored, ppp or any other form of blatant form that the link is paid….But people Google spins information to make it appear like if you do it you will lose because they know they can not do nothing about it…

  75. As you have said Google is a private business
    But where would it be if every webmaster slapped google back
    User-agent: Googlebot
    Disallow:
    8 weeks time what would their Serp look like?
    Google needs to be told this is a two way street
    And they are not god
    We are their bread and butter

  76. Charles:

    I agree. I hope people don’t see me as a Google hater. I’m far from that. I think they’re the best so far. They’re some smart guys, and they’re doing a good job.

    However, I strongly disagree with them on the issue of paid links. It feels very hypocritical to me — and not because of AdWords, but mostly because there’s no such think as a “free lunch” (or a free link).

    They’re all paid for some kind of way, so how can you devalue some and leave others? It’s not possible to do in a way that is fair and balanced.

  77. I have Long since Given up on the Google Hippocrates. I use their search engine sometimes but prefer to use Their competitors.

    I was slapped because I use traffic exchanges in the Promotion of Splash pages for Affiliate Programs I support. At that time I was using a Template system that included a Google Search Box and Ad Box.

    They are hypocritical because the Are In The BUSINESS of selling Their Own Paid Links.

    Thanks For Some Great Insight

    CoolMoney

    John

  78. Ted:

    I can’t tell you how to run your business, but I’ll tell you this: 3WL has been running strong through all of this nonsense, and 3WL sites are just going up-up-up in Google’s rankings.

    We’re a lot smarter as a group than the guys who got slapped by Google. They made it very obvious that they were selling links, which was not smart.

    3WL is going strong, and growing all the time.

  79. Jon,

    A good article with good information.

    A lot of the time, I think that Google just likes to flex it’s muscles and keep everyone aware if its presence at all times.

    Kinda like the old saying of “why does a dog lick himself? Cause he can!

    I also see Google doing a lot of things that are good for the internet and internet businesses. These seem to outweigh the actions that we don’t agree with.

    Charles

  80. Jon,

    I see you are quite disturbed with the big G. There is no doubt they are as always looking to increase their stock prices. You make some valid points as to the gray area of what is actually a paid link.

    As with their Google’s other “adjustments”, we will have to learn and go on with business. To play the Google game on Google’s terms, how would you suggest site owners should proceed?

    Does this impact 3WL in any way that you can foresee?

    Thanks for telling it like it is.

    Ted

  81. Great post Jon, and a great bunch of comments too. Sounds to me like just about everybody agrees with you.

    In my estimation Google is either hypocritical or really naive, and probably both…

    I think the hard nosed hypocrites now running Google tolerate the naive bunch who still believe in the “do no evil” BS. They tolerate them as long as it works to their business advantage – because it helps perpetuate the myth that Google is pure and virtuous in a sea of lying, cheating, money grubbing people like the rest of us.

    Everybody knows the value of ranking in Google. Everybody also knows the importance of links. So that makes links valuable commodities. The entire web is infused with this kind of thinking. To bow out and say “Gee I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t get a link unless I work real hard for it,” is just to concede the game to the others in your market who can go out and buy their position one way or another.

    As others have pointed out, it also plays directly into Google’s hands, because we all know there are only two ways to get to the top of Google – with SEO and links, or with PPC – Adwords.

    Google hypocritical? No never.

  82. Of course, with an adwords campaign, you are not linking directly to the site, but rather through a google site. There’s always the conspiracy that Google just wants all the money. Until someone can come up with an alternative to Google, we’re all stuck in this rut.

  83. How the &%$# Google knows it all? Jon is right here on many things. To instill fear in your customers that is the worst GOOG can do. It is rally like beating the hand that feeds you. I mean we feed GOOG not the other way around.

    I do not know how I do it but in a few days time I put out this site and I rank on fist page for “bonus internet marketing explained” and as well as for “best bonus internet marketing explained” Honestly the problem I have is I do not know exactly how I did it and why GOOG thinks I deserve that.

    Too many Myths out there coming from ”Gurus” who do not know a thing about SEO but can write “Great copy” That pisses me off.

    But Yeah GOOG is blind to may things it is just that we do not know what those things are because as Jon says people get smarter and you cannot control everything.

  84. Charlie:

    That’s an excellent question. You see, you’re not buying links from me with 3WL, nor are you buying links from the sites who link to you.

    What you’re paying for is the service that makes that 3-way EXCHANGE easier.

    Does that constitute “paid”? I say no, Google hasn’t said. But Google certainly hasn’t deindexed the huge number of sites that come back when you search Google for “buy text links” either.

  85. Hi Jon,

    Does your service to exchange link become a paid links service then? We pay for links so one can assume that it falls foul of Google’s recommended practice.

    But it seems to work, doesn’t it?

    All it proves to me is that the whole business is an inexact science.

    Regards

    Charlie

  86. Peter:

    Thanks, that’s much appreciated!

  87. Excellent article Jonathan. So often I have thought about the hypocrisy and controversy over all that has been discussed by you and the other readers.
    We are all in business in some form or other, including Google. The organic rankings are really just an indication of who is the ‘cleverer’ marketer! Good luck to those I say (and may it be me soon!)

  88. Well……hear hear as we say in the UK.

    An education indeed and it makes me wish I could sit and think so clearly.

    Well done Jonathan and you should know that you are one of two ‘Gurus’ whose list I remain on. The rest have been banished from my hard drive.

    Peter Charalambos

  89. Funny, I just had a similar conversation with an associate of mine. He and I both feel that the paid link in “Yahoo’s Business Directory” should be counted as a paid link in Google, or that Google should back off. What is it with the double standard? Bunch of baloney if you ask me.

  90. Your logic is excellent. I hadn’t looked at it quite the same way you have, and can certainly see that there is just no way for Google to truly penalize webmasters for purchasing links. All work and all trades are a “purchase” of a link. Even the small amount of work required to make a comment on your site is a “purchase” of value both to me and to you. I appreciate your efforts to point that out.

  91. Another hard hitting and dare I say, controversial article Jonathan. You must be applauded for bringing it up though because whereas I personally do not give two hoots whether a link is paid for or not, I know a few web masters who quake at the mere mention of paid links or anything even remotely sounding like paid links!

  92. Good points…all of them.

    I’ve gotta go put nofollows on my paid links now.

    See Ya.

    Allen Graves

  93. Allen:

    Google does recognize that some paid links are valid, but they claim that the only way they can be valid is if you make sure they do not pass PageRank (by using the NOFOLLOW attribute or a redirect that is blocked with robots.txt).

    I disagree completely with them on that point. Why shouldn’t a link be allowed to pass PageRank and help with the site owner’s ranking in Google? Every form of link building is a transactional exchange, after all — whether dollars are involved or not.

  94. Your article was very well written and very interesting. I hope that Google takes note of it.
    Mara

  95. I own a community website (for the city I live in) and I happen to post paid links for businesses in my community. But they are not paying to get their website ranked higher in the search engines, they’re simply doing it to get their name and brand into the community.
    I think Google understands that not all paid links are created for SEO purposes…but, like you said, there’s really no way to tell unless a real live person actually looks at the website.
    I hope they keep this in mind as they develop their strategy in thwarting paid links for SEO.
    Allen Graves

  96. Harry:

    I would agree with you if Google were non-profit, but they’re not. They’re a huge empire, a multi-billion dollar mega-corp. Do you really think they’re in this to create a vision of popular opinion?

    No, they are in it for the money.

    And who makes them that money? The webmasters who allow Google to index their site content and sell ads off of it.

    Phil:

    Thanks, and very good point about that ad for “Selling PR6 Links”!

  97. Good article and carefully scripted. I’ve written many similar articles that concern controversy – not on the same subject – but a certain slap of the back for tackling the issue.

    Many of the other comments have also added a few interesting variations.

    My observation? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

    If Google change the system, no doubt within 24 hours they’ll be a new technique to undo their new groundbreaking move. At least this way the cheak of selling and buying links is pretty much visual.

    Plus… and I’ve just checked… Type ‘selling pr6 links’ into Google search… they are allowing prople to advertise the very product their trying to curb?!

    We all… rest our case!

  98. People use Google becuase the search results supposedly reflect the collective wisdom of millions of website owners.

    The number of links (amongst other factors) to a site being a measure of its importance.

    Acme Inc may produce great products, but should they have the number 1 spot for widget X simply because they have the $ to pay for backlinks.

    Search results are not advertisements, they are supposed to be an analysis of popular opinion (albeit a crude one).

  99. Agree with you 100%!

    Perhaps Google should fine tune their sacred PR concept. There is no way in hell for them to totally stop people from buying links. Heck, Google AdWords itself can be considered as a massive commercial link promotion with advertisers paying top dollars to gain top spots in Google AdSense ads. Shouldn’t Google punished themselves too? Ha ha ha… Of course not.

  100. Micro:

    Sorry, but you are mistaken. PR4 sites are “free” in the network only because sites with high PageRank get crawled faster, which means the links get found faster and the network is regularly spidered. So it’s good to encourage higher PR sites in the network.

    Other than that PR doesn’t have much value in the SERPs anymore.

    See my Search Engine Myths Exposed report for that.

  101. Well, I like what is coming of this – seems like google ain’t the all-seeing, all knowing super wonder I used to think.

    Still, people point out page rank as not being a factor, and I don’t think Jon agrees with that philosophy because he doesn’t count PR 4 web sites as filling a quota in a couple of his offerings. It might be nice to see you write about PR, and its value, Jon.

    I have a site thats on page one and has a PR of 1 and that site is ahead of sites with much bigger PRs.

    Anyway, thats not the point – paid back-links is the point, and It seems like PR is what the paid for directories use as a means of charging you. So, I’d like to know something.

    If we have 2 backlinks, one paid and one is not, the paid link has PR5 and the Non-paid one PR0, does the paid PR5 backlink count as more “weight” in terms of ranking to your site than the one with PR0? (All other things being equal, such as link text and such)

    Another thing – doesn’t the number of links on a page dilute its back-link-passing power? I mean some of these sites have a couple of hundred links in each category…

    Things like this would be interesting to know. It would certainly determine whether or not I would pay for links if I new that info.

  102. Wow. One of your longest posts Jonathan!

    I sense this is quite close to your heart. I find myself agreeing with you. Google have 2 standards. It is not always fair, but hey, what you gonna do about it.

    The power of links is something no IM’er can ever afford to lose. But I do agree that life would be much fairer if your links were chosen because of quality, and not just the fact that you can pay to at least look as if your website is the best. But hey. Thats business

    Sincerely,
    John Adams

  103. Jon,

    Thanks for posting this as I’d been thinking about this lately myself. This whole subject is just another indication of how contrived and artificial all this is. If you barter, link for link, article for link, and so on, it’s no different from exchanging money for a link. Even if you argue that an article adds value, I would argue back that a link by itself has value because it leads someone to my site who might not otherwise have gone there. My site has value for a visitor who chooses to click. If my site doesn’t have value, then it doesn’t belong on the Internet.

    And the Yahoo! Dir thing really bugs me. That is obviously a paid link. Does anyone actually look through the Yahoo! Directory anymore to find sites? I doubt it. Other directories are charging for links and bundling other services with it. Most of these “services” do little, if anything, for you. It’s another paid link, and it’s supposedly ok?

    The sad thing is that the SERP’s are still full of junk sites and irrelevant pages in the top 20 for many keywords, so how has this policing action helped Google’s customer, the searcher? – Kurt

  104. What it is google is not geting any of the money and they want part of the pie.

  105. Paul:

    Great points you make there, thanks for the contribution.

  106. I think the word hypocrisy just about covers it all.

    I have a free Yahoo Email address. Ads are everywhere but Yahoo is telling me they have all these free tools to prevent spam and they are going to do all in their power to help me control the spam invasion to my email box. What a joke!

    They are just trying to create an illusion that they are your friend and everyone else who puts an ad in front of your face is a salesman. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? What is everyone on this site trying to do but put themselves in the trusted zone of their prospective customers right next to their friends and neighbors?

    That is where we non-hypocrites differ. At our auto repair shop we have friends who are customers and customers who are friends but we don’t try to fool anyone of them into thinking that we are not there to supply a service for them and get paid for doing it. There is no illusion in anyones mind. :)

    It is easy to understand the pathetic state of our US government when we see how much hypocrisy we accept from our business community online or off. Deal with it but don’t put on blinders and make believe it is something else or not there at all.

  107. Jon
    As a marketing ploy it makes sense to me.
    Sometimes we forget what Google’s purpose actually is.
    It may have started as a “Search Engine”,but it is now a corporation that must provide profit to it’s shaerholders.

    To earn those profits it must satisfy it’s customers.
    Googles customers are the advertisers, not the surfer who uses their search service.

    By publicising the fact that they are cracking down on the buying and selling of links, Google can spin it so that they are seen to be ensuring that the sites that rank the highest, do so on the value that they offer the surfer rather than any manipulation.

    It is irrelevant whether this is true or not. All that matters is that the advertisers believe it.
    If the advertisers believe it, then they will continue to advertise and Google’s revenue will continue to rise and the share holders will be happy.

    I don’t see this as any different from an off-line leaflet distributer who assures you that they have stringent checks to ensure your leaflest are delivered and not suffed in a bin. It doesn’t matter if it’s true as long as you believe them.

    Paul

  108. Making You Richer:

    There’s no such thing as 100% with Google, but I’ve never seen evidence of inbound links hurting you. They can be ignored by Google if Google suspects them of being paid, of course.

    However, your hesitance is precisely what Google was trying to accomplish in their latest actions. Put fear in the hearts of webmasters to prevent them from doing what works — getting links.

  109. I think the main reason why google is trying to act against paid links is to bring more costumers to their own “paid links” called Adwords.

  110. Well done Jon!

    Text links are very easily disguised if push comes to shove. You simply write a brief article and embed the link. Who is going to know whether it’s legitimate content with a gratis link or a paid one.

    This whole thing has been a matter of Google trying to wave a big stick.

    Cheers,

  111. Hey Jonathan,

    This is a real work you’ve put in here. Now I think you’re gradually establishing yourself as a man not suffering from the ‘herd mentality’ syndrome.

    Good thought man.

    You see Jonathan, just like most people, I’ve always been in the dark about Google methods of ranking sites. And I strongly believe that PR is not so important as some people think. My site has been receiving the same amount of traffic even when Google ‘devalued’ the PR. Same experience for many people.

    Just as you’ve stated in this beautiful post, I wonder why the noise about link buying!!?

    But Jonathan, are you really sure that Google isn’t punishing those buying links? I need to be 100% of this because I’d stopped buying links. I normally use DP forums where I believe Google may have ‘human snuffer dogs’ poking around.

    Please reply… :)

  112. Nice point, and I’m glad you brought it up. Think about it, WE (former and current bloggers or webmasters) are blazing trails that have not been seen before. While Google is part of us being able to blaze the trail, they can’t control very much of how it develops. I think that, along with their page rank mix up, is them trying to be able to keep the development from sliding down to the murky depths of the underbelly of marketing. A slippery slope is indeed a good metaphor for the situation.

    In the end, links are links and I think Google will only go after the big fish; ie- the one you mentioned spending 1000$/month to receive back 5000$.

  113. As always, a great article that reinforces concepts knowns and debunks some of the myths that have been blown out of proportion.

  114. Google’s slaps aren’t consistent. We have several directory sites that provide web pages for our members. Even though PR has nothing to do with actual traffic, potential customers look for high PR as an indication that our directories get lots of visitors. (A little knowledge…) After having a PR4 for two years, our GoGetNotary site dropped to a 2 a few months ago, then to a big fat zero. Fortunately we didn’t lose our search results position for our best keywords, but PR is important to members even if it has no real effect in traffic to our site. An SEO expert and friend thought we got hammered because Google suspected we were selling links, so we put the nofollow code on almost all links, removed a link exchange directory and petitioned Google to review our site again. We were back to a PR4 within 5 days! Meanwhile other similar notary directories didn’t get penalized. What’s more, our GoGetRealEstate site had the same qualities as Notary and didn’t get slapped which was odd because many, many real estate sites lost not only PR but were pulled from the Google index until they apologized for not following the guidelines. We recently added the nofollow code to our real estate site but left the link exchange directory in place. So far, so good…

  115. Jon,
    Good post, as all of your posts tend to be. In your observation you mentioned google slapping sites selling links, is this only occuring on high pr sites? I know I have plent of paid links known as adsense on my site. Seems a bit hypocritical doesn’t it?

  116. Another great article as usual. You bring up some good points in the article. Keep up the good work.
    Steve

  117. Well Written! I agree, the gray area in the matter dwarfs the white and black! I think there are better ways to “discourage” link selling/buying, the big G just needs to figure it out.

  118. Nice well thought out argument Jonathan! Of course it is their search engine so they can do whatever they want, but what you say makes sense. I wonder how many webmasters or people actually report sties they found that do offer paid links. I’m sure there are plenty, bu I myself have better things to do. Even if I found a site with paid links to a competitor’s site I would not waste my time reporting it.

  119. Jon,

    For quite some time I have held this same sentiment concerning Google’s hypocrisy.

    Apparently paid links are “evil” unless Google is the one monetizing the links. If I use AdWords to pay for advertising, that is buying links. Why penalize those who practice a different business model.

    As you stated, Google is a business and is in it to make a profit. The search engine belongs to them, and so I suppose it is entirely within their right to implement any algorithm they choose.

    I can only hope that widespread sentiment will work against Google and they will face either change the way they do business, or lose relevance (i.e. market share.)

    Brian

  120. There must be a very fine line – if any at all – between buying links and buying advertising. What if I’m buying advertising on a popular site just for the traffic it would generate? How can a webmaster be sure that won’t be considered the same as buying links? This whole thing about buying links is a mess that leaves the legitimate webmaster wondering how to promote his site.

  121. Well…I applaud your post!

    The one thing that can get Google in trouble is with the FTC. By hampering or controlling how a business/website can do actually do business can be construed in a negative manner. IF a big enough impact is made or the wrong guy gets ticked off then a suit could follow through the FTC. That is a serious organization and they have stood up for the little guy in the past.

    I am surprised they have not jumped on anything yet. But then again, the strike will come out of no where.

    The moment Google impairs a business in way that hurts the significantly could be the spark.

    Buddy

  122. Hi Jonathon,
    Until the last google update i had a PR 5 article website that was around 800,000 on alexa. then i lost the PR5 and went to PR0.

    The site is now PR0 and an alexa rank of 340,000 so the PR loss obviously didnt affect my traffic, and it has got better traffic coming now. After reading your article on paid linking and taking a good look at my site layout, i did have a resources link, in fact i had 3 of them, so i think its a safe bet to say that what happened to the PR, as google have picked this up as doing something on toward in their eyes.

    I removed the resources link and renamed it, and although i did lose alot of top keywords for my articles at the time, they are now back at the top of the search engines and i have saw a massive increase in traffic since.
    The only other thing i have done different since losing my PR5 and renaming the resouces link, is that i post comments on dofollow blogs relating to my article website, and things just seem to be getting better and better. Personally, i think blogs are the safest bet at the moment anyhow for getting backlinks, but with google, you never know whats coming next.

    i enjoy reading your articles Jonathon, and always pick up on something new from you. One other thing i learned about you this week is that your a Great singer, as is your wife. I have been listening to some of the music on your website. Anyhow, sorry for going off topic there, just had to mention that lol.
    Thanks Jonathon

  123. Jonathan
    Great article, you must have been working on this one for a while.
    I think what it is that Google pretty much runs the internet and we all have to scramble when they do something new to there algorithm. Google pretty much says and does want they want.
    My2Cents

  124. I am often approached for link space on my sites but always stayed away from it for fear of retribution from the big G. I may have to rethink it now as i could be losing some revenue.

  125. To be honest, I’m not really sure what’s controversial about your post. other than the fact that Google might not like it. :)

    The difference gets even more subtle in the case of sites which post links to other sites that donate. It sure looks like link buying, and some people may donate specifically for the purpose of getting a link back… but is it link buying if the donor really does want to contribute, and just happens to get the benefit of a linkback out of it?

    Your post makes sense, and really brings to light all of the gray areas which illustrate why Google must both make its best effort to protect its IP, and simultaneously, can’t forcibly do so.

  126. You always have great input, Jon. This is just another instance of your perceptive thinking. It is rather hypocritical of Google to ban paid links when that is how they earn their income. So what about the “little guy”? They seem to think they are protecting us, but have they really thought it through… are they helping or “doing harm”? You have certainly given them something to think about. Thank you for this post. Hopefully they aren’t too prideful to back peddle. ;)

  127. I think the real matter is that Google doesn’t want to make it easy to manipulate their rankings. Since it is harder to write and distribute articles, they aren’t going after that form of “paid” link.

  128. I think your conclusions are sound. Google is a great search engine but it is not all knowing. There is far too much opportunity for social engineering by asking competitors to fink on paid site links.

    The right answer is just to stop publishing PR stats if they are so concerned about this.

    That is my two cents on the issue.

  129. Jon,

    I totally agree… it’s just a bunch of smoke-and-mirrors!

    What’s next? Are they going to go after sites who sell banner ads too?

    What’s the difference? They’re just images linked to sites instead of text.

    Be blessed,
    Kevin

  130. The dumbest thing about all the PR crap is that (at least for me) Google individually removing your page rank doesn’t really effect the traffic coming to our site, or your search rankings as far as I can tell.

    They just delete the PR on the particular pages to try and scare off advertisers I guess.

    Lame if you ask me, and it won’t solve anything, people will just buy them individually. So instead of trying to solve any issues they have with links, they are just pushing them under ground even more.

    Just my thoughts….

  131. This is exactly what I have been saying for the last few years. (To nobody important but me, but still). And what is Adsense that everyone uses on their sites? Someone clicks, someone pays, someone earns money. Granted those people are not getting inbound links from those ads but there is still money changing hands and there is still revenue being generated. (And I believe I have read a little tidbit that you can get quicker rankings in Google if you actually take and ad or two out on Google Adwords. THAT is being taught right now.)

    Kudo’s Jonathan! Again, Jonathan Leger for President. Maybe only of the Internet but still….

    Rhonda Morin

  132. Jon what about Google selling links themselves for websites that use their services….http://googlecheckout.blogspot.com/2007/07/golfballscom-scores-with-google-product.html

  133. Fantastic post Jon, as usual!

    Google say they are targeting paid links because they want the best/most relevant/useful sites to be displayed in the search results,

    but as you point out, anyone paying for links is only going to continue to do so if they make a profit from the rankings they receive because of this..

    and they’re only going to make a profit if what they are offering on the site/page is relevant and useful (of value) to the visitor, so in my opinion Google’s basis for “hitting” sites selling links is seriously flawed to start off with…

    but then of course, they are the biggest advertising company in the world and can do pretty much whatever they want, it’s their “ball” after all.
    ;]

  134. I have gotten many emails from webmasters who have seen the “resources” pages on my sites that 3waylinks creates.

    They assume I have some kind of link-selling business going on the side and they enquire how much I charge for one of those links.

    I was busy and I didn’t give it much thought.

    Then, a week or so ago my sites disappeared entirely from Google for my top keywords. Since then I have been racking my brain about what happened.

    Your post puts it all together. Google sees the “resources” pages on my sites the way those other webmasters did – they think I’m selling links.

    I can’t help but suspect that that’s why I’ve been banished from Google for my top keywords.

  135. Jon:
    “The bottom line is always customers for businesses, otherwise they’d be a non-profit. So why try to punish those who are just approaching their web business the way they’d approach any other part of their business?”

    James Dean:
    Exactly Jon…every IM including myself will do what ever it takes as long as it has a ROI…and your right the articles I publish is because it will bring me customers….no doubt about it….but what im saying is they’ll never slap and article directory like Ezinearticles..because for one their earing Google lots of money off the ads…and another is because users are contributing not just buyer a footer link or a ppp…thats what im saying….

  136. James:

    My point is that it’s all part of the online economy, and you really can’t differentiate one from the other. You may be contributing something, but not because you care about contributing. You contribute because it wins customers.

    The bottom line is always customers for businesses, otherwise they’d be a non-profit. So why try to punish those who are just approaching their web business the way they’d approach any other part of their business?

  137. Nice! Well put, Jon.

    Since I don’t have the time to do all the thought and research into all this, I’m glad there’s another techie out there to dispel the BS that floats around the internet.

    It’s funny, even my college buddies from MIT seem to believe that Google is all knowing and powerful.

    Like you I’ve noticed many instances where Google has proven to be pretty dumb. Proving that it can’t do something it wasn’t programmed to do. And who’s programming it?

    Well, the flawed human beings who do stupid stuff everyday.

  138. Also about the Yahoo thing….Google has said that it is not paid because it is a “site review” fee….But you know and I know the only reason people get in the Yahoo Directory is for the link and because Google suggests it….

  139. Totally agree with almost everything you said..Yes in a way an article is buying a paid link but it is also contributing something too. Such as unique, fresh content….what Google wants….I didn’t get my thousands of articles just for links…I got them for credibility, direct traffic and yes of course the links sure in the heck don’t hurt….But they’re sorda paid in a way but Im contributing not just buying a link in a footer ya know…..

    Google will never be able to detect paid links unless you have PPP, sponsored etc on the site…