Sorry this site requires JavaScript to be enabled in your browser. See the following guide on How to enable JavaScript in Internet Explorer, Netscape, Firefox and Safari. Alternatively you may be blocking JavaScript with an advert-related or developer plugin. Please check your browser plugins.

Google says link selling is against their Webmaster Guidelines so what’s a webmaster to do? Ignore Google!
Comments19 Comments  

Comments

Avatar
from Halfdeck 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 2

"Set a clear policy for link sales" Not gonna work. For a while I kept declining link sales to poker sites but at some point greed kicks in. Cre8siteforum’s home page linking to "cardboard boxes" is proof any site owner has a price. "The best policy for dealing with Google’s policy on link selling is to ignore it." I would never advise that to a client. Buy links but buy links under the radar. Some links are easy-as-hell to detect. For example, seroundtable has a nofollow-free Text Link Ads paid link section in the left column with the header "Sponsored Links." Among those links there’s a link to customermagnetism with the anchor text "search engine optimization" (btw, notice a link to "Baltimore, Maryland Wedding DJ"? On-topic? I think not). On my "About Me" page, I have an embedded link to the same site with identical anchor text. Now if I was the only seller, a link inside an "article" page might fly under the radar. But this one company buys a batch of links with identical anchor text pointing at the company’s home page instead of a deep page. And if some, like the one at SER, are easily detectable, then other links with similar footprints become suspect. Further, if I only have one paid link on my site, that might keep Google guessing. But I have a few more, some more blatant than others. With every link, I make it easier for Google to connect the dots, even if none of my links are in the sidebar/footer. Instead of ignoring Google, you adjust. Don’t let Google scare you into not profiting from the link economy. But don’t underestimate Google either and get sloppy with your link buying/selling tactics. That’s just not professional.

Avatar Administrator
from dannysullivan 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 3

Vanessa slapped me upside the head (figuratively) when I mentioned the paid links debate at SES and how the guidelines should perhaps be improved to mention things like nofollow or JavaScript blocking. She’d written a bunch of new guidelines before she left Google saying exactly that. To quote: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66736 "Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as: * Adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the tag * Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file So if you want to sell links and stay out of Google’s bad books, it’s pretty clear what to do. At SES, I talked to a site owner who was really upset about all this, that Google would dictate what they could or couldn’t sell on their page "real estate." Links had value, and Google was trying to deny site owners their rightful value, she said. Sure, they absolutely do. And anyone wanting to buy them for the visibility alone won’t bat an eye if you’re blocking the link love. They’ll only question this if they’re trying to buy them for more than visibility -- for purposes of influencing the search engines. And in that case, Google’s got a right to decide what links it will and will not allow to be credited, plus it can also take action against sites as it likes (in fact, the SearchKing court case gave Google legal backing for this). That doesn’t make it feel any better to the site sitting all in fear that someone is selling links and maybe getting away with it. Or selling them, and Google’s applying a link blocking penalty that only the savvy webmaster sees, so the site still gets the money. Or the idea that links under the radar get to be sold successfully. Or that bartered links, links from giveways and other links that aren’t necessarily "earned" still get credit passed. Or that all of this feels like it’s getting worse, so maybe Google needs to come up with an entire new plan to determine if a link should count independent of whether it was purchased. But if you are a site owner and really want to avoid all trouble, the policy is clear. My only worry is if someone at Google fails to notice things are in place. For example, we sell links on Search Engine Land. These are blocked by nofollow if you get pages without JavaScript, so Google won’t credit them. But a human visitor gets the JavaScript version -- and won’t see nofollow on those. That might cause say someone at Google reviewing our site to say "aha -- no nofollow, these guy suck" when in reality, we aren’t doing anything harmful. And if that happens -- if I had pages that weren’t passing link love, I have no way of knowing and perhaps saying to Google that they’ve made a mistake, unless I want to do a lot of testing.

Avatar
from rmccarley 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Danny that is some great info but I look at it like this: I’d never buy an ad on TV that was audio only. If you are making a purchase you deserve the full benefits of that purchase. A paid link may now mean a bit of extra PR according to Google and that’s great but doesn’t really matter. They are the ones that created a special use for links and it’s up to them to figure something out that doesn’t violate their own guidelines (building for SEs). It really isn’t up to the publisher to determine intent for the ads they are selling as that is pretty obvious: increased sales. If Google wants to say links are also X, Y and Z that is up to them but to penalize websites for "failure to comply" is a bad move. Google is trying to push it’s Adwords agenda under the guise of "spam free organics". And that is assuming paid links are spam... which I disagree with as well.

Avatar Administrator
from dannysullivan 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 1

I guess the audio-only TV ad doesn’t fly with me. People were buying paid links before links were part of the search algorithms in a big way. It really took the Google Toolbar meter to fuel a new link economy. In other words, it’s more like buying a TV ad versus and infomercial. We had TV ads that were pretty clearly understood as ads. Then we had infomercials come along that acted like they were television programs. They tend to carry a lot of disclaimers these days. But the value with them, to me, at first, was that they seemd like real TV. Product placement is a better example. That gets you on TV or in movies in an entirely different way. Shouldn’t everyone want that. None of these match exactly right with paid links. But when I hear most people talk about buying links, they’re not saying it’s because they want the "full" package of direct clicks plus search rankings. They tend to just want the search rankings.

Avatar
from rmccarley 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 0

You’re right about finding the right analogy. Tough one. Anyway selling links was around pre-G and them coming back around and saying the internet should stop or change an existing practice is what bugs me and clearly runs contrary to their famous guidelines of "don’t be evil" and "build sites for users, not SEs". This practice would only be for SEs and one in particular - the one that sells links through their for-profit program. Go figure!

Avatar
from vanessafox 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Heh. Hope that didn’t hurt your figurative head too much. I also did a blog post way back when: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2007/06/more-ways-for-you-to-give-us-input.html "Links that are purchased are great for advertising and traffic purposes, but aren’t useful for PageRank calculations."

Avatar
from ANOnym 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Danny, as you know, in the real world money is used to promote, expand and market businesses. A great example of this is low quality products getting huge visibility due to the budget. But this goes on and no one blocks the advertisements for these products. Here, Google tries to block the search engine visibility, coming from buying site advertisements, with its rules and algorithm. I could care less if they just improved the algorithm, but the whole ’you must use nofollow’ thing goes against the whole ’build sites for the people’ matter. I don’t see why someone should nofollow a link that was bought for traffic. Yes, the intent is to get traffic. But I think that the buyers need to get all the benefits, including search engine traffic. It may sound surprising here, but I think whoever came up with the ’nofollow for paid links’ idea is still in the non-Internet era. Website advertisement is different from any TV advertisement in a way that it also affects the search engines. Instead of trying to enforce the old offline module, the SEs need to come up with their own. The best way is to continue tweaking the algorithm and stop abusing other people by making them play under their tune. To make matters worse, Google has been caught selling links itself and it’d be alright, if they just kept working on the algo quetly instead of running that ’nofollow’ propaganda. http://www.seobook.com/archives/002403.shtml http://www.conversionrater.com/index.php/2007/02/23/google-selling-pr7-links-for-10000/ Now you could argue that Google isn’t selling links, but anyone can use this tactic to get links from them. Add to this a fact that DMOZ editors extort money from site owners to add or remove links from the directory: the directory that Google itself is using as a base for Google Directory and enforces its use in its guidelines. http://www.shoemoney.com/2007/08/26/dmoz-extortion

Avatar
from Skitzzo 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Exactly, Google knew paid links were a part of the web when they created their algorithm. They went ahead and put a heavy influence on links anyway and what do you know, people still buy links. So, it’s their job to figure out which links are which and it’s their job to value or devalue them accordingly. This is like a car manufacturer creating a car that can’t turn left. They know there are left turns but they didn’t care until their car was incredibly popular. Now they are going around making cities eliminate left hand turns. It’s completely ridiculous and goes against everything Google has ever taught about creating a website for visitors not for the search engines.

Avatar Administrator
from dannysullivan 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@ANOnym, I didn’t say I was happy with people feeling they should have to nofollow things. I’m just saying that those who want to know Google’s policy can find it pretty easily, and nofollow is a big part of it. I’m for site owner choice. With nofollow, those site owners that want to put up a big old "don’t hurt me" Google flag can do so, if they can’t go for more technical blocking mechanisms. In general, I’m more in the camp that Google needs to figure out a better way to value links than hoping everyone will be cowered into using nofollow. I think that’s a losing game.

Avatar
from randfish 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 1

My singular issue with the Google policy is that the "use nofollow on paid links" message reaches a very, very tiny percentage of the web audience. Because of that, if I, as a link buyer/seller were to practice what Google preaches, I’d be, figuratively, tying my hand behind my back to fight against my competition in the search results. That seems pretty silly. I think the only smart thing for Google OR webmasters to do is to say "Hey, Google’s gonna find paid links algorithmically and discount them whether they’re nofollowed or not." As a webmaster, don’t worry about nofollow or follow, worry about what your business and your marketing. If you’re a publisher, nofollow is a good way to protect yourself from spam and from the potential that Google might devalue your links.

Avatar
from rmccarley 2549 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Sure in comments like blogs or forums but for ads? Google should be able to spot obvious ads and eliminate them from counting. For in-context text-link ads that will be tougher but is doable. I spotted a cleverly hidden one on a site I own today that slipped past the filters... took about 8 seconds to confirm and another 2 to remove. I’m sure that same process can be automated... mainly through context matching and then checking to see the amount of links with identical anchor text. Sure some paid links will slip through Google’s systems - no matter what - and the intent of those links will be strictly to game the SEs. I think that is assuming the worst in people and assuming that the majority of link purchasers are out to do that. Buying links came before Google and has several other benefits. I just think it would be strange to see nofollowed links in the content (for those of us that can see them) and that would be a giveaway that something is up with that site. I know my brain would become more suspicious. PS. Great to get Vanessa’s input!

Avatar Administrator
from dannysullivan 2548 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Agree and disagree, Rand. So if Google says "hey, nofollow or not, we’re going to weight links as we decide," you’ve still got a lot of ignorant people who hear you should buy links to do better on Google, so go buy them not knowing the links might not count. Plus, I don’t know if it’s in the help files, but Google has said this exactly -- nofollow or not, they’ll discount links as they think makes sense. So I’m really torn. I get downright angry that you’ve got prominent sites that sell links to people who think they’re getting some value out of them when they’re not, and that Google itself almost seems part of the problem by not somehow listing all the sites that are being discounted. At the same time, I think anyone buying anything does need to do a little research -- and I doesn’t seem that hard to quickly discover that Google says don’t buy links.

Avatar
from MattC 2548 Days ago #
Votes: 2

I’m so torn on this as everyone is. Part of me says - okay just play the Google game. This is how they say things should be and if I want to rank well then I should do exactly what they say. And then there is the Rebel in me (which I guess I still haven’t gotten of rid of since my teenage days listening to Nirvana) saying Why should Google be able to make the laws of the Internet and tell people how they should run their business / websites. I’m sorry if your Algo was based upon a metric that can be manipulated in several ways but that isn’t our fault. If Google wants to stand by their original vision of organizing all the worlds data then they have to react to world they are in and spend less time trying to control it. Its like any democracy, the government can set standards but its the people who in the end have the power. Just like people can rise and kick out the government, people can choose not to use Google.

Avatar
from Skitzzo 2548 Days ago #
Votes: 1

"Its like any democracy, the government can set standards but its the people who in the end have the power. Just like people can rise and kick out the government, people can choose not to use Google." This is more like a government that the people elected and then declared itself dictator for life. Until the real government cracks down on Google or they lose a major court case, they’re going to run roughshod over whatever and whomever they please. They are no longer the "do no evil - we’re here for the betterment of humanity" Google, they are now the "We’ve got WallStreet expectations to meet and if we don’t there’s hell to pay" Google. Rather than spending time and money figuring out a way to detect and devalue paid links, they’ve resorted to throwing out propaganda and using trojan horses (the nofollow tag). Why? The bottom line.

Avatar
from MattC 2548 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Isn’t that how power masks itself - "we are here for the betterment of humanity"?

Avatar
from rmccarley 2548 Days ago #
Votes: 1

I think of Google like a utility. They’ve been granted access to government and educational resources nobody else can get (Books, Scholar, etc.). They’re bigger than any competition. Their name is a verb. All that together means responsibility and that responsibility is something they asked for. Even though they claim Adwords and organics are separate they are still the same company and someone in the chain of command is directing policy to both... there is a bigger picture at work. As Google gets bigger they are tightening their policies and forcing more of their vision on the rest of us. Some of that is smart business, some is anticompetitive. This policy is anticompetitive and arrogant. Google is saying publishers are incapable of editorial control on their sites. Google is saying a lot.

Avatar
from patbdoyle 2547 Days ago #
Votes: 1

I agree 100% with the statement, "The best policy for dealing with Google’s policy on link selling is to ignore it." I don’t let Google dictate to me how to run my own site. Who appointed them to make the rules?

Avatar
from bhancock 2547 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Google needs to accept responsibility for this ’issue’ and take care of it themselves, which involves rethinking their algorithm and adjusting it so that links aren’t as valuable as they currently are. They can’t dictate to site owners to adjust the code on their site for certain links. Unfortunately, Google has everyone by the balls which is a scary thing. As someone else pointed out, they have gone corporate now, and it is in their best interest to get everyone using Adwords as much as possible and not sending money to other companies to help rankings. I don’t think they are worried about the quality of their index as much as potential lost revenue. I have always been a fan of Google, but they are seriously getting too powerful for their own good.

Avatar
from Halfdeck 2545 Days ago #
Votes: 0

"Google is saying publishers are incapable of editorial control on their sites." ...which is completely true. You think an SEO forum linking to "cardboard boxes" for $200/month is editorial?

Upcoming Conferences

Search Marketing ExpoSearch Engine Land produces SMX, the Search Marketing Expo conference series. SMX events deliver the most comprehensive educational and networking experiences - whether you're just starting in search marketing or you're a seasoned expert.



Join us at an upcoming SMX event: