In Time For Google To Give Up The Fight Against Paid Links? last week, I wrote about Google’s second major war against paid links that’s now underway. Today, I came across two examples that illustrate why this is such a difficult war for it to fight. How do you spot the paid link hidden among others? And when a major player like Scripps cross-promotes its shopping sites on newspaper sites it owns, is it violating the spirit of no paid links even though technically, no one is paying for the placement?
The Paid Link Blog Meme from Michael Gray tries to have some fun, but also seriousness, in demonstrating why the war is hard. Try to spot the paid links in the crowd — or at least, the examples he provides. And if you can, how do you know the site getting it wasn’t set up by someone trying to make someone else look bad?
The various pay-to-blog services that have sprung up have sparked the renewed paid links battle because of this very confusion. It’s easy to spot paid links when they’re all shoved in the same place, or use the same anchor text on hundreds of pages across the web or via other signals. But when these links are buried within textually-relevant content? Tough.
I also addressed the issue of the difficulty of knowing what’s "paid" in my article when people might be bartering, or scratching each other on the back or taking advantage of other non-paid relationships that still provide links in an almost paid-like manner.
Shopzilla Learns About Link Building from Comparison Engines provides some examples of this, demonstrating how Scripps – which owns newspapers and broadcast stations across the United States — is leveraging those web sites to drive traffic to its Shopzilla, BizRate and uSwitch web sites through links.
Check out this page about a toy being found on the road in Cleveland that motorists thought was an alligator. It was from a Scripps-owned TV news site. Down at the bottom we have these relevant links:
These links are clearly only on this page because of the Scripps relationship and to almost certainly craft keyword-rich anchor text to drive rankings for the terms shown.
How are they doing? Hard to know if they are the main reason, but uSwitch ranks tops for home phone, sixth for broadband, fourth for credit cards. As for BizRate, it’s seventh for digital cameras and 10th for ipod shuffles. That’s five of the 10 key terms the links are targeting generating rankings. Not bad.
Will Google ban these sites? Not on your life. Knock down the value of the actual links in question themselves? Naturally. Wipe out the link-giving power of these sites overall. Hard to do, when dealing with trusted news sites. Wipe out too much, and you hurt relevancy in other ways.
Ban the shopping sites? Well, Google Warning Against Letting Your Search Results Get Indexed from last month covers how Google’s already fired up the read flags for shopping sites. This isn’t going to help the Scripps properties if they find themselves slipping out of Google.
But the bigger point remains. When it looks like everyone is doing paid links – and even what is "paid" continues to get confusing — is this something Google and the other search engines really think they can control?