Information about buying and selling links that pass PageRank from the Google Webmaster Central blog answers more questions about the recent paid link regulations Google has set forth for their index.
The main reason Google is going after paid links is because of “inaccuracies” in results and “inequities” in ranking those results. Google says that paid links are violations of their terms, and in order to comply Webmasters must use “rel=nofollow” or other methods of classifying them as paid links. If you sold links and saw a decline in PageRank or rankings and have classified those links as paid, you can submit a reconsideration request to have Google’s action reversed.
Matt Cutts’ post on this topic shows how “inaccuracies” come into the Google index through paid links. As you can see from the 200 plus comments in Matt’s posts, there is a lot of discussion and controversy (for lack of a better word) around this decision.
As part of this move, Google AdWords has now stopped allowing ads that promote the sale of text links. Yes, many ads have been dropped, but I still see ads that come up for a search on sell pagerank. Google has also put a redirect on links from their own sites that may be perceived as paid links. And Matt has also made a push to remove the requirement of admitting guilt when submitting a reconsideration request.
As I said in my post at the Search Engine Roundtable, in my opinion, this move by Google has expanded what is considered the “gray area” between “black and white hat” SEOs.
Let’s take a step back and look at why Google is making such a big push on paid links at this point in time. These thoughts are all my opinions and Google has not confirmed any of this. There is no question Google has never liked paid links. But I feel Google was always confident that it would be a task they can algorithmically conquer. They first went after content issues, then affiliates, then the more aggressive spam, but when it came to paid links, Google needed help. As Matt Cutts himself admits in a Google Groups thread, “we’ve spent most of our time talking about paying money for text links or paid posts, because Google does a pretty good job of detecting and handling things like affiliate links or banner ads.”
There you have it. Google has a tough time figuring out which links are paid and which are not. So Google has created a paid link reporting form to have humans help Google document paid links. Google has to create more and more awareness about paid links, how it violates their terms, and how people can report these links to Google so that Google can take action against them.
The current state of the problem is that most Webmasters do not know that paid links violate Google’s terms. These webmasters have no clue what a nofollow attribute is. These webmasters are at risk of being penalized in Google without knowing why. This leads to the argument that it is unfair to penalize all links that are paid without knowing “intent.” Beforehand, a webmaster can use this “intent” concept to determine if they are going against search engine guidelines. If a webmaster’s intent is to spam the search engine or manipulate the search engine results, then the webmaster knew not to do what they might have thought of doing.
By taking “intent” out of the equation, it makes the decision process a lot harder. For example, a small blogger wants to put a text ad on his site to his friend’s site. He places the ad up using standard HTML, unaware of Google’s guideline of running the text ad through a redirect or nofollow. Google penalizes this site for selling a text ad. The intent was for this small blogger to give his friend a link because he likes his friend – not to manipulate the search results. These are the type of webmasters who are in trouble when it comes to these policies.
In any event, Google has to do what Google needs to do to keep their index relevant. The above posts have a ton of discussion and documentation on the policy.