Paid Links Under Scrutiny By Google Again

Matt Cutts of Google has written two posts this weekend on links to start a mountain of discussion in the SEO community. How to report paid links and Hidden links from Matt Cutts discussed how Google is in the process of testing out new methods to detect and handle paid links and their impact on the Google search results.

Specifically, Matt explains that Google is “trying some ideas” and “testing out some new techniques” to handle paid links. Exactly what this means, I am not sure. Does it mean Google will just not count those paid links? Does it mean Google will trust the links on a site with paid links less? Does it mean that Google will devalue a site that sells paid links? Does it mean Google will devalue some of the sites selling paid links, based on how they document the links as paid?

It is clear from Matt’s Hidden links post that if you do have paid links on your site, you should preferably label the links as paid for both human visitors and the search engines.

To make sure that you’re in good shape, go with both human-readable disclosure and machine-readable disclosure, using any of the methods I mentioned above.

For search engines, you can use the nofollow attribute or a redirect script. And for humans, just label the link as a paid ad, paid review, sponsored section, or something similar.

In addition, Matt is asking for those who know of paid links to report them via Google Webmaster Central authenticated spam reporting form or Google’s unauthenticated spam reporting form (the difference between the two is covered here; Matt’s post says to use the word “paidlink” in the text area of the form.

There is a huge amount of discussion taking place on this right now. You can find much of the blog coverage recapped at Techmeme, Search Engine Watch has a good roundup, and I have a lot of the forum coverage at Search Engine Roundtable.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Webmaster Central | Link Building: Paid Links | SEO: Spamming


About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • Lucky Lester

    Why not discount all links? Seems to me that the thing that brought Google their wealth and power was developed on the back of linking. Now that Google has a fat war chest to rest upon, Google wants to make it so only they can make money on linking. Kind of reminds me of how the old robber barons changed the rules once they came into power. No evil my ass!

  • Michael Martinez

    The problem is that Google allows links to pass anchor text, which really has absolutely nothing to do with whether a document is relevant to a user query or not.

    People perform an average of 30+ queries per visit on Google but only 9-15 queries per visit on Ask, Live, and Yahoo!. There is something spooky about that.

    What Google needs to do, instead of asking people to be link vigilantes, is just stop allowing links to pass anchor text.

    People will have no choice but to stop manipulating Google’s search results through anchor text if it doesn’t work any more.

  • infokwik

    Lucky Lester is right on. Google is getting closer to a monopoly all the time. If sells links, should they be punished by Google or should Google just buy them and eliminate the problem?

    The whole thing sounds not only unethical, but very much monopolistic.

    If they keep it up we will end up with a government regulated internet.

    God help us if that happens.

  • Lucky Lester

    It would be too easy for the government to regulate the Internet and the US would in a heart beat if not for the ACLU. If it weren’t a crime I would offer odds on the good ole US of A starting an Anti-Trust action on Google in the very near future.

  • WebOptimist

    OK, let’s say a magazine’s web site sells a link or even a banner to a company who also happens to be mentioned in a story on the site (this happens all of the time with newspapers and magazines. A story with a mention of a company prompts an ad purchase by that company) and there’s a link to that advertiser’s site in the article as well as somewhere else on the site.

    Will Google come down on that site for selling the ad? Will they discount the link in the article to the company because of the paid link elsewhere? Will they force the advertiser to only buy AdWords?

    That last one is sounding more and more like the case.

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