|Paid Contextual links on blogs and Google|
A somewhat well-known company is selling contextual links on blogs. They try to locate relevant blogs and pay the bloggers to post links in their text body.
Since the blogs are relevant to the site that is purchasing the links, the links are relevant, subject-wise. No problem there. But...I'm not so sure Google is looking for just relevancy. I think their fundamental aim is to count links that are freely given, without manipulation (which seems pie in the sky to me with all the link buying I see).
So, question: Are these links safe to buy? Will Google frown on this? And will Google be able to thwart this with possible repercussions for seller and buyers?
Anyone gotten a similar email and, if so, thoughts on the matter?
If the links are paid for, they're not "democratic" votes and then, in google's eyes, it probably won't matter if they are contextual or not. At first glance, these paid-blog-links would seem to be analogous to TLA text link ads, except for this difference. With TLA ads, the links are usually identified as "sponsored links" on pages that already exist. This paid-blog-link thing is very different in that 1. bloggers are being paid to create content specifically for the purpose of giving links and 2. the links will not be identified as sponsored or advertising. The trick will be to identify the paid links in question, but if that can be done they will likely result in a google penalty for each blog that sells links (not passing pr) and possibly a penalty for the link buyer to send a strong message about how this is viewed.
I think that the situation here is gray - neither black nor white. If you are the blogger then you can clarify the situation by:
a) Only running the ad if you truly believe it would still be put there without payment, or:
b) Adding rel=nofollow to the link to show that you are providing a link for your users but you are not saying anything about the site itself
If I was the blogger I would definitely use nofollow to protect myself. That is, of course, if the company in question would allow this. But, you know, the whole purpose of selling "contextual links" is on the premise that the link will count in google's algo ranking system. Nofollow would prevent pagerank from being passed, but would it also prevent passing the benefit of anchor text? Seems logical that it would also block anchor text benefits too. If so, there would be no reason for anyone to buy these kinds of contextual links.
I don't have a clue how they (the directory selling the contextual blog links) intend to do it. I wonder if the buyers of such links have to worry about getting links this way, though. I mean, let's be real: these are being sold and bought for one purpose which is attempting to take advantage of google's ranking system.
Having said that, though, I wouldn't have a problem at all buying them...if I thought it was safe to do so.
|Since the blogs are relevant to the site that is purchasing the links, the links are relevant, subject-wise. |
If the blog is on topic and relevant and sends traffic that could possibly convert, Google is in no position to punish either the blog or the advertiser.
Should Google not approve, then how about the blog posting a disclaimer that the links are paid advertisements. Again, Google is in no position to regulate, or penalize either website. Is it really up to Google to say how a website needs to conduct its monetization efforts?
There would be no reason to put a no follow on either. If both sites are on topic why wouldn't Google want to follow the link? Isn't this what crawling the web is all about?
One last note, Google can't possibly determine the intent behind buying links. In many cases link buying, sponsored links, etc. have nothing to do with trying to manipulate rankings, rather an attempt to brand or drive traffic to a site where the visitor can either learn something or buy something.
The problem with most blogs is that they are incestous linkers.
When a blog, has a blog roll of 50 sites, and it's main PR bump is supplied from inbounds from the same 50 blog roll sites, that blog is just a link farm.
50 inbounds with 50 outbounds is a lousy ratio.
How much are you willing to pay for a link from a link farm?
"The problem with most blogs is that they are incestous linkers."
Yes, they definitely tend to be. I don't see this as a real problem though. The better blogs, as far as quality of content and devotion to a particular topic area, tend to do this since they end up forming little mini-communities. Also, these blogs are often recognized by other sites as valuable contributors to a content area and end up getting links "outside the family", which gives them some fresh pagerank blood.
20 bucks for a permanent one-way link doesn't sound bad at all. However, most of the bloggers who build the kind of blog that would be considered "trustworthy" by google are also NOT the kind of blog that would prostitute themselves by giving out links in their posts. Conversely, the kind of blogs that WOULD do this would seem to be spam blogs that I would want to stay the heck away from.
I just got an email from the directory that is selling the contextual blog links. They say that they are thoroughly screening all the blogs that are admitted to their program using a variety of factors which sound very reminiscent of "the strongest links" criteria.
However, here's what the owners of the company say on their own blog and I am paraphrasing.
"If you could get many quality links that are undetectable by google, your rankings and search placement will soar". They also describe this program as a "google killer"
I can't see google standing for this. This is clearly link manipulation. So what if the links are contextually relevant? They are paid for the same way you'd pay for admission into a directory. The difference, though, is that, in this program, bloggers will have every incentive to CREATE content specifically for the purpose of placing links. This is very different from paying for a review that hopefully leads to admission into a directory that ALREADY EXISTS.
The way I see it, I'm not sure if I would want to risk a site that I cared about by buying these kinds of contextual blog links. And, frankly, it makes me a little angry to think that the hard work that I put into link development could potentially be dwarfed by those who would choose to buy contextual blog links all day long. That is, of course, assuming that google won't be able to track the footprints of such links.
In the past, I've questioned the ability of google to discern paid links, but I wonder if google simply turns a blind eye to paid links that are identified as advertising, such as on TLA. Links of this kind will not be identified in any way and the creators of this program claim the links will be undetectable. I would be surprised if google would turn a blind eye to this one.
Here's a statement from Matt Cutts' blog on this subject:
"Suffice it to say, if 'undetectable to search engines' is listed as one of the major selling points of a particular link scheme, it probably violates our quality guidelines and the guidelines of other major search engines."
[edited by: tedster at 4:19 am (utc) on Feb. 21, 2007]
Just ran across this statement on MC's blog. I think it makes a lot of sense.
"Hereís the dilemma: assume that these links are NOT detectable right now. Are you willing to take the chance of having them there 3-4-10 years from now as tools get more advanced or someone spills the beans on buyers? I am not."
|"Hereís the dilemma: assume that these links are NOT detectable right now. Are you willing to take the chance of having them there 3-4-10 years from now as tools get more advanced or someone spills the beans on buyers? I am not." |
Of course I am sure i want to buy and MC is lying. Otherwise, that would just mean "hold your breath and soon you will be able to ban your competitor easily". The worst thing that can happen is google devalue the paid links and you lose money. It may look like a ban to your site as at the moment they trigger the changes your site will drop but it won't be a ban for sure. You will just need more links :)
If the blog is good and the price is low, i would just buy the links.
"The worst thing that can happen is google devalue the paid links and you lose money. It may look like a ban to your site as at the moment they trigger the changes your site will drop but it won't be a ban for sure. You will just need more links"
That sounds completely logical and rational. So logical and rational that I almost want to rush right out and buy tons of these blog links for a couple of my sites, to their home pages and interior pages. And I especially want to do it because, if I don't, will my competitors do this and start sailing past me in the serps.
But that's just the point. Your competitors SHOULDN'T BE ABLE TO DO THAT.
I have no doubt in my mind that this is a link scheme and link manipulation and, as I stated, for a site I cared about and had invested time and resources into, I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.
I'm a little disappointed that MC or AL or someone on the google blog haven't chimed in on this topic, here or elsewhere. No doubt, tons of unthinking people will utilize this new service. And maybe it will produce fantastic results. And maybe it will produce the opposite if google decides to take an especially firm hand to this scheme. I just wouldn't want a site of mine to become collateral damage. I'll just follow my gut instinct in the absence of authoritative statements to the contrary and take a pass on it. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...it must be a link scheme.
Here's a statement from Eric Ward, with a link to MC, on this subject:
"First, if you want to buy links because you want to improve your search rank, donít. Itís that simple. Do not buy links for search rank. I cannot say it any simpler than that. Why? Because if you do, the engines reserve the right to penalize you for it. Google considers buying text links for ranking purposes to be a violation of its quality guidelines. Donít believe it? Read this: [mattcutts.com...] Play that game with your eyes wide open, or donít play it at all."
I know which site this program is for and IMO the only way for those links to get devalued is for the blogs that partake in these practices have there sites turned over to google.
How are you going to flag a blog that has an article with one link in the middle of text? Its just not possible unless google revamps there entire link based algorithm.
They start devaluing links within relevant text, and you can pretty much expect a complete restructure of the SERPS.
"I know which site this program is for and IMO the only way for those links to get devalued is for the blogs that partake in these practices have there sites turned over to google. "
A couple of weeks ago, or a few weeks ago, the company that is pitching this contextual blog link program stated that they had under a hundred blogs in the program so far. Perhaps by now it is several times that. Who knows.
What I do know about bloggers though (and no offense to bloggers) is that they have trouble keeping their mouths shout about anything. I mean, really, think of all the idiots who used to violate adsense policies all day long. Should anyone really believe that bloggers who are part of this program will actually keep it to themselves when they start making money for adding contextual links to their posts? I think some of them will be so overjoyed they'll blab it to the high heavens. They'll blab it to their friends and family who also have blogs and who will mention in THEIR own blogs how "my cousin is making bank by doing this blog thing, btw he blogs about plasma tvs at blahblahblah-plasma-tv.com"
Actually, it would be easy enough for google to "infiltrate" this contextual link blog network.
1. set up their own dummy blogs and then sell links and see where they go.
2. set up dummy websites and buy blog links and see where they go.
Wouldn't even be that much work for them.
And, of course, if the whole blog-link-buying-thing starts to be a problem for the serps, all they have to do is flip a switch and make sure that every blogspot blog stops passing reputation to other external sites. Those blogs could pass reputation to their own pages, but not to other sites. Blogspot blogs make up a HUGE chunk of all blogs and this would rip a huge hole in this program. Would the blogosphere cry out in anger and bewilderment?
Most blogspot bloggers won't even notice that such action has been taken...because most of them don't blog for money. They blog because they like to blog.
This program could be easily squashed.
Undetectable to search engines? I wouldn't be a dollar on it.
ok lfgoal. you have now answered your own question :-)
Yeah, rats. I was hoping someone would convince me otherwise. Who doesn't want contextual links, right?
|When a blog, has a blog roll of 50 sites, and it's main PR bump is supplied from inbounds from the same 50 blog roll sites, that blog is just a link farm. |
Call it what you will, based on Google's or SEO definitions, but the fact is that having 50 outbounds and 50 inbounds is perfectly fine and probably makes sense when you are a blog. And you will find many bloggers could care less about the SEO world definition of a link farm. In a more practical sense, it's called smart marketing, passing traffic to various sites. And again you run into this off topic idea of why and how Google has any judgement on how people monetize their site.
In terms of the statements Matt Cutts says, I believe much of it to be quite honestly rhetoric. If a search engine will impose penalties based on what they consider paid links then once again competitors would be paying for one way links to drown their competitors.
I liked his statement more describing how Google will not pay attention or pass any benefit from those links as that makes much sense in the real world, but it seems that has changed?
The fact that a site owner would have to ask an advertiser to place a nofollow on a link in order to prevent a risk penalty or loss of rank really goes a long way in telling me how fragile the system really is at Google.
|having them there 3-4-10 years from now |
Geez! I sure hope 3-4-10 years from now none of the algo's would depend on links! It was wrong to base SERPs on links in the first place! But... since it's like this - I'll go buy some links now... 3 years is more than enough for me! :c)
"If a search engine will impose penalties based on what they consider paid links then once again competitors would be paying for one way links to drown their competitors."
"The fact that a site owner would have to ask an advertiser to place a nofollow on a link in order to prevent a risk penalty or loss of rank really goes a long way in telling me how fragile the system really is at Google."
I agree. The google system depends quite a bit on the fact that the vast majority of website owners are very much out-of-the-know. If every website operator was as savvy as some of the brighter minds here, then their whole ranking system would collapse overnight.
There are two things that chiefly bother me about the contextual blog link thing.
First,if your competitors do it, get good mileage out of it, and start beating you in the serps, you're faced with a choice: stay out of the water or jump in. Either way, you may be taking a risk. That's a terrible burden for this "company" to inflict on people.
Secondly, and this is the more relevant issue for Google, what if the integrity of google's search results becomes damaged in the more commercial/popular/user-used niches? What I mean by this is, what if, in certain areas, all the crap begins to rise to the top? (a lot of it does anyway, right?)
If the crap managed to successfully rise above the sites that SHOULD be positioned high (due to the quality of their content and the quality of their back links), who does that benefit? It definitely benefits the owner of the crap site that bought tons and tons of contextual blog links and it benefits the company that brokered these purchases----however....
It doesn't benefit the white-hat sites (that have the quality content and the quality backlinks, all hard-won) that worked their butts off to get where they are, and, more relevantly for Google, it doesn't benefit the users.
If users keep finding crap surfacing to the top of the serps, they will begin to rate their own google experiences differently. And they will do what people every once in a while tell me they are doing: they will try other engines.
Google knows this, that the user experience is the most important aspect of their business. If users find crap in the serps, they will start looking elsewhere. And it is for this reason that I wonder if google will tolerate this.
Whether they will tolerate this, however, and to what extent, may depend on how successful this program is (I imagine it will be very successful for the broker). The more successful it is at influencing the serps, the more attention it will draw from google. And, personally, I'm just not sure if I'd want that kind of attention.
"3 years is more than enough for me!"
I'd like to be around a little longer.
I do think Google undertands that they are plugging holes in the dike with their thumbs right now - and sooner or later they will run out of thumbs. Something (maybe more than one thing) must eventually replace the dominating force of backlinks in the algo.
Much of the current SERP shifting we see may be just such tests: Google trying to improve their on-page content analysis -- and also, possibly, fold in more "user experience" metrics. The data gathered from personalized search may be quite useful in this regard. I think there will be a place for backlinks in the algo going forward, just not such a dominant one. Otherwise, paid link advertising will be a terrible struggle for both Google and site owners.
An individual who has recently purchased some contextual blog links has graciously allowed me to report on his experience:
1. The link order took about 3-4 days to complete and, to the purchaser, the link seemed to be placed like any other link on the page. He said there was "nothing in the code that could identify my link from any other link on the page".
2. Regarding the quality of the blog from which the links were obtained, the individual said this: "the quality of the site I got was quite low. No PR, not even on the home page. The site did have a lot of IBLs but they came mostly from three different sites, not much diversity.
3. Regarding the "footprint" left by the blog that sold these contextual links, the individual said: "The thing that annoyed me the most though is that the site seems to have sold a lot links through NAMEOFCOMPANYWITHHELD..within 3 days my blog post was pushed off the front page.
4. Regarding this individual's perception regarding his purchase: "the links are almost certainly undetectable but the quality of the sites is suspect. I might have paid about $5 for the link I got, not $20.