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Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt - Why Google Penalises Paid Links
Shaddows




msg:4462477
 2:37 pm on Jun 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

When Google needs a solution to a problem, the first criterion is that it scales. Actively penalising (rather then just ignoring) Paid Links scales. Here's why.

Google has a problem- its core product is being systematically vandalised. Money is changing hands in order to destroy a product Google has spent many years developing. The vandalism is deliberate, and is being perpetrated by a group of people that should be grateful for the service that Google is providing for free.

Such is Google's view of the Paid Link market. You wonít agree, of course. No one does. But the visceral desription goes some way to understanding their mindset.

Here's how it used to be. Google couldn't detect paid links. They could spot them manually though. When it was spotted, sites got banned or penalised. It wasn't proportionate- it wasn't meant to be. Google wasn't running a ranking competition. It was trying to send searchers to useful places. If you didn't want to play by Google's rules, that was fine. They just wouldn't include you in their index. Far easier than paying costly engineers to design and implement a solution. The only problem was that it didn't meet the key criterion. It doesn't scale.

The next stage was to build tools to help spot link schemes. This improved the problem of scalability, but still requires humans to use the tools. And then came the same bans or big penalties.

Then there was automation. Not of the bans, but in the creation of lists of suspects sites. These could then be reviewed by humans in batches, rather than "live". The era of Paid Link Purges had begun. Google was up front with what they were doing, in keeping with their early commitment to webmaster communication. And they were highly vocal- they didnít want people to become unwitting victims.

But why penalise? Why not just ignore? Itís simple really. Firstly, Google doesnít like vandalism. Itís a bit like just asking the shoplifter to leave the goods behind when theyíre caught. Thereís no sense of justice, and no deterrent to others. That deterrence is the second factor- and it is especially important when youíre not good at spotting the theft/vandalism in the first place.

However, during this defensive action, something else was happening. SEOs started talking about the dangers of Paid Links. All of a sudden, the world split in two. The people who pursued Paid Links despite the risks, and those that refrained for fear of penalisation. Regardless of how effective Googleís detection was, the Paid Link market was suppressed, by nothing more than press releases and public statements. Thatís scalable.

FUD is a word that gets thrown around a lot. I used to use it frequently, until I realised that people were reading as a synonym of "nonsense". It's not.

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt is a perfectly efficacious method of controlling a problem. It seeks to alter behaviour. Ideally, it will ďgo viralĒ and become an instinctive response in the general population. For many, many years FUD controlled paid links, so Google could simply ignore the problem (not improve detection), and in most cases, not issue penalties. Two great things came out of this: Google worked on other ranking factors to dampen the Paid Link effect, improving the experience of both users and white-hat SEOs; and they could legitimately claim no one could hurt your rankings.

Then Caffeine arrived. Suddenly Google had a much greater capability. Quality analysis was within their computing power. There was no mention of Paid Links- they were going after the sites that buy links, but using other indicators. Low quality was going to disappear. Paid Links were dead, if only by association. There just wouldnít be any point.

A year later, they rolled out Panda.

Did it work? Anyone? No? Funnily enough, that was when they started beating the drum about paid links again, after quite a long period of letting SEO bloggers preach the faith alone.

Which brings us back to FUD. Paid Links are now scary again. So scary you worry not just about your own, but hypothetical ones from third parties. You police your own link profile. Dammit, youíre probably even going to disavow some. Nice, juicy data to seed a new detection algo from, by the way, those disavowed links.

For FUD to work, there has to be fear- youíre already scared, so tick that one off.

There has to be uncertainty. Thatís why they donít tell you exactly whatís what, or which links are hurting, or why.

Doubt? Is it effective? Will it hurt? Youíre there.

In short, the Paid Link hysteria is exactly what Google wants. They changed their wording to encourage it, then got Cutts to mention it. Iím not sure Negative SEO is cost-effective or offers a significant ROI. But I am sure Google wants us talking about it. Especially Larry, who's eponymous PageRank is the factor under assault.

 

aristotle




msg:4462576
 5:32 pm on Jun 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

But why penalise? Why not just ignore? Itís simple really. Firstly, Google doesnít like vandalism. Itís a bit like just asking the shoplifter to leave the goods behind when theyíre caught. Thereís no sense of justice, and no deterrent to others. That deterrence is the second factor- and it is especially important when youíre not good at spotting the theft/vandalism in the first place.



1.So is Google willing to punish some innocent sites in order to punish as many offenders as possible?

2.And is Google also willing to lower the overall quality of their search results in order to punish these offenders?

brinked




msg:4462582
 5:44 pm on Jun 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

Shaddows,

I agree 100% with your post. I have always thought this same way as well when it comes to how google views paid links.

As far as page rank goes, I think this is a major weapon in googles war on paid links. Anyone who worries about page rank is usually only interested in a buying or selling capacity. Google is aware of this.

Many webmasters use pagerank as a product they can sell or barter. The higher the pagerank, the more they can charge. This makes it easier to spot link buyers and sellers. I enjoy receiving links on inner pages that have no pagerank or are brand new and dont yet have any pagerank. This is because that is what a typical natural back link looks like and google is aware of that. Page rank still exists today because it is an effective tool on the war on link selling and buying. My crappy pr1 website out ranks pr5 websites with the exact match phrase in their page title. Look how far their impressive page rank got them,

Leosghost




msg:4462639
 8:27 pm on Jun 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

Another in total agreement with your post Shaddows..

Google has always used FUD the way religions have done and still do ( particularly the Jesuits did / do ) population shaping..sociological shepherding..

They know the web they want.. they know the web that suits them..and how to get the vast majority of webmasters and websites to move in the direction they want..or to freeze, and then do what is wished..

In fear of the mysterious omnipotent and omniscient "thing" which speaks in riddles and parables, and via certain individuals only, and is the source of all bounties, being displeased and punishing them..or causing their sites to wither and die..

Shepherds tend their flocks, for reasons and motives which are not always entirely in the interest of the sheep..

The fate of individual sheep is not really important to the shepherd in the scheme and scale of things..

Robert Charlton




msg:4462644
 8:41 pm on Jun 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

Shaddows - Superb post in a great many ways.

There has to be uncertainty. Thatís why they donít tell you exactly whatís what, or which links are hurting, or why.

Yes, as I mentioned earlier today on another thread... Will Google penalize you if you remove links too fast? [webmasterworld.com] ...Google is playing an interesting game of chess here.

By applying an algorithmic penalty to paid links, Google is pressuring link buyers not to withhold information. It's necessary for link buyers to take the risk of revealing more about their paid links than Google might already know in order to hasten Google's removal of their penalty. The situation is also pitting the link buyers' interests against the link brokers' interests.

I'm surprised that Google has refrained from penalizing for as long as it has, and assume that they've been fairly straightforward previously in wanting to avoid collateral damage. As you say, though, that didn't scale.

To tackle one of aristotle's questions...
1.So is Google willing to punish some innocent sites in order to punish as many offenders as possible?

Google has taken a long time getting to this point, and they've clearly been very careful in identifying the sites that have deserved punishment. I'm sure there is some collateral damage... there always is in any large algorithm change, and no one likes that. Google's taken unusual steps in providing user feedback mechanisms. There's also been an acknowledgement of negative SEO, and I think Shaddows covers the utility of that pretty well.

arikgub




msg:4462824
 7:18 am on Jun 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

the Paid Link hysteria is exactly what Google wants


Spot on. Excellent post.

I have just posted in another thread kind of a call for webmasters not to co-operate with that and waste their time on link removals.

.. not sure Negative SEO is cost effective


Well, I am not sure if it is so easy to actually hurt one's rankings, but it appears it is super easy and doesn't cost almost any money or time to cause one a major disruption, by buying thousands of links and surprising him with a nice "unnatural links" message from Google.

After which, if you follow the MC's advice you are going to spend thousand of hours chasing spammers to demonstrate an "earnest attempt" to remove the links.


Guys, grow your business and don't waste your time on stupid things MC wants you to do. Someone at Google is having a good laugh at you.

diberry




msg:4463020
 4:44 pm on Jun 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

Shaddows, you've nailed it. Now, my question is: why didn't Google dump links from the algo completely, tell webbies that, and save us all several years of nonsense and headaches? Is this all just some big distraction for us?

netmeg




msg:4463058
 5:49 pm on Jun 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

Danny wrote a nice post on searchengineland about easy links vs hard links. Recommended reading. (I don't have a link handy)

atlrus




msg:4463132
 9:12 pm on Jun 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

Which brings us back to FUD. Paid Links are now scary again. So scary you worry not just about your own, but hypothetical ones from third parties.


Really? I don't think so, maybe you don't venture past this forum, but link buying and selling has reached massive proportions. Ever since the latest "updates" my mailboxes are full with buy/sell offers and I've never had this many before. Heck probably in the last 2 months I've got the same number as the previous 10 years combined!

In addition - I continue to buy links for some websites and they are doing just fine. Meanwhile Panda and Penguin wiped out a few of my websites which were immaculate. What this tells me? Certainly not that buying links will get me penalized, but that not buying links may.

Did the updates scare some webmasters away from paid links? Sure, just like any other update. At the same time - more people probably came into the market to replace those who left.

If Google's aim was to scare people from buying links - they miserably failed.

kellyman




msg:4463140
 9:30 pm on Jun 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

I got a theory on all this paid link rubbish and their next quarter financial results im sure will hold the answer, if their financials are not up at least 5% ill eat my hat

we all know Google is capable of ignoring any link in deems to be unworthy, we can all look at the results and see that some of the sites which are now benefiting out of these last few months updates are not worthy of being there, Blasts from SENUKE still pushes the site up and in fact has a bigger footprint than a link network,

I as a business have had to resort to PPC if i did not i would not be a business no more, Bing and yahoo don't cut it so i had no choice.

Think about it results are screwed some quality sites are being banished not lightly but very severe even if there are only a few iffy links on a site, its not right some deserve the penalty some not so is google making a good case Maybe but its at the result of its search quality is down the pan, which now makes them slightly vulnerable but i do not think there is anyone even close to making a real threat just yet I live and hope


Shaddows




msg:4463283
 7:15 am on Jun 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

@atlrus. That's one interpretation. Another is that Link Brokers are losing customers hand over fist as people exit the market, and they are agressively seeking to rebuild their customer base.

Personally I still think G is bad at finding all but the most obvious paid links, and mainly devalues them when they are identified. As such, sensible purchasing decisions should still result in effective outcomes. But that is not the majority opinion round here, and all the time that people talk about links (that you may or may not control) hurting you, more people become scared.

diberry




msg:4463342
 2:27 pm on Jun 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

Additionally, when the paid link thing first became a big issue, some people ran around reporting paid links of their competitors to Google. I certainly reported a few that I found on scraper sites. Google did nothing about the ones I reported, and others claimed the same. I'm sure some people also reported natural links as paid ones, in an attempt to get rid of competitors.

So what's Google doing with all that info?

atlrus




msg:4463370
 4:03 pm on Jun 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

@atlrus. That's one interpretation. Another is that Link Brokers are losing customers hand over fist as people exit the market, and they are agressively seeking to rebuild their customer base.

Personally I still think G is bad at finding all but the most obvious paid links, and mainly devalues them when they are identified. As such, sensible purchasing decisions should still result in effective outcomes. But that is not the majority opinion round here, and all the time that people talk about links (that you may or may not control) hurting you, more people become scared.


I don't disagree with you that Google barfs misinformation constantly. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they have a separate department that strategies all the misinformation they put out. What I am saying is that this is certainly backfiring in a major way.

I can see how this forum has left you with the impression that people are scared of paid links. But head on to any link broker forum or blackhat seo forum and your opinion may change.

Am I afraid of paid links? Yes, yes I am. But not in a way that is beneficial to either the community or Google. I am simply afraid that one of my competitors may spend the $14.95 to do 50K links xrumer run on me. Because Google has come on record that paid links (regardless of methods of obtainment) will hurt you and everyone could agree that such way of acquiring links will be spotted by the algo instantly. There are way too many webmasters getting the dreaded "we found suspicious links" emails from Google to even claim that such links are mainly devalued when spotted.

And what are my options of protecting myself against this? None, I have no defense against it. I could contact Google, hope for a generic response in a few months, but I am yet to hear a story of someone contacting Google and getting the job done. How do you clean 50K links, majority of which you don't even know exist?

netmeg




msg:4463373
 4:16 pm on Jun 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

Something along those lines did happen to a client of mine. Can't prove it, but we think we know the competitor who did it. As far as I can tell, it has not hurt him any (so far - it happened end of last year) The links still show up in GWT. It hasn't helped, either.

I suspect that because we've never really done any link-building, and the site already does pretty well in its tiny but fiercely competitive niche, Google figured out it wasn't our doing. The site's been up for ten years, and a sudden influx of dodgy links outa nowhere would in no way match our history. Does Google profile sites this way? No idea. But it wouldn't surprise me. I got no other explanation.

incrediBILL




msg:4463377
 4:41 pm on Jun 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

Paid links also compete with AdWords.

If you can buy your way into the organic listings then you don't need to spend big sweaty wads of PPC cash on AdWords.

Basically, they don't want others to be able to sell ad spots on the same page where they're actively selling ad spots.

That's my theory, YMMV.

netmeg




msg:4463380
 4:55 pm on Jun 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well also, paid links (that work) make them look stupid. Google really really doesn't like to look stupid. Even when they do a stupid thing, they don't like to look stupid, and they come down heavy when stupidity is pointed out. (See also - New York Times; iAcquire, et al)

diberry




msg:4466357
 11:44 pm on Jun 16, 2012 (gmt 0)

Don't forget the amount of time most webmasters devote to tracking their Google stats, monitoring the competition's stats, etc. That's time Google's got us thinking we need to spend that way, which we could be spending on any number of better ways to build traffic, improve conversions, etc.

diberry




msg:4470712
 10:48 pm on Jun 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've been thinking about how Google needs spammers and SEO people, because their actions help to build plausible deniability for Google, just in case eventually a government decides to nose into the algo and ask a lot of questions - like about why Yelp suddenly ranked much worse after telling Google to stop scraping their reviews.

So much of the algo is (we're told) about defeating efforts to game the algo - with such a circular mess, they could explain away almost anything the algo does that looks suspicious.

jaffstar




msg:4478138
 9:34 am on Jul 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well also, paid links (that work) make them look stupid


The guys that are gaming G take great care making those links natural.

The obvious dodgy paid links are red flags are easily caught...

If you are breaking G rules, your rankings are hurt , not sure what the point of these mails is.

adder




msg:4478154
 12:53 pm on Jul 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

@netmeg, this is the nice post that you're referring to:
[searchengineland.com...]

It is very nice in the ideal world, however, if you're working in an extremely boring and highly commercialized niche where there are dozens of big guys fighting for a slice of pie through the means of buying links, there's no way you're going to survive by hoping that someone would link to your super-duper unique content naturally. I cannot give any examples, but I'm sure you can think of several. Just look at some of the niches that constantly receive bad press and tell the business owners how to get natural links if all the bloggers hate them by default ;)

I completely understand where G is coming from BUT for the fight against paid links to be fair, they need to make sure that paid links don't help the rankings. If it is going to be random attacks that also tend to take some innocent businesses out of action, you'll get what we have now - webmasters complaining that their only source of income is wiped out overnight and some large brands still enjoying high rankings despite having bought 1000s of links. (rant over)...

diberry




msg:4485975
 6:29 pm on Aug 17, 2012 (gmt 0)

Many of us seem to be in agreement that the current SERPs really suck on a lot of queries. I wonder if this is because Google's FUD has scared people from linking out? Without the volume of links to go with the volume of sites, a link-based algo could struggle. That might explain brand dominance (affiliate and press links) and how a lot of spam is floating to the top (in the absence of good, honest links, sites with dishonest links might actually fare better).

I know I'm scared to give out genuine editorial links on the scale I used to. My site that got hit by Penguin was very like three other sites I run, except the hit site used to have "resource pages" full of carefully chosen and constantly updated links readers found useful. That was the only thing an SEO pro who looked at my site could come up with to explain the Penguin hit, and so I removed most of the links on those pages, and I'm linking out minimally these days.

netmeg




msg:4486062
 12:37 am on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

It is very nice in the ideal world, however, if you're working in an extremely boring and highly commercialized niche where there are dozens of big guys fighting for a slice of pie through the means of buying links, there's no way you're going to survive by hoping that someone would link to your super-duper unique content naturally.


Yep, what do I know, I just have to go up against small fry like Amazon, Office Max and Staples.

TypicalSurfer




msg:4486083
 3:06 am on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

It's all just spin. If google or it's many proxies can accuse webmasters of "vandalizing" their product and actually get that notion to stick in enough heads they can thow all manner of competition under the bus with nary a peep.

I think if anyone is vandalizing the web, it is google. Look at all the googlegraffiti you are exposed to with a simple search and then of course the ad targeting that stalks you around in your web and email travels. Hey! That's vandalism and stalking.

But hey, keep up the war on "dodgy" promoters!

muzza64




msg:4486105
 11:11 am on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Picture the scene.....

Google finds a way to identify all kinds of link building tricks and ignores or penalises them to show people they are wasting their time/money.

Google launches Chrome so they can obtain user metric stats via the browser, and makes it superior to Internet Explorer so people will want to use it.

Google discovers the stats they collect via Chrome are THE best way to judge which websites people want to see in the results. Google also notices their revenues increase as they improve their results and start to promote Chrome heavily.

Google creates Panda, a system based on their findings from data obtained from Chrome. Panda demote sites that contain lots of low quality pages or LINK to lots of low quality pages and promotes those that focus on creating great websites.

Google implements Penguin to demote sites that indulge in spammy link building campaigns (amongst other things).

Eventually (we're not there yet), links become less important, Chrome dominates the market and Bing no longer has access to sufficient browser data to produce good results and has more difficulty discovering sites because it now has to rely on links (which by this time won't be so prevalent).

Somewhere in all that, Google sees Apple taking control of the mobile market using Safari and the mobile market grows to become a major proportion of all search. Google needs to get it's own browser onto mobiles....Google moves into the mobile market to take on Apple so it can obtain the browser data it needs to produce better results for mobile users.

The result......Google removes all search engine competition and seriously dents Apple revenues while seriously boosting their own.

Penalising paid links is just a small part of jigsaw.

Leosghost




msg:4486117
 12:00 pm on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

^^^Most astute post I've seen in a while here :)..

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