Robert_Charlton - 6:31 pm on Aug 14, 2013 (gmt 0)
I guess at the heart of it, I'm not so much worried about Google dinging me for the links to my friend's web site, as I am it dinging me for articles from my own staff which also occasionally have outbound links.
I wouldn't worry about this, unless your staff is also trying to help friends. ;)
Its interesting that friends often try to be too helpful. Those who've heard that keywords in anchor text can help might be dangerous. I've often found it necessary to tell developers, eg, not to do things like hide keywords in the code of clients' websites, because they're trying to "help" along SEO. Going forward, you may have to caution your staff.
What I don't understand is how is Google supposed to know the difference between an unpaid article like the ones that he gives me, and ones that I pay my writers and reporters for, and ones that another type of person might post on his web site to game the system.
Google probably can't tell on individual articles. What they look at is patterns over time, and they've got the natural link pattern nailed down pretty well statistically. Chances are they're not going to hit you for a couple of links unless they're really egregious. They may well not even notice them. Right-on anchor text that's way outside of the statistical norm, and continues to be so over time, is something that might get you flagged. JS_Harris laid out some of the kinds of correlations that Google might make.
In the current situation, what I was reacting to in your post is to what were the essentially self-placed links. Google's giving this a lot of scrutiny right now, and I think that trying to play sleight-of-hand with the concept of "paid" is playing with fire.
Here's a thread from a year ago about the kind of misuse that has forced Google to crack down. The OP, in his own words, "worked the PR angle really aggressively"... so aggressively that Google couldn't miss it, and he then took Google's reaction as traffic throttling, which it might have been...
Traffic Shaping / Throttling Prior to Deindexing
The thread discusses patterns of link growth and what's likely to be seen as unnatural. What was considered aggressive public relations by the OP, which included keyword anchor text, is now officially considered self-linking by Google. It was at the time of the thread as well. Google's now simply describing it better.