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Google Says: Buying links not allowed?

Is Google spokesperson Matt Cutts suggesting that link buying is offside?

   
2:24 am on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Google spokesperson Matt Cutts made this statement in a blog by tech publisher Tim O'Reilly dubbed "Search Engine Spam?" yesterday:

"Google's view on this...Selling links muddies the quality of the web and makes it harder for many search engines (not just Google) to return relevant results."

[radar.oreilly.com...]

Is Google really suggesting that selling links (and therefore buying links) is spam?

And what about asking another webmaster to link to you in exchange for a link back? Is there a difference? Money? And why, when the issue of pay-for-linking comes up, does the issue suddenly become one of ethics and morality?

Is search spam what you do, or what you are? If a legitimate site buys targeted, on-topic links to increase its ranking popularity but has the true content and services that searchers are actually looking for, then how can that be called spam?

12:53 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I certainly hope that Google tries to discount paid links, but I don't think they do, or that they are not particularly effective.

There are a discussion about paid links at webmasterworld, I think last year. It one of the most bizarre threads ever. People were saying that paid links were good and that the search engines should give them weighting equal to natural links. I still think there was a lot of trolling in that thread, or people who sell links were participating. The entire paid link industry is a blight on the internet.

1:01 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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This was talked about quite a bit at SES this year (an entire panel was dedicated to it) and from what I can discern it looks like, although Google will not penalize for what it thinks are paid links (links in a columns, links in a row, links that fall under tags that say "sponsor" and links grouped together that seem to be irrelevant) they will get less credit. Links wrapped in keyword rich content areas will get more credit though. And make sure the anchor text is designed with the keywords you want to rank for in mind, not just your company name.
1:04 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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He isn't saying it is spam.

He is saying that it makes life harder for the Search Engines.

That is a true statement.

But, that doesn't mean Google will hit the panic button and suddenly penalize any site that purchases advertisements that include text links.

I suspect he's just provided us with some insight into one of the reasons Google keeps hiring all of those brilliant computer science Ph.D's, -- to try to stay one step ahead of the other SEs, and to try to keep pace with the SEO gurus.

In fact, it might turn out that the ability to write checks for text links is a strong "signal of quality" in some topic areas.

Similarly, reciprocal links could be a "signal of quality" in other topic areas (savvy webmasters are going to avoid linking to spammy sites, for fear of hurting their own site).

1:09 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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PageRank was designed to be a mathematical simulation of how human web browsers would browse the web.

Now, if you're technically minded, and you're visiting an O'Reily web site, you're likely to be looking for technical information, not cheap hotels. You are less likely to click on the sponsored ad than one of the real links leading to more technical information.

The updates to Google's evaluation of links are designed to simulate this situation, and the links to the unrelated content that is sectioned off are given less weight.

I can't see why people think this is damaging. You really think a paid for link is more useful than a natural one?

[edited by: mrMister at 1:14 pm (utc) on Aug. 26, 2005]

1:14 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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*Is Google really suggesting that selling links (and therefore buying links) is spam?*

They've been saying that doing it for PR/ranking purposes is a no-no for a while now, though it's the first time I've seen them suggest using the rel nofollow for "ads".

"As others have noted, if you're going to sell text links that pass reputation/PageRank, the way to do it is to add rel=nofollow to those links."
and
"The rel=nofollow attribute is the correct answer: any site can sell links, but a search engine will be able to tell that the source site is not vouching for the destination page."

1:27 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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If a legitimate site buys targeted, on-topic links to increase its ranking

The key statement here is; "to increase it's ranking". Google has been very consistent in stating that manufactured efforts, i.e. purchasing links, to increase ranking goes against the grain. Lots of people do it, and their rankings do increase, but that doesn't mean Google has to like it.

1:28 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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There is no need -- and no incentive -- to tag your text link ads with "no follow" unless you have looked at the site you are linking to, and realize you don't want to vouch for the quality of that site.

If you realize the ad is going to a low quality/spammy site, or the site isn't relevant to your site's theme, you should either refuse to sell the ad, or disavow the link by placing the tag on it.

I think it would be an over-reaction to place the no follow tag on any and all paid links. This reduces the value of your adspace, and makes it harder for new high quality sites to get established.

1:29 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Well they don't like hidden stuff, or sneaky redirects, so I'd say that a non standard html extension is the way to go.
1:52 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I noted that this month others cheap paid directories lost all their Page Rank.

I think that there are staff in google that manually penalize those kind of directories.

2:02 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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The guy at O'Reilly sure is struggling with ethics in this one. "On the one hand, you know they are paying just for PageRank...on the other hand..the money is good" is pretty much what he said.

Most people don't go to tech sites searching for info on Jack Daniels.

In reality, all ads should use a no-follow. Why should purchasing ad ad result in a search engine boost?

6:06 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator bakedjake is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



Matt Cutts, in the comments section

Tim points out that these these links have been sold for over two years. That's true. I've known about these O'Reilly links since at least 9/3/2003, and parts of perl.com, xml.com, etc. have not been trusted in terms of linkage for months and months. Remember that just because a site shows up for a "link:" command on Google does not mean that it passes PageRank, reputation, or anchortext.

So, to recap for those of you that didn't know this:

1. Google has some sort of manual, graphical (or interface based) control panel to discount "parts" of pages. Throw out the old "this is what the search engine sees" stuff; Google has the ability to parse and interpet HTML as the user is seeing it. I've known about this personally for at least 18 months now; people tell me its older than that.

2. Google has the ability to quickly determine link history (both in and out) for a site. We all knew that they could track inbound links easily; I have a feeling that the outbound part could come as a surprise to people.

3. Google's link command is not accurate for what the majority of the users out there are using it for.

4. Google seems to be actively policing high-profile sites that sell text link advertising and "not trusting them" when they link to what Google terms as "non legitimiate" (read: paid) sites.

Not too much new here, but a good confirmation of some suspicions that were out there.

Why should purchasing ad ad result in a search engine boost?

It shouldn't. But certainly the increase in search engine ranking makes the ad more valuable.

It's simply an economics question: how much do you want to be able to charge for your ad? If you want to charge a lot of money, and you don't have the users to do it, you have to provide value from somewhere else. Search engine rankings is that somewhere else.

But telling all advertisers to make their paid links "rel=nofollow" is silly. Why would they devalue that ad space without a good reason? Especially when it appears that the worst that could happen is Google devaluing those ads on its own with no side effects to the site selling links?

Here's food for thought: If those ads were really devalued already, why are the companies still paying for them? Through testing I can pretty much gauge the effect that a paid link has on traffic. So either the advertisers were clueless morons (which I don't believe if they were paying for PR over two years ago), or there's something we're not being told.

9:40 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Google loves paid ads, as long it is Google you are paying. Isn't that what Adsense and Adwords is all about.

Will paid links affect the natural search results, maybe, but I can get to the top of any search term I want just by paying Google enough to get the top sponsored listing.

10:41 pm on Aug 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member caveman is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



But telling all advertisers to make their paid links "rel=nofollow" is silly.

Couldn't agree more.

The SE's have a tough job, but I'm not going to go around marking up some links one way and some links another way; I'm busy enough as it is. Besides, many kinds of links - parterning links for example (not recips necessarily) - are 'votes', but they spring from relationships. Should I rel=nofollow these? No.

Regardless of whether it's editorial or advertising, we only place links on our sites that go to other sites we believe in and/or vet. Job done on my end, AFAIK. Long gone are the days when the only 'legit' links on the Web are one way 'votes'. The SE's, I'm sure, understand this, and simply need to evolve to deal with it effectively.

5:48 pm on Aug 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

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The way I see it, the SEs have given us a method to protect our linkage patterns from being seen as an attempt to game them, and I'm happy to use the attribute where appropriate ;-)
1:27 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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One other point is how much more difficult it is to get 'voluntary' one way links now then it used to be before Google. When I first started using the web, back in the days of 'Mosaic', everyone who had a site had a page of their favorite links, now few bother to do that because you can just 'Google' for sites. I notice this espcially in university chemistry depts., they all used to have pages of 'chemistry' links, now almost none do. In many ways Google's success has damaged the very link concept that they based their SE on.
3:44 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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>does the issue suddenly become one of ethics and morality?

It doesnt matter if it is I am afraid.

This is a business. A business as it growns becomes further removed from the grass roots. Eventually it is so far removed that everything that matters becomes a finacial desision. Finance has no inbred morality, businesss has no inbred morality. Governing bodies are set up eventually to make sure that morallity is addressed to an extent but this is forced.

If morality actualy mattered to anyone in a business they are in one off positions that are paid to be the moral voice or are at the bottom of the ladder because they care to much.

Google is not a moral entity.

It created a number of businesses who work with webmasters to promote sites via link swapping. It then turns around and kills off that business with the press of a button saying it is spamming. Its shocking really and in my mind .. especially to those who have been involved in reciprocal linking professionally (this encompasses all web sites that sell anything and have any for of link swap)

9:07 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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In many ways Google's success has damaged the very link concept that they based their SE on.

This re-enforces Googles desire to remove paid and recipricol linking.

If they is a decrease in naturally linking then the degradation that paid links and link trading cause to the quality of serps is increased.

9:19 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)



It created a number of businesses who work with webmasters to promote sites via link swapping. It then turns around and kills off that business with the press of a button saying it is spamming. Its shocking really

Wait a minute--you're blaming Google because people created businesses that were designed to subvert Google search and sabotage Google's business model?

9:38 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



they all used to have pages of 'chemistry' links, now almost none do

Somehow this statement struck me... Is it really so that sites in general don't do that anymore?

Actually I suspect it is, but I've got nothing specific to back that up. I don't really see the types of pages like the one with chemistry links anymore. In stead I see pages with lots of unrelated links, sometimes not even in any particular order (your typical recip links page). Perhaps that's why people don't really "surf" anymore?

>> If those ads were really devalued already, why are the companies still paying for them?

Google's not WYSIWYG ;)

9:46 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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You nailed it on the last comment Claus.
9:55 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member steveb is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



"It created a number of businesses who work with webmasters to promote sites via link swapping."

Google nowhere said selling or buying advertising links is "not allowed". Doing things that have no user-friendliness, that are strictly intended to game search results have always been spam. In this case we have some sellers/buyers trying to parasite their spamming into the same category as what is legitimate and never has been a problem.

Matt only stated the obvious (except for the no follow thing which I don't think he stated very clearly). This notion that Google "created" parasite businesses is from some other planet.

Advertisement: "A notice, such as a poster or a paid announcement in the print, broadcast, or electronic media, designed to attract public attention or patronage."
Text link advertisements are a completely different thing than link-pop/pagerank-manipulation text links. Google ignoring the latter whenever it can is sensible, even if it often isn't an easy task.

10:31 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I think the 'moral of the story' is to create good content rich sites and give people a reason to link to you. If google can detect and not count paid and reciprocal links then the quality of the serps will increase.

If they discount these un-natural links then it does not matter if people are linking less or not. A decline in natural linking will universally affect all websites and quality will still be indicated by inbound links.

If people are aware that they cannot 'game' the system by paying for links or crosslinking then maybe they will start natural linking again.

10:40 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Jake-
<<when it appears that the worst that could happen is Google devaluing those ads on its own with no side effects to the site selling links>>

I'm just thinking outside the box a little, here...but, I'm wondering if maybe everyone is missing 50% of MattC's message --maybe (just maybe) he's ALSO saying to the sites that are selling links, "Google's algo also takes into consideration out-bound linking, so if you don't want these out-bound links to count against you (i.e. weaken your theming), use the rel=nofollow."

Yes/No?

11:39 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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jake didnt miss it. He said,

>2. Google has the ability to quickly determine link history (both in and out) for a site. We all knew that they could track inbound links easily; I have a feeling that the outbound part could come as a surprise to people.

If linking to a bad neighborhood (whatever that may be) is something google can devalue or worse, then engaging in practices that Google frowns upon is no different. A few SEO sites that have been nuked come to mind here as examples.

11:58 pm on Aug 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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<<jake didnt miss it.>>

Yep, I understand and I should have been more clear on what I was talking about. By "missing 50% of MattC's message" I was actually referring to the 100's of other posts I've read on numerous forums and blogs during the last few days where people seem to discount the out-bound side of the equation.

12:00 am on Aug 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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In digging for secret messages, my personal favorite would be this: "have not been trusted in terms of linkage..."

So, in terms of linkage those sites (that's clearly sites, not pages) have not been trusted for a while. Now, is that a quality sign? How about internal linking between pages, that's linking as well isn't it? So, on a longer term perspective, will ranking - especially of new pages - likely get better or worse? Also, if Google can't trust the linkage, will they really feel comfortable trusting everything else? Something else? Exactly how much else, and for how long?

And that's not even the advertiser. So, it's more like "be careful with your ad inventory: Ads are just like links - you don't want to link to everyone" It's not about buying links, it's about selling them.

Imho, afaik, fwiw, etc.

Good to know AdSense will probably solve that problem. ROI might be lower, though ;)

---
good to find my tin foil hat agin - had missed that one

5:42 am on Aug 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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angiolo

If you say that these paid directories are manually disqualified by google, this means that yahoo directory should be disqualified as they are one of the highest charging directory on the web

Sunny

8:22 am on Sep 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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"Google's view on this...Selling links muddies the quality of the web and makes it harder for many search engines (not just Google) to return relevant results."

If it muddies the quality of the serps so much, why is google then taking money from companies advertising those services via adwords? (type in at Google "text links" and you see full house of ads for this and similar phrases...)

On the one hand Google is complaining about it but on the other it is taking the money for those frown upon services, "dont do evil", yeah right...

regards
viggen

10:26 am on Sep 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



Text links are adverts in a wider sense and can generate a lot more revenues than adsense.

Too bad for the Google algo though, but that has become faulty anyway with that Bourbon update.

Many whitehead webmaster have lost their respect for Google since then and are now perhaps even enjoying to do damage to the big G.

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