You might ask: why am I writing about this? Everyone has written something about it or commented on it. Well, the reason is simple. I was in correspondence with someone who rents paid links and bases their business on it.
At one point I wrote:
"My big issue with this is as it has always been: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66736 = paid links should not pass page rank, plus… the rental aspect of it, with which I have never really been comfortable, though I do understand it from a business model viewpoint."
The reply I got was:
"It works though. And it always will. If you follow google’s rules, then any form of backlink building is black-hat. I simply refuse to leave my business marketing up to google’s whims and fancies. Plus, the system now separately targets Bing/Yahoo – as the new merger will draw more search results under the Bing umbrella – making them almost half the size of google – a massive market share. And Google can’t know if links are paid or not – there is no way to assess this.
The bottom line is – do you toe the ‘google’ party line, or do you SEO/market more aggressively."
So who is 'right'?
Well, the comment:
"... Bing/Yahoo – as the new merger will draw more search results under the Bing umbrella – making them almost half the size of google – a massive market share"
To get to the bottom of the rest a quick review is in order.
As I said there has been a lot written about paid links and SEO and whether Google (or other search engines) can detect them. I guess the 'grand-daddy piece' was way back in 2005 Matt Cutts said in Text links and PageRank:
"....they may have read through our quality guidelines, especially the part that says: “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank.” Those people can probably guess that Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines.
But for everyone else, let me talk about why we consider it outside our guidelines to get PageRank via buying links. Google (and pretty much every other major search engine) uses hyperlinks to help determine reputation. Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and link-based analysis has greatly improved the quality of web search. Selling links muddies the quality of link-based reputation and makes it harder for many search engines (not just Google) to return relevant results."
Since then nothing has really changed from the Google perspective - though, as I said there have been pages of blogs and comments addressing the issue; just put 'paid links' or 'paid links seo' into Google.
There are a couple of points that come up time and again:
- What's wrong with paid links?
- Can Google and the other search engines actually detect paid links anyway?
What's wrong with paid links?
Google says NOTHING is wrong with paid links - how could it when it gets $23 billion a year from its advertising? What it says is:
"If, however, a webmaster chooses to buy or sell links for the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings, we reserve the right to protect the quality of our index. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank violates our webmaster guidelines ... In order to stay within Google's quality guidelines, paid links should be disclosed through a rel="nofollow" or other techniques such as doing a redirect through a page which is robots.txt'ed out"
So, for many people 'paid links are ok as long as they don't pass PageRank = what value do they have'? Well, potentially plenty - that's why AdWords makes so much money for Google. You can be found and if that produces profitable business well and good, but it's advertising which is different from what a search engine does. Search engines like Google are there to "find, index, and rank your site" and their business model depends on people trust that they do just that, so of course they are going to get shall we say 'annoyed' at any attempt to manipulate the ranking they present - they lose searcher's trust and they lose their revenues. Pretty simple really.
Can Google and the other search engines actually detect paid links anyway?
Many people think that they can't; that it's 'ridiculous'. Well, a guest post by Marie-Claire Jenkins on Huomah gives some idea of what can be done. Then you only have to think that one advantage that search engine companies have is truly vast quantities of data to realise that, as Microsoft's Krysta M. Svore, Qiang Wu, Chris J.C. Burges and Aaswath Raman said in their 2007 paper 'Improving Web Spam Classification using Rank-time Features':
"... it will be difficult for spammers to construct pages (and associated link structure) that will not become outliers in the distribution of features. As classifiers earlier in the chain of spam classifiers improve, and as more spam pages are removed from the index, we expect the precision rates of our classifier to degrade, since only “hard” web spam will remain. We view this as a positive development and will face the challenge of determining even better differentiating features in the future.
The increasing importance of search for business needs, and the increasing amounts of revenue generated by online advertising, lead us to believe that the number of spam attacks is likely to go on increasing for the foreseeable future. As search engine designers develop new web spam classifiers, spammers will also derive new techniques for “beating” the ranking algorithms. There will continue to be an “arms race” between spammers and search engine designers. The focus of our work is to improve a user’s search engine experience by removing as much web spam as possible from search results and to increase the potential profits of legitimate pages. Ultimately, a search engine employs web spam classifiers to enhance and protect the online experience of legitimate users and businesses."
So, one has to guess they are prettygood at it and won't give up protecting their revenue streams!
So who is right? You decide.
Post written by Richard Hill