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Cutts, Sullivan Weigh In On Paid Links

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The wild debate about Google’s increasingly hardline stance against paid links looks like Wimbledon, with Matt Cutts taking on Rich Skrenta, while Danny Sullivan volleys against Michael Gray.

Cutts, Sullivan Weigh In On Paid Links
Cutts, Sullivan Weigh In On Paid Links

Internet Drama, in the form of the ongoing paid links debate, received a couple of new entries to fan the flames. Webmasters see paid links as a way to boost their search engine presence against the competition. Google perceives paid links as a mechanism that devalues their core organic search results.

Rich Skrenta posted his stream-of-consciousness thoughts about the paid link debate. He said “PageRank wrecked the web,” a reference to part of Google’s model of weighting search results based on inbound links.

“Links used to be for human navigation,” said Skrenta. “Google made them count for money and they’re ruined now. Nofollow isn’t going to put it back the way it was.”

Cutts answered from the comments, defending Google’s position:

I truly believe any successful system (be it eBay, Amazon, Usenet, Wikipedia, DMOZ, or government spending) will attract people who try to optimize for that system or even game it. When Google came onto the scene with its new way of ranking search results in 1999/2000, it was inevitable that people would try to optimize for Google and link-based reputation.

Tools like rel=nofollow give site owners a method to decide whether to flow PageRank at a link-level of granularity.

Over on Graywolf’s blog, Gray called Google crybabies over the paid links issue.

“The problem is you figured a way to make money off of a link based analysis, and now you

Cutts, Sullivan Weigh In On Paid Links


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  • http://www.C21-Inman.com Bill Inman

    Google decided to become a dictator a long time ago. Trying to control every aspect of our web sites, where we now spend more time worrying about what Google is going to do with our web site, than we do trying to design a site that will best serve the needs of our potential customers.

    Google created the whole issue of “links” which has resulted in all the silly link pages everyone created, and now thew paid links.

    My advice to Google is to get out of the role, and the opinion, that the world should revolve around them, and controling everything about our web sites.

    Google is a good idea gone mad!

    • http://www.redevolution.com Dave Robinson

      I think Google’s stance on the whole link debate is fair and honest. The reason for linking being seen as a measure of a sites importance has it’s roots in academia where peer reviewed papers would reference other works of note. Google wasn’t playing some game, it created a system that rewarded hard work. Now this has been circumvented it’s only right that Google tries to address this.

      IMHO

      d

    • http://seobook.org.uk SEO book Uk

      There us a way to get even with google just pull adsense from your sites if 1 Million website pulled adsense for just a day google would notice a drop in revenue and will think twice before make webmaster angry again

  • http://www.hub-uk.com David Jenkins

    I’m all for the demise of paid links having spent over seven years building an information site that has never paid for a link and never will.

    I am delighted that Google is taking this stance and would be glad to see “content is God” dominating the search results again.

    I do feel a bit aggrieved in all this that my page rank has been marked down to 4/10 when I have never employed a paid link.

    Personally I would like to see Page Rank disappear altogether as it serves no useful purpose other than to annoy me when I find a similar site to mine with a higher ranking which, to my biased mind, isn’t deserved.

  • http://www.buzzassociates.co.uk Peter Mann

    I’m against paid links because it penalises those who don’t want/can’t afford to go that route.

    Actually, I’m against the whole notion of ranking pages according to the number of outside links there are.

    Why should anyone want to link to a typical B2B site?

    What has a small company (A) got to offer that would make any other organisation (B) want to add (A) to their site?

    Far better that the ranking is done solely on the relevance of the site to the search – after all, that’s how we rank a page when we look at it.

    • http://www.catalystexhibit.com Sue

      I agree with Peter Mann, with B2B its time consuming trying to chase down links, and that time could be better spent on improvement of your site. When others are in the same market and have effectively added domains for linking only, you can not even compete if you do not have the cash do continue paying for links.

      Then in the eyes of g your site is not as relevant as your competitors even though you carry similar products and have a similar client base, but yet, they have pulled the cash out of pocket to do what we are now being told shouldn’t be done, but yet they continue to prosper in rankings.

  • http://www.neutronmarketing.com Jim

    In reference to Google’s insistence that they are a private company and can do what ever they want. Les we forget, the power of Google is granted by the web users and masters. Currently web masters are the biggest users of the Google browser. It is web masters pages posting Google adds, and Google searches that built Google’s popularity. The foundation of Google rest with the web master, combined we propelled Google to the top, and combined we can kick the feet out from under it. Change you adds to Yahoo, Change your search engines. In short, stop using Google, and Google shall fall.

    • http://www.NotYourMothers.com Ann Devletian

      Yup, did that quite a while back. Still waiting for the folks who can afford to put ethics into action to follow suit.

  • http://www.simplyclicks.com David Burdon

    For a long, long time Google has stated that the purchase of links for the purpose of improving PageRank is against its webmaster guidelines. Now if its against these guidelines to buy, surely Google can hardly be expected to encourage people to sell links. The question for many years was whether Google had the sensory systems or resources to detect whether a link was placed on the basis of a transactional arrangement.

    Sadly, for the websites selling links they have to explicitly state that they’re in the game of selling. Otherwise potential customers don’t know how to find them – or how much they should be paying. If selling links for passing PageRank was your business model then the games up. You need a new model.

    Where I disagree with Google’s stance is the apparent arrangement whereby certain preferred websites and site owners – for example the Yahoo Directory – are still able to sell links that pass PageRank.

  • http://www.lifeiscolourful.com Life is Colourful

    There should be some alternative to Google’s pagerank. Afterall, it’s not the almo-meter to measure the success of your website.

    If publishres or webmasters still want to monetize their websites, why not to build around a new parameter across the webmaster globe.

  • http://www.lawritersgroup.com Nicole

    As a small business web-site owner, AND as an in-house SEO writer for a large company, I frankly am happy that Google is downgrading paid-link sites that pass on link juice. When wearing my small biz hat, I can’t afford to buy paid links and it gives bigger companies an advantage I can’t yet afford. I think Google is indeed living up to their ‘do no evil’ company motto by doing this. When wearing my in-house big-biz hat, it’s not like you can’t have paid links, you just have to designate paid links (advertisements) as such, can’t pass on the link juice, and have to actually provide (horror of all horrors) relevant TRAFFIC to the sites that pay. Again, a good thing for the bigger guys. The only people who should be upset are people who are selling links but not providing traffic. When it comes right down to it, traffic is far more important than link juice, even when selling paid links.

    That said, I do see the hypocrisy of Google charging people themselves for paid links and yet downgrading their directory members who do the same thing, but even on Google’s SERPs, users can tell which links are ‘sponsored’ and which are not.

  • http://www.happydaycards.com Ginny

    I think if people want to use paid links to get more traffic from other sites that is just fine. It’s their money. But Google should just ignore paid links in their formula of who gets placed where. I can’t see being penalized for having paid links and I SURE can’t see being rewarded by any search engine for having them either. That’s my 2 cents worth.

    • Jose Luis

      Good point Ginny.

  • JB

    Seems like a double standard — does this mean Google will stop displaying all of its pages? After all, Googles search result pages contain “paid links” — ie: the paid links of Google Adwords advertisers !!

  • http://www.adscams.info Kevin Hillman

    People that support Google in any way just further the scam. Every link on any Google site is there because Google was paid to place the link there. They just like to make every site conform to their heavy handed rules. They want to own the entire internet and will crush any website they don’t agree with.
    Google uses threats and intimidation to control an internet that belongs to everyone. We are working on a real search engine not a giant advertising site like Google is. We don’t really care what is on a page as long as it is legal.
    Google is just a bully and only about greed. We at Ad-Scams pray for the day this scam company tries to sue us. We state openly that GOOGLE STEALS on our site. The only reason they don’t sue us is they know we can prove they are thieves.
    Why don’t you tell your readers the truth that Google Page Rank no longer means anything. You can purchase the number one result for any search term directly from Google if you have the money.
    I am very surprised that Web Pro News supports Google’s heavy handed tactics. You do not need Google for anything, you have a large group of readers and could continue making as much money supporting a real search engine instead of the paid link system that is Google.
    Kevin Hillman
    Ad Scams Admin

  • George

    Google’s paid links will eventually sink Google. They are increasingly not relevant. People’s frustration when they search for a term and get a completely different site will force them to go to a more reliable search engine.

  • Junior

    Well, the truth is Google is an independent business and has every right to take the action it deems.

    for real publishers (and I mean the people who produce real content – not scraped) the issue still comes down to relevant results and how they get ranked.

    While I will grant Google the right to play the game they want to, the bigger issue to many publishers is how Google Skirts real laws (not Google laws) and makes a massive amount of money on stolen content.

    There are hundreds of thousands of sites online that contain nothing more than stolen content from legitimate sites. On the vast majority you can find Google ads being displayed. So you as the publisher email Google, and you get back a form letter requiring you to jump through hoops to have them take action.
    Instead of protecting the legitimate owners – Google awards the thieves. Why? most main stream publishers don’t run Google ad placements (they pay too cheap). So Google makes it almost impossible to stop the content thieves.

    Now the next step and how it relates to page rank etc. Why is it in Googles interest to give real ranking to real publishers with Germaine content that surfers are looking for – when Google can’t make money?

    There is your answer – Google wants to ensure that it’s supposed real rankings always direct to web pages with Google ads on them.

    So yes Matt, you are right you can do as you choose, it is a private business. But is Google all about relevant results – obviously not

  • Fred

    David you write really well but why are you so reluctant to call a spade a spade?

    Google is an advertising agency. They are protecting their turf. Search is way down the food chain.

    Matt Cutts and his commentary is a joke and a smoke screen. The more people are frustrated by search the more they will use adwords to advertise. It is that easy to understand.

    Cutts is a walking, talking contradiction.

    Here is something for you two write about in future articles….how can google deliver quality and relevant results when they refuse to provide the word with an ongoing definition of quality?

    All hail the worlds largest online advertising agency.

  • NoneYa

    This is a joke. First off Google does not ban you for paid links or count it against you. If they do then it is not so much that the link is paid as much as it is you have poor linking taste. An entertainment site that sells a link to an accident specialists site may very well be penalized. Why well how relevant is that?

    I have 6 domains all of which I sell relevant to my website links and Google has just given all of them a considerable pr boost so tell me where the idea that they penalize for linking comes from.

    It is just bad linking practices that will get you no where so before bashing Google who I may add also sells links do a little more research. All of these claims are very one sided and the last one I saw had links to a website in question which loading the website was enough to see that they link to un-relative websites.

    Another thing you may take a look at is garbage in the urls. It is possible that google does not like the linked urls since they are 3-400 characters long. You know the standard for data passed in the url? Well it is less than that. As well google has never liked session id’s in the urls and how many ad links use a link style similar to that?

    • http://www.pc-chaperone.com Kevin Whynot

      Ranking a page based on links is perhaps the worst way to measure search relevancy. Bad sites can get tons of links, awesome sites often go unnoticed. Consider:

      1) A horrendous review of a product or site could significantly help a site if the review comes from a reputable site and includes links. I’ve personally witnessed this for software that received bad reviews from several notable software sites, which were then syndicated to more sites. One even found it’s way onto a major news site.

      2) You need links to get ranked to get noticed to get more links. Ranking by organic links simply keeps the rich sites rich and the poor sites hidden

      The BEST search results will be returned ONLY if the results are based on content, not on a stupid popularity vote. Of course the problem is that it is not currently possible to automate content based ranking that can’t be spammed, so the only real answer is a human managed ranking system where every site is ranked and classified when first listed and after major change is noticed.

  • http://www.pc-chaperone.com Kevin W

    Ranking a page based on links is perhaps the worst way to measure search relevancy. Bad sites can get tons of links, awesome sites often go unnoticed. Consider:

    1) A horrendous review of a product or site could significantly help a site if the review comes from a reputable site and includes links. I’ve personally witnessed this for software that received bad reviews from several notable software sites, which were then syndicated to more sites. One even found it’s way onto a major news site.

    2) You need links to get ranked to get noticed to get more links. Ranking by organic links simply keeps the rich sites rich and the poor sites hidden

    The BEST search results will be returned ONLY if the results are based on content, not on a stupid popularity vote. Of course the problem is that it is not currently possible to automate content based ranking that can’t be spammed, so the only real answer is a human managed ranking system where every site is ranked and classified when first listed and after major change is noticed.

  • http://newscritique.blogspot.com/ Mohan

    Google started the Page Rank Race without much realising the ingenuity of the webmasters. When the race is on, it devises new rules. Paid linking is bad because you cannot buy merit. All said and done, the real issues should be content usefulness, content value, content truthfulness and content completeness. Unless search engines work on these aspects, there is no end to this mania.

  • http://newscritique.blogspot.com/ Mohan

    Google started the Page Rank Race without much realising the ingenuity of the webmasters. When the race is on, it devises new rules. Paid linking is bad because you cannot buy merit. All said and done, the real issues should be content usefulness, content value, content truthfulness and content completeness. Unless search engines work on these aspects, there is no end to this mania.

  • http://www.jrlanguage.com Sergio

    As we say in Spanish, Guerra avisada no mata soldado. Meaning: forewarned is forearmed ….

  • http://js-woodcrafts.com Duke Allen

    While it is true that paid links do increase traffic to commercial sites, I as a commercial webmaster, do not favor their use. HOWEVER, For Google to begin to eliminate those sites that do pay to have their links put on other web sites without increasing the acknowledgement of content over the links a person does have on his site creates a rather difficult catch-22. Google’s policy seems to be: have links or don’t get to the front of the list. Solve this one Google then eliminate the paid link sites.

  • s daniels

    I personally wonder how does one find out whether links have been paid for or not?

  • http://www.hyenaonline.com Hyena Online

    Goo gle pr is a joke.

    Because of this pr thing, public believe that it is a quality thing…

    Then the public also believe that G ogle’s stocks are not overvalued…

    PR = Overvalued Stocks = a Joke

    What a joke!

  • http://www.laislacasino.com barry

    Google is falling further and further behind in giving internet surfers what they want to see in their search results. First and foremost is the surfer. If they search using Google for “large green sacks” then Google should return results for “large green sacks”… It can, and does, return what it wants to return based on what it thinks about paid and unpaid links and the page rank etc. But is this the service the customer wants? People looking for large green sacks on Google will never find “www.largegreensacks.com – the worlds main manufacturer of large green sacks” – because Google doesn

  • http://www.audreshomedecort.com Carl Carstens

    It really gripes me the way the search engines base verything they do in favor of “the big guys.” Us “little guys,” the entrepreneurs, don’t all have big bucks to spend on PPC and paid links. It seems to me paid links is closer to bribery than it is to actually being of benefit to us small business people. I hate it that I have to compete with stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc., who can afford to outbid me on almost every popular keyword. There ought to be a separate internet branch for the mega-stores, and another for us entrepreneurs, who are just trying to supplement our income.

  • http://www.robferrall.com Rob

    Google has no hold on a website other than that which the website owner gives them; Google does not, in any way, tell you how to operate your website. What they do is tell you that if you want to stay in their good graces that you need to conform to their quality guidelines.

    Google is not the only search engine in town & if a website owner is so upset over their stance about paid link building then they should ban Google from their websites, remove their URLs from Google’s index & be done with it instead of griping about how “Google’s trying to take over the world” and “telling us how to run our websites”.

  • http://www.ourweddingmemories.co.uk Dave

    We have run a reasonably successful directory http://www.ourweddingmemories.co.uk for a number of years now with traffic and advertising building up year on year with many advertisers telling us that they receive more traffic from us than any other search engine or directory.

    During November we noticed that the PageRank on all pages had gone from 4 to 0, due I imagine to the Google paid links issue.

    The directory does have different categories of listings, both paid and free in return for reciprocal links.

    I do understand the reasons for Google penalising sites who sell PageRank as a way of generating more revenue, as Google has invested heavily in this system and sites are simply jumping on the Google bandwagon.

    However, we have never gone out and purchased links on any site to improve our own PR and we are very strict on the type of businesses who do advertise with us. Also with the free listings in return for reciprocal links, we have only ever allowed these where the link back is quality and relevant. We have also never gone looking for links. Any links added are as a result of site owners contacting us.

    As most of our advertisers do renew annually due to the traffic we deleiver, the loss in PR alone is not of major concern to us. However, there does seem to be a problem in the alogrithms when pages containing free links are penalised the same as the paid pages. They doesn’t seem to be able to differentiate between the two.

    What would concern us more is if the loss of PR directly affected the amount of traffic we receive. At this stage it doesn’t look like this is the case. We have seen the usual seasonal drop and will know more come the new year when the traffic builds up once again.

    The rel=”nofollow” tage has now been added to all advertisments and listings on regional pages and I wonder now whether the PR will once again increase as no PR would be passed to our advertisers?

  • http://www.linkxl.com Dwight

    Google is a NYSE traded company that is for profit. They can do what they want with their search results and has made it clear that they will go after those who manipulate it. However, what if they cannot actually see a footprint of a link? What if an advertiser has an option to make a paid link a “No-Follow” because they want the relevant traffic of that site, and not the PR juice? This is what LinkXL.com allows Advertisers and Publishers to decide.

    At PubCon I was visited by many engineers from Google and one high-level guy said “We want to make the user experience out #1 focus.” I responded “Well then why not give them a button on the search results page that allows them to display results without your AdSense advertising? Make it a choice you offer, not just a FireFox Plugin. Then you can be sure the user experience is not all mucked up with irrelevant results. But then again, that would hurt your revenue stream.” Ya, he was speechless.

  • http://www.businessservicesuk.com Pete

    I predicted there would be carnage on DP, due to directory owners openly networking with their peers to gain a false PR. I had no idea if this prediction would come true, it was just a feeling I had at the time. If you are going to embark on tactics that could be construed as slight iffy, keep below the radar screen.

  • http://www.bulgariasfinest.com Jim Lawlor

    As long as you are careful, buying the odd link will not harm, however it should be something that is done sparingly

  • http://www.acornrecruitmentsw.co.uk Chris

    I am ok, I don’t like paying for anything

  • http://www.photographyboudoir.info/ Boudoir Photography

    Hate paying for adwords. Spent a fortune on them, and they usually ar clicked by other competitors. I have a few sites. http://www.photographyboudoir.info/ http://www.invogueweddings.co.uk http://www.charcoaldust.co.uk http://www.babytshirt.co.uk and they all cost me big bucks…

  • http://www.dr-sandy.net Blog tutorial and blogging Guides by Dr. Sandy

    I think google has a clear stance on this.You can get paid links or you can even sell it but the link has to be ‘nofollow’ so that the paid links doesn’t manipulates the search results in any way.

  • http://www.blueseo.com/ LA SEO

    They have really taken a strong position on this, and it’s now much more difficult for sites to get away with text link ad network links and such.  Google is getting more strict, which is good.  Now you have to be more creative, and produce more quality content on your pages and use different strategy for links. 

  • http://vb.maas1.com/t62076.html ????? ???

    If publishres or webmasters still want to monetize their websites, why not to build around a new parameter across the webmaster globe

  • http://www.invogueweddings.co.uk Essex Wedding Photographer

    I find that when speaking to people about paying google. they are often scared of changing things in case they lose the business they are currently paying a fortune for. Expenditure and income if you know what I mean.

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