Finking On Paid Linking?

    September 25, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

It’s been a couple of weeks since it became apparent that Google was penalizing link directories – at least a few of them – knocking them out of the SERPs even for their own business names. There’s still no official word from Google on this, but there is plenty speculation that it wasn’t algorithmic.

Finking On Paid Linking?
Finking On Paid Linking?

The reason that speculation has arisen is that though there was a seeming spate of directories hit, the number of them – up to 60 or so that we know of – is relatively small compared to the number of directories out there, hundreds or thousands passing on PageRank.

One theory suggests that people are using Google’s controversial paid links report form, implemented last spring to a furious response. However, shortly after Matt Cutts’ invitation to report instances of paid links, Cutts clarified that he and Google’s webspam team weren’t interested in reports on directories, only instances similar to what he cited on his blog.

Nevertheless, Cutts followed up that question with some rules of thumb for evaluating a directory’s value:

– Does the directory reject urls? If every url passes a review, the directory gets closer to just a list of links or a free-for-all link site.

– What is the quality of urls in the directory? Suppose a site rejects 25% of submissions, but the urls that are accepted/listed are still quite low-quality or spammy. That doesn’t speak well to the quality of the directory.

– If there is a fee, what’s the purpose of the fee? For a high-quality directory, the fee is primarily for the time/effort for someone to do a genuine evaluation of a url or site.

Webmaster Takeaways
Paid link reports are not

Mind your link neighborhoods

Don’t sell links that pass

Google doesn’t like being

Penalized directories may be
    a message

» Give our readers your take

That may or may not be a lot to consider, and given that a select few directories have been affected, it may be a cue that Google is considering it more than before. It may be just a strong message being sent, a warning to clean things up.

Rand Fishkin ups the considerations with a lengthy post at SEOMoz entitled "What Makes a Good Web Directory, and Why Google Penalized Dozens of Bad Ones." The most interesting suggestion is that Google is manually taking down directories that violate its guidelines, and not necessarily with a strategy that involves spam reports, but rather by taking what might be obvious cues:

Banner Ads [for paid links] from Your Directory on SEO Sites – It’s like waving a flag with a voice-activated, wind powered speaker that yells "ban me! ban me!" Sure, you might get clicks and money and submissions, but you’ve gotta know that search quality team members read SEO blogs, too – so if you do this, make sure your directory is ready to be manually reviewed by search engineers.

Marketing to Webmasters – If your forum signature at Digitalpoint (sorry to stereotype, but it’s just so true) contains links to three directories you own, you’re probably in possession of three obviously manipulative directories. I’m sure there’s a couple exceptions, but if I were Matt Cutts, I’d just tell one of my quality control guys to go spend a few days trawling DP for directory domains.

Speaking of DigitalPoint, some there seem to agree that they’re being targeted, and are smelling "rats." One such forum member says:

I have been in touch with a lot of directory owners, free and paid.

Also blog network owners and many have lost PR and SERPs ranking.

I think it is simply from Googles new ‘Report Paid Listings’

For those who report paid listings, DP is a gold mine for these rats.

It’s important to note also that Cutts says the reports, if used, are not fed automatically into the webspam algorithm, but are only starting points for review, suggesting a report is not automatic guilt.

Until Google speaks up though, we may not know whether people are finking on paid linking, or if Google just sent the directory world a message via some notorious suspects, but webmasters will be free to speculate until they do.