There has been a lot of talk about Google and paid links in the news lately, so it's only fitting that they're the topic of the latest Webmaster Help video from the company. In this one, Matt Cutts responds to this question:
On our travel site, we recommend and link out to hotels and B&B's in our niche. Our readers find it useful. They're not paid links, so we don't add the nofollow attribute. What stops Google from suspecting these are paid links and penalizing us?
"The short answer is: if you're linking to high quality sites, and you editorially think that they're good sites, that's how most of the web works," says Cutts. "We get into this tiny little area of search and SEO, and we're convinced all links are nofollowed, and if a link looks good, it must be paid or something like that, and the fact is that for the most part, whenever you're looking at links, people are linking to stuff that they like. They're linking to stuff that they enjoy."
"So, if we mistakenly thought that those were paid links, and as a result, penalized you, there would be a ton of collateral damage," he says. "There would be a ton of algorithmic damage to our search rankings. So it's in our enlightened, best self interest, as well as in the interest of our users to make sure that we don't accidentally classify links as paid and penalize the site. And normally, even if we would classify links as paid, we might not trust the links from your site, but we wouldn't have things where your site would necessarily stop ranking as well. It can happen if somebody is selling a lot of links, they've been selling them for a long time, and those sorts of things, so we do take strong action in some situations, but a lot of the times if we think that a link might be sold or if we have very good reason to suspect, we might just not trust that site's links nearly as much or maybe zero."
Concluding the video, Cutts reiterates that it's in the company's best interest to be precise when it comes to getting paid links right.