Googler Games Google; Cutts Goes Silent

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A week after Google’s Matt Cutts set the SEO world ablaze by asking webmasters to report cases of link-buying, his area of the Googleplex is decidedly silent – and so is the media relations department regarding a double-dipping Google executive’s association with a questionable made-for-AdSense company.

Googler Games Google; Cutts Goes Silent
Googler Games Google; Cutts Goes Silent

Is there are connection between Cutts’ standoffishness and Google’s unwillingness to return comment from vice president of advertising sales Tim Armstrong, and co-founder of Associated Content? Who knows? Nobody’s talking.

Equally hard to know is how spamming the company you work for fits in with that company’s Don’t Be Evil corporate philosophy (well, as of recently, it’s more of an evolving, refinable concept).

Let’s review. Cutts opened up a can slithering with worms, more worms than he could have possibly anticipated (and the can may be getting bigger), by doing what a few webmasters had asked of him: make it easier to report cases of link-buying.

That link-buying was a (potentially) punishable offense came as news to the entire SEO world, sparking heated comments on Cutts blog, which kept him glued to his home computer chair responding all weekend, as well as a neat little squall in our comments section.

Initial contact with Cutts after this was promising, as he seemed quite willing to address the numerous concerns with this apparent change in policy, and though "swamped," he would take the time to chat.

And then, silence – the textual kind of silence that comes in the form of automated email responses just when we need answers most. A month’s vacation is on the horizon, it said, and "swamped" transformed into "unavailable" to prepare for the coming absence.

While that could be just what it is (Occam’s Razor would demand we assume so – career before the press, a responsible employee prioritizing his commitments), the timing of Cutts’ silence is either unfortunate and coincidental, or just enigmatic enough to be interesting.

His silence matches corporate’s silence in the face of questions regarding Armstrong, who has made a fair bit of cash through "content recycling" and whose other company, Associated Content, until recently, regularly bought (rented) text link ads.

Armstrong’s affiliation with the company was spotlighted by ClickZ weeks ago, and not many paid attention. Then, it was more about the dubious quality of Associated Content’s "content," which seemed keyword dense for search engine (Google) gaming. That article should have gotten more attention.

But recently, it has gotten more attention, especially as Google’s (new) distaste for link buying comes to light via Matt Cutts. Suddenly, the silence from within the Googleplex is deafening.

At ThreadWatch, Aaron Wall posts an indignant pair of questions:

This is how Google’s ad executives are moonlighting? In a market that corrupt (where Googlers own many brands, pay third world rates, and do not follow their own advice), what chance is left for the average webmaster or freelance copywriter, especially if they mistakenly trust Googlers?

Online marketer Preston Wily wonders, too, what response Cutts got from Armstrong:

I wondered when Matt Cutts flamed the whole SEO community for link renting what AC would do – I mean, here you have a senior Google exec practicing the very thing that an outspoken engineer rails on.   

There are many, many questions to be answered. Unless Google opens up, the world may never know, but the world will be free to speculate, or worse, theorize.

Googler Games Google; Cutts Goes Silent
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  • JLH

    He’s got plenty of time to talk about cats.

  • Jim Kelly

    What’s eating Google Grape? I’m afraid it’s that old power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    My surprise stems from the question why is everyone else surprised at this.

    With Talaban hospitality Google has been running roughshod over most of us for years.

    You’d think they would at least have a service department for all us wee folk out here who have questions on their adsense accounts.

  • jimhedger

    Nice story Jason… congrats.

  • pdstein

    You would think Google would have some sort of conflict of interest clause in their employee contracts.

    What’s next a Google exec moonlighting as an SEO? How about a text link broker?

  • Frank Cugini

    RE: Googler Games Google by Jason Lee Miller — I found parts of your article very interesting and others I could not follow and I would not consider myself a newbie at SEO or Internet jargon. Your article I think carries an important message but needs to be translated for the masses…bring it down to our level…help us make sense / connect the dots…use plain English…or a parable…

  • umopapisdn

    I can’t help but to see there is a lot of confusion about what Matt Cutts said, and what Google’s policy has always been. What Matt Cutts stated was not a “change in policy” at all. Google is perfectly ok with people buying and selling links. I can pay another website to include a link to my site, and I can collect money to put links on my site.

    Google’s policy has always been, however, that this type of linking must use the NOFOLLOW (or other equivalent method) to prevent the PAGERANK from being gamed. So, when Matt Cutts explained the best method to report PR gaming, it had to do with links that specifically gamed PR, not just people buying and selling links for traffic. If I collect money to place links on my site, it should be FOR THE TRAFFIC MY SITE GETS, and for the SUBSEQUENT TRAFFIC FROM CLICKS TO THAT LINK. That is perfectly OK, as far as Google’s policy is concerned and this is NOT the type of linking Matt Cutts was referring to.

    He was referring to the type of linking that skews PageRank, by not including the NOFOLLOW or other equivalent method (such as using JavaScript to dynamically create the link, as in Google AdSense/AdWords). When this is taking place, the primary (or sole) reason for money exchanging hands is not the resulting TRAFFIC from Site A to Site B… it’s to improve search engine ranking in Google, to artificially skew the traffic from GOOGLE to Site B. This has ALWAYS been against Google’s policy and THIS is the type of linking Matt Cutts was referring to.

    • Scott

      But by what imagined authority does Google have the right to tell anyone how to code the HTML of their sites?

      I get that Google doesn’t want web site A bleeding PageRank to web site B, but guess what? That’s not the site owner’s problem or concern unless they want it to be.

      Google invented PageRank, and created their own problems that they have with how it’s being used.

      To request web masters to code their links a certain way so that we can correct Google’s mistake is fine, but to demand it is beyond arrogance.

      Google created the problem, and Google can fix it by doing away with PageRank. What Google shouldn’t be doing, and certainly shouldn’t be supported for doing, is placing house keeping demands on everybody else for their mess.

      • umopapisdn

        Why not? Google is providing a service. They help others find your website. This is a service to the people looking for information and it is a service to the websites that otherwise would have been a huge unknown. They do not directly charge for this service, though they do make the service free by providing relevant advertising on the search result pages.

        So, what gives them the right to dictate how people code their links? The same principle that gives them the right to NOT include your website in their index. While it is true that many people paying for links are not necessarily trying to game the PageRank system, but that’s simply the solution Google implemented early on to try to determine the importance and trust of pages algorithmically. You may consider this to be a “mess”, but where would we be without it? We’d still be getting ALL of our information from the highest bidders.

        What I don’t get is you are saying Google doesn’t have the right to dictate how webmasters program their links, yet you feel you have the inherited right to be included in Google’s index. Again, Google isn’t physically attacking people who sell links and they are not arresting people who sell links. They are merely stating that if you sell links, they will be removing your content from their index. In doing so, they are serving the needs of the searchers who expect that when they search for something, they will get what is truly and algorithmically relevant, not just information from those with the most money.

        If you’ve got money to spend, pay for advertisements. If you don’t want to give money to Google, go pay for ads elsewhere. Google is not the only search engine out there. They have a large share of the market because people trust them. People trust them because they enforce rules such as these, even though it damages their PR.

        Lastly, I think it’s funny that you say that Google should do away with PageRank, yet you feel that in the MEANTIME it’s perfectly ok for people to exchange money specifically due to PageRank. And, when Google puts restrictions on this, you complain? That boggles my mind. That’s like saying that you feel that the United States should outlaw guns entirely for any reason whatsoever, including the police force and the military. However, UNTIL guns are completely banned, there shouldn’t be any restrictive laws regarding the use of guns whatsoever. What an amazing and entertaining black and white world you live in.

        • Scott

          I never once said that I or anyone had the inherited right to be included in Google’s index. You made that assumption up to have a position to argue from apparently.

          Google has every right to exclude all web sites from it’s index… it wouldn’t be much of an index then… but that’s certainly their right.

          Just as I have the right, as the owner of my own web site, to decide to whom I’ll provide links on my pages, and how I will code those links. Until Google pays my server fees, web master’s salary and design costs that’s how it’s going to be.

          If Google wants to drop my site, fine. I didn’t pay for a listing in their index so have no grounds to cry foul if they did.

          Of course, if Google begins dropping every authoritative site out there that refuses to code to their HTML expectations I don’t see what will be left of their listings other than paid-for results anyway.

          Lets remember that yes, Google is providing a service to web masters AND searchers, but that entire service depends upon the product that web masters provide for Google in the first place. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and neither side should be just happily handed authority to dictate over the other.

          Also, I didn’t take a position either way on the selling of text links for PageRank value. Again, you made that up.

          What I clearly said was that regardless of the individual motives behind link sales, Google doesn’t have a right to demand special coding standards from site owners to address a problem (because they say it is) that they created in the first place.

          And again, I didn’t say they should do away with PageRank, I said they could easily fix this by doing away with it. That’s entirely up to Google, just as how I decide to code my web pages is up to me.

  • AC Mgmt

    If Jason Lee Miller, or anyone else for that matter, would like to get some useful, factual information regarding Associated Content, Mr. Armstrong’s role with the Company, the Company’s SEO efforts, its use of Adsense or anything else for that matter, please feel free to give us a call! 720-214-1000.

    • EX Webpro Reader

      Bloggers are beginning to Be Like Journalists. You’ll get no call AC Mgmt because these bloggers just want to write sensationalist garbage for the purpose of linkbait.

      I have read so much damned inaccurate, irresponsible information regarding this thing that I’ve just stopped reading about it. Had a friend not sent me this link today I would have skipped over it in my blog reader. It’s crap. All of it.

      There is a huge difference between being on a Board of Directors and RUNNING or OWNING a company. I know the CEO of Associated Content and his name is NOT Tim Armstrong!

      Made for Adsense content? Have you ever even been to AC? How is an article about learning your pet rabbits body language MFA? Since when are huge, high paying bids coming in for the rabbit-related keywords?

      As far as the KW Density, I searched through TEN ARTICLES at random and the highest density for a keyword I could find what a whopping 5.13%. Yea, real spammers those guys…

      Get your facts straight or shut the F*K up! You just lost another blog subscriber Webpronews.

      I’m so sick of this crap about AC… if you want to pick a bone with Matt about his ludicrous idea that we turn people in for buying links, get off the bandwagon and use one of the other 3,000 reasons there are to criticize such an asinine endeavor. For instance – isn’t this just trying to fix what the nofollow tag was suppose to fix? Yea, great lot of good THAT did!

      • Jason Lee Miller

        Actually, you’re the first one to use the acronymn CEO. My understanding, as ClickZ reported, was that Armstrong is a cofounder–but you’ll have a difficult time finding that out from AC’s About page, or finding a good way to contact them (it’s an online contact form, which, if you’ve done this biz for a while, rarely gets you an answer).

        That being said, your prediction that AC wouldn’t be contacted was wrong hours ago, for as soon as they posted their contact number, I was on the phone chatting with a receptionist that didn’t want any trouble :) … Anyway, I have a dialogue going with Luke Beatty, CEO of Associated Content and will be reporting on that soon. He says Armstrong’s in Europe at the moment and would be hard to contact.

        Seems to be a trend there. I tried in earnest to get in contact with Armstrong through Google (which Beatty says is the best way to do it).

        Google obviously didn’t want to respond about it until this article was written (which was a major goal — getting information that wasn’t forthcoming — and not "sensationalism"). Google is now in contact with me and says Matt plans to blog about the paid links thing more before he goes on vacation. Another good (and somewhat immediate response).  Matt, in good faith, has also responded in the comments section here. I’ll concede there’s no connection between Armstrong and Cutts’ silence, but I said in the article that I was theorizing and speculating — that’s what happens when people don’t get the information needed. But we’re getting answers now, and that’s a good thing.

        But as for Armstrong, you don’t think being a senior exec at Google and founding a company that produces searchable content, buys link ads, and, according to the ClickZ article, pays writers in advance using an algorithm to determine how much search traffic the article will bring — all of that, you don’t think there’s a conflict of interest somewhere?

        Then I guess I’m fuzzy on what conflicts of interest are.



  • Clint Dixon

    Google is becoming the next evil corporate giant…

    Anyone know what happened to the company Bill Gates owns?

    What goes up …..must come down. Good riddance and to be honest the Google VP isn’t the only greed monger working at Yahoo..

    Think Cutts doesn’t have websites and his hand in the till???

  • Clint Dixon

    Google is becoming the next evil corporate giant…

    Anyone know what happened to the company Bill Gates owns?

    What goes up …..must come down. Good riddance and to be honest the Google VP isn’t the only greed monger working at Google..

    Think Cutts doesn’t have websites and his hand in the till???

  • Lady Day

    I really found your article hard to follow and I really can’t understand your issue? You need to really explain what the problem is and be clear about it. It really seems that you where just name dropping and trying to be cleaver with out any really point. This is like when my daughter was having a fight with a girl at school and they really didn’t know what the fight was about. I had to sit both of them down and get them to talk and now they are friends.

  • David Burdon

    Paid links or not paid links. We need the definitive from Google about what is acceptable and what is not. Whichever way Google decides, whatever the definition most reputable SEOs will go with it. we just need to know where the line’s drawn.

  • James Burns

    Every company has a bad apple or two. The link buying frenzy needs to end, it is making it possible for really mediocre websites, to take up space, when truly informative ones on the same subjects set at the bottom. I f we want to advertise, then spend the money advertising. Maybe it is time to separate the two. The two blogs that I was monitoring the night the subject came up, were pretty evenly split on the subject, and the arguments against the policy were full of a lot of heat, and very little light. It was almost as though they were feeling guilty, after being caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Link buying reminds me of the kid in junior high who used money to leverasge friendship!

  • Matt Jones

    Wow! That is Scandalous! For now I’m going to stay clear of speculating or ‘theorising’. I’ill just sit back and let time tell all.

    Matt (http://affiliatescamguide.com)

  • Val

    I really don’t understand one thing : why Google pretends that they did not anticipated the link buying trend ?? Why are they coming now with such a stupid solution after the monster became so big ? It looks like they are playing games with the entire webmasters world.
    Link buying is not recent, it is used by big names since the Google started, now it just became popular and available to small publishers thorough a few well known brokers.
    It’s a shame for Google to come up now and say : It’s not good to buy links.

  • Matt Cutts

    “Is there are connection between Cutts’ standoffishness and Google’s unwillingness to return comment from vice president of advertising sales Tim Armstrong, and co-founder of Associated Content?”

    No, there’s not. I’ve been trying to get lots of things in good shape at work for a vacation in May, but I do intend to add onto my “how to report paid links” post with some examples of the sorts of things that we’re happy to hear about.

  • Tom Saari

    Everyone assumes that Google is providing a service no one else would have provided. I feel Google has held back the overall development of the internet in the last 2 years(failure of including dynamic urls for a long time). Bringing PPC mainstream has lead to exponetial expansion of the internet with garbage instead of adopting a ppa that could derive real value easier with less fraud. This article just scratches the surface of real problems facing Google. Everything in business is done to bring in the almighty dollar, Google is no different.

    • Matt Cutts

      “failure of including dynamic urls for a long time.” Tom, Google was one of the first major search engines to crawl/index dynamic urls well. Google was including dynamic urls in our index back when AllTheWeb would require a link from a static url before it indexed a given dynamic url.

  • Kev Morley

    Google are just a greedy grasping company, they have gone the way of others who thought they were the only one to matter in their field, they change the rules then make you pay again. The only way to bring them to heel is to ban them from publishing your site and if you are paying google then spend that money with someone else and make sure you broadcast the fact.

  • getclicks

    Hey All,

    I’m in the UK, on the outskirts of London.

    I’m thinking that perhaps the ‘poo-pooing’ of the current ASK marketing campaign (which is growing with new ’12 monkey’ type stunts on an almost daily basis) in certain quarters was perhaps a little premature…

    So should the motto ‘do no evil’ be changed to ‘do as I say’?

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely…


    • Adrian

      The funny thing is, in most cases Ask is the better search engine. Their clustering technology means paid links cause less distortion of the results, so they don’t have to ask anyone to rat on anyone else. They just did their job – alone.

      I hadn’t seen the Ask campaign before. I live in Spain where if you mention Ask you normally get the response:

      • getclicks

        Now to be honest when I first saw the Internet Revolution ad campaign I was pleased that they’d got rid of the butler, but didn’t think too much else about it.

        They’d have to really work at it to give me anything like the return traffic wise that the ‘goog’ does.

        Yeah they’ve got the market saturation, so as far as I’m concerned, if I want search engine traffic via SERPs or PPC I have no choice but targeted my pages specifically for them.

        A viable alternative is all I ‘ask’ for, so come on whoever else wants to step up to the mark, give me a viable alternative… Invest some money in the search market, claw back the gap.

        This is the problem, until there’s a viable alternative there’ll always be one rule for them and another rule for us…


        • Adrian

          As people with things to sell, that means marketing in Google. However, as people who conduct search, we should gravitate toward the engine that gives us the best results.

          It was the geeks that first moved to Google, and sold it to everyone else. The geeks are still searching in Google, even though its results are reasonably easily gamed – and consequently full of rubbish. Perhaps if the geeks began to move their searches elsewhere, in search of greater relevancy, the masses might follow as they did before. It’s not likely to happen, but it’s not impossible.

  • bonnie

    Hey author and all: Get real. Board members sit on overlapping companies in all lines of business. That is the very reason why they are given board chairs for heaven’s sake! Heck, Eric Schmidt is on the Board of Apple. Are you getting bent out of shape over about that too? God knows there are imaginable conflicts there! If so, good luck fighting that fight. The ethics behind paid links is the interesting story here, not the fact the execs work with overlapping companies…


    The Google police have locked me out of what they consider inappropriate use of my marketing dollars. I have yet to get a specific explanation as to what I am doing that is so inappropriate. I would gladly fix the issue if I knew what it was but without warning I find I am unable to cost effectively market any of my domains.

    Now I see they are letting others participate in what I would consider blatant violation of their policy and they turn their head. This is clearly discriminatory. Google is gradually destroying their do no harm brand. They weld their power like a sword to cut swiftly without warning, without debate and without mercy. They answer to no one.

  • John Planner

    Matt Cutts behaves like this all the time – opens up something new, invites comments, stays involved for a time and then stops… leaving the audience in that particular room with nothing to do for weeks except chat expectantly between themselves or post additional questions addressed to him, until the realisation sets in that he will simply not be coming back.

    • Kay Street

      Yep, that’s right, like:


      Matt Cutts opens it up on January 10th, has another look on the 11th and 12th – and then leaves the group still posting comments and questions and looking for answers all the way through to April, without responding once.

      • Another John

        He does abandon controversial discussions all the time, for example the cloaking one (which I won’t link to)

        Seems he likes to start the discussion, but doesn’t want to be around while it happens.

        It’s just poor form, and on any other blog would lead to viewers leaving in droves, but since he’s the only consistent source for information from Google, he can do it.

        • Hugh

          I think it is clear that Matt Cutts writes articles, bloggs and comments for the sole purpose of bringing attention to himself. I would assume this is so that he may be able to secure a side fortune (perhaps by selling links) or just planning for his retirement.

          I have followed many of his bloggs and comments. He only tells what he wants us to know. If you listen to his blather and actually believe it whole heartedly then you are a fool and should do your own research instead of counting on what others tell you.

  • Richard

    The internet needs to re-think the search engine and remove the adsense sites entirely! The search engines who sell PPC and yet permit and really encourage Adsense Link Sites- and really do not care about the fraud issue as it keeps their bank accounts fat!

    I think all webmasters and internet surfers should boycott all the top ten search engines and alexa for a period of three months and see what happens! Maybe PPC will go back to 5 cent PPC’s – Maybe Google will file for Bankruptcy!

    Google is always changing the search ranking criteria, but Why? Because they do not make a cent off free top ten placement!

    May they all bankrupt soon!

  • michael

    Only new at all of this but it seems stupid to me that Google is thinking of punishing people for buying links when they are the largest seller of links on the internet themselves, in the form of Adwords.

    • Hugh

      So…. Where can I buy some links that will get me better pagerank with google?

  • john m

    Google is more crooked than Enron was. Google actually believes it “does good.” These people are pigs.

  • jn

    Another Google inconsistency in my opinion..

    Parked domain names


    1. google takes these out of the search index so it is not possible to get organic search traffic.

    2. business.com – argueably nothing more than a parked domain name. There is zero non-advertising content on this site which is absolutely no different than a normal parked domain name.

    Who are they to decide that business.com should be treated better than a parked domain name?

  • WebSyndications

    Matt-Cutts-Bashing and Other Blunders

    Responses to what appeared to be an upfront disclosure and an honest solicitation of industry-input have quickly developed into a slew of Matt-Cutts-bashings. I’ve never met the man but, folks, he simply doesn’t deserve that from us.

    That said, I do find horrendous problems for Matt Cutts in finding ways to define, to identify and to monitor paid links. I’ll just give you three examples here.

    1. Define What is a Paid Link

    At law, compensation doesn’t just mean cash. It also means goods, services and even love. What is a paid link? If I write a 750 word article and allow it to be posted on a Web site in exchange for a link, do you not realize that I have just paid between $220 and $750 in time and talent for that single link even though no money traded hands?

    If a philanthropist donates $20,000 to a nonprofit and that nonprofit posts a thank you for the sponsorship on its Web site and provides a courtesy link to the donor’s Web site, is that not a paid link? If it isn’t, than all link farm sites can become nonprofits and give away links for a “donation.”

    2. How Will Google Know For Certain How to Identify a Paid Link?

    I just finished a backlink campaign for a client yesterday. I submitted 100 links. Not one was a paid link and not one was given a reciprocal link or a “no follow.” If my record holds, 90% of these links will be accepted. But here’s a problem. Five of these links were to directory sites (PR 6 or greater) that also post paid links and links that are paid for by reciprocal links. No one but the sites’ Webmasters and I know for certain which category of link I applied for. I’m certain that the Webmasters of these sites would not want to volunteer how many of their posted links are given for free. Like all of us, they have mouths to feed.

    3. How Will Google Monitor and Mediate?

    If a competitor of my client’s Website “reports” to Google that I have paid for links, will Google notify me so that I may initiate a slander or libel lawsuit? Will Google mediate so that I have an opportunity to refute the accusation? (How many new employees will Google have to hire to monitor and mediate the accusations and complaints?) Or, are we to be presumed guilty with no opportunity to prove innocence?

    So Matt Cutts asked for a discussion, so let’s discuss. I am seriously pleased that he gave us this opportunity to participate. And for all the panicking Web site owners, may I just point out that it is possible to garner a Google Page Rank 7, place #4 on a Google search out of 256,000,000 Results for a 2 word Keyphrase, with a Home page that does NOT contain the Keyphrase and a Web site which has only 20 inbound links. If your SEO expert doesn’t know how this is possible, check www.WebSyndications.com next month.

    • Tiiimy

      My question is ” Are Google Adwords Not Paid Links?” Don’t people pay to get a link on google through adwords?

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