Matt Cutts Has To Explain Paid Links To Newspaper

By: Chris Crum - August 28, 2012

Google’s Matt Cutts has a new blog post up about paid links. He says he was contacted by an unnamed newspaper who saw its Pagerank drop from a 7 to a 3, and wanted to know why. The reason, as Cutts explains, was because the site was selling links that passed PageRank, which is, of course, a violation of Google’s quality guidelines.

Cutts shares an email he sent to the newspaper (leaving out the identifying info). Here’s a chunk of what he had to tell them:

In particular, earlier this year on [website] we saw links labeled as sponsored that passed PageRank, such as a link like [example link]. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines, and it’s the reason that [website]‘s PageRank as well as our trust in the website has declined.

In fact, we received a outside spam report about your site. The spam report passed on an email from a link seller offering to sell links on multiple pages on [website] based on their PageRank. Some pages mentioned in that email continue to have unusual links to this day. For example [example url] has a section labeled “PARTNER LINKS” which links to [linkbuyer].

So my advice would be to investigate how paid links that pass PageRank ended up on [website]: who put them there, are any still up, and to investigate whether someone at the [newspaper] received money to post paid links that pass PageRank without disclosing that payment, e.g. using ambiguous labeling such as “Partner links.” That’s definitely where I would dig.

Cutts goes on to suggest that after the site completes an investigation, and gets rid of any paid links that pass PageRank, it submit a reconsideration request.

In the comments section of the post, Cutts notes that a drop in PageRank toolbar is an indication of Google’s decreased trust in a site. In this case, because of link selling.

Of course since the Penguin update (and even before it), people have been getting messages from Google about bad links, and it’s caused a lot of panic. This panic seems to be reflect in the comments of Cutts’ post, with some webmasters wondering if they should simply place nofollow on all of their links to avoid Google penalties.

Well, if everyone put nofollow on all of their links, it would pretty much render PageRank meaningless, wouldn’t it?

One reader suggests that PageRank shouldn’t even be made visible to the public, as high PageRank blogs draw more spam.

The subject of paid links also came up in this Webmaster Hangout Google hosted yesterday.

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • John

    We need something to replace Google they have turned to crap.

  • Robert Davis

    These guys think they rule the world. Too much of the Internet is being developed specifically around their changing parameters, which negatively impacts the web’s advancement as a whole. It stifles innovation, all to prop up an out-to-lunch shareholder valuation. These guys are the same people that will not even implement auto cross IP examination to prevent fraud and duplicity in links from running up artificial Pay-Per-Click costs. Absolutely too much money is given to them. The only place in the entire world where you can pay them $200,000 in a single year for advertising, and they don’t even know your name – let alone send you a Christmas Card.

    • Sandy Wyatt

      Any power Google has over you was set when you decided to close the loop using their ranking as your guiding light. Stop using them and paying them and you will be free. Paradoxically, if you develop with your users in mind, and are really good in your niche, you won’t need all that SEO and ads to score well naturally. Of course, if you are just seeking attention to sell ads, your cost/benefit ratio should tell you when you’ve paid to much.

  • Everflux

    So we have:

    1. Suddenly the PageRank toolbar works as it should??
    2. We are not supposed to buy links.
    3. We can’t sell them either? Even if the link says ‘Ad’ or ‘Sponsor’? I do suppose it is OK if it were advertising through the content network and the $$ goes straight into Google’s pockets.
    4. This may mean that nofollow may in fact pass some value as is heavily debated?
    5. content is king – it always has been.
    6. Now with the Knowledge Graph we won’t even have to leave Google – woo-hoo!

    Links are still a very important factor in Google, although you can see the slide for it to be replaced or dampened in favour of social signals – particularly, Google+ (and don’t believe the numbers about the uptake – Facebook is still the majority).

    Funny thing is social should be social – a way to communicate and keep in contact with friends and family. It is true that some brands won’t do it and/or aren’t suited for it – sometimes square peg, round hole…..

  • Johnny Rogers

    Hey Chris, the idea of not publishing PageRank is intriguing, but wouldn’t people just find another way to figure out what the better sites are? Such as an Alexa ranking or ranking factor from another site?

    It just seems like the best way to not incur the wrath of Google is to focus more on writing content and wait for people to link to you naturally… (Now I don’t really believe this but it does sound noble).

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I haven’t really paid any serious attention to PageRank in years. And that shouldn’t be the driving force behind your link building efforts. What does PageRank matter if it’s not a site that your target audience would visit? There are much more important factors to consider.

  • Brea

    I think that Matt Cutts and many other people from the industry made it clear a long time ago, that webmasters and SEO’s should not be obsessed with pagerank.

    According to most of them, Authority and Trust are the mayor factors to bear in mind.

  • John

    It’s their website and they have the right to do what they want, but I don’t think what they are doing is helping me find better results, I see better results on bing, so I’m just binging it now, plus I like the new background picture they put up each day. I’m optimizing for bing now because I think they will be the leader in a couple of years.

  • Blurt Inc. Marketing Solutions

    I actually agree with Google’s decision to punish the paper in question by drastically lowering their pagerank. However, I just wish Google would realize how incredibly difficult it is to get any type of links with juice these days unless they are either paid links or part of some sort of linking scheme or link network.

  • John

    I not care what google want. My source of traffic is bing for now, so google can tell us anything, but i not need to listen them.

  • Jenny

    i can support this action about publish the site which buy links to get their site have a high pr.

  • lee

    Google is like China nowadays. Trying to bully small websites, every large websites

  • thomas

    @john I don’t use bing as it can’t seem to answer basic questions that Google consistently gets in the first few links. Google even does better searching Microsoft’s MSDN for knowledge base arrivals. BTW, when you have an Axe to bring with a company it makes more sense to come right out and state your beef, otherwise you just look like a moron.

  • Chris

    It seems to me that this newspaper company has done a lot of work to gain their high pagerank and traffic. What is wrong with them trying to monetize their website? People need to make money somehow and paid links are just a form of paid advertising. Google’s own website is full of paid links through AdWords. It is like Google is trying to own all online advertising and punish anyone else who trys. Matt Cutts does mention that the links pass on pagerank, so his argument would be that the links are okay as long as pagerank doesn’t pass like a attribute, but that is a ridiculous argument. The newspaper worked hard to get where they are and they deserve to use their website as they see fit without Google trying to strong-arm them.


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  • SEOEnquirer

    Emails can be easily faked. How does Matt know it was from that newspaper?