Mountain or Molehill: Reporting Paid Links to Google

    April 16, 2007

Google has announced increased counter-measures will be put in place to neutralise the practice of buying links which game the ranking algorithms.

For many years webmasters and SEOs have indulged in buying links to boost the rankings of their sites in Google’s SERPs. This practice became especially prevalent as Google increased the link relevance in their ranking algorithm.

Google strikes back

On Saturday Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Web Spam (and generally all-round nice guy), posted about Google’s intention to go after paid links that don’t disclose their paid status to both visitors AND search engine bots. In the post Matt gave information on how users could report paid links that are not following Google’s guidelines:

– Sign in to Google’s webmaster console and use the authenticated spam report form, then include the word “paidlink” (all one word) in the text area of the spam report. If you use the authenticated form, you’ll need to sign in with a Google Account, but your report will carry more weight.

– Use the unauthenticated spam report form and make sure to include the word “paidlink” (all one word) in the text area of the spam report.

This data will be used to “start testing out some new techniques we’ve got“.

And what does the SEO world think?

The response in the webmaster/SEO world has been fairly predictable – virtually everyone is up in arms. For a great mash-up see here, more good commentary here.

There seem to be a lot of people who think this will be openly abused:

The call for submissions of paid links is also fraught with problems, most obviously that of competitors sabotaging each other by buying ads for them and reporting them to Google, and secondly of just how Google expects to be able to detect paid links without access to a webmaster’s bank account.

Now if you know Google you will be aware that they really hate human intervention. Algorithmic solutions scale far better than human solutions, and it’s commonly known that Google cant apply the HR to many areas that need them.

Is this valid?

I think that Google is going to roll out something that simply turns off the juice from any link that appears to be a paid link. So if I go out and spend my hard earned money buying links to point my competitor, and then report that competitor for link buying, all that will happen is those links will no longer pass any juice. Will the competitor’s ranking drop? No. Because they will still have all the link juice that got them their rankings in the first place. Google are going to tackle the supply side rather than the demand side IMO.

As for the request to report link buying activities, well that’s really some more smoke and mirrors. Google is after the link buyers so that they can ferret out the link sellers. And if you used Google’s spam reporting feature you’ll know that those reports do not result in micro-level changes to the index. Reported sites are not (generally) removed. Instead Google uses the reports to tweak their algorithm to pick up such sites on a later run.

It’s all about scale with Google

Google doesn’t like human intervention. Plain and simple. Google prefers automation. So I think that the reports will simply be used to test and tweak whatever automated techniques Google is about to unleash.

So will I be able to sabotage my competitors with this feature? I seriously doubt it. Time will tell.