New Paid Links Service Sparks More Debate

    November 29, 2008
    Chris Crum

InLinksQuite a storm of debate has erupted over a new service called InLinks – essentially a paid text link service that allegedly makes it hard for Google (and other search engines) to detect them. And mouths of  Internet marketers begin to salivate.

The debate has basically turned into Matt Cutts vs. the "Yeah, let’s stick it to Google" crowd. .As far as I can tell, this started with TechCrunch reporting on InLinks, which prompted Matt Cutts to send them an email from which the following is a sample:

Google has been very clear that selling such links that pass PageRank is a violation of our quality guidelines. Other search engines have said similar things. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also given unambiguous guidance on this subject in the recent PDF at where they said “Consumers who endorse and recommend products on their blogs or other sites for consideration should do so within the boundaries set forth in the FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising and the FTC’s guidance on word of mouth marketing,” as well as “To date, in response to this concern, the FTC has advised that search engines need to disclose clearly and conspicuously if the ranking or other presentation of search results is a function of paid placement, and, similarly, that consumers who are paid to engage in word-of-mouth marketing must disclose that fact to recipients of their messages.”

Matt CuttsAfter getting into some region-specific issues, he wraps up with "The reality is that accepting money to link to/promote/market for a product without disclosing that fact is a very high-risk behavior, in my opinion."

I don’t think anybody is surprised to see Cutts trying to defuse the situation before everybody gets too excited, but of course a topic like this isn’t going to be left at that. Debate is sparking up around a variety of popular search blogs. You know Michael Gray for one is going to get involved in a discussion about this, but he made an interesting choice in how he decided to handle it:

IMHO the key to buying links is using them over the short term 6-9 months, to jump start your rankings while you swing your PR machine into full gear, shaking hands  and kissing babies. Google has a top down preference for brands and the more you work normal PR and advertising tactics to reach that goal the better you are. Use viral marketing and linkbait to start securing links over time. As you start to acquire natural links, revisit your links buys and slowly start phasing them out (ultra competitive and non mainstream topics have different rules).

My position on paid link advertisingwell known and at this point I don’t have anythingto add that hasn’t already been said . The most important thing I learned from Pubcon this year was stop wasting time on drama, so comments on this post will be closed. Shoemoney

Where the debate really takes a turn on Google though, is when Jeremy Schoemaker points the camera back on the company’s own practices. He writes:

Every time paid links is brought up Matt Cutts brings up the FTC’s “suggestions” on bloggers disclosing things they have been compensated for. In no where in these “suggestions” does it talk about paid links. But even if it did they are just suggestions.

They are not law and if Google was following the FTC’s suggestions I doubt Google Adsense/adlinks would be engaging in some of the most deceptive advertising methods I have ever seen on the internet.

He also mentions Google’s paying of $66 million to the allegedly non-profit Mozilla to be the default search engine for Firefox. From there a slew of comments went pouring in on Schoemaker’s post, bashing Google’s practices, calling the company names like "evil" and "hypocrite." Mentions are made of Google’s own sponsored results being made less disclaimer-like by the lightening of the hue surrounding them. Eventually, Cutts weighs in here too amidst a sea of criticism.

I’m not going to take the Michael Gray approach and stay out of the "drama". I’m leaving comments on, and I want to see what everybody thinks. Flamebait you say? Come on, you know you love to talk about this stuff. Ok….go!

UPDATE:  I contacted Schoemaker and asked him to talk a little bit more about Google not being able to track the paid links with InLinks. He responded with:

The key word I used was if done properly it would be impossible to detect.   Lets look at the current TLA and how easy it is to detect yet Google still can’t get a grasp on it.

Detecting the old text link ads was stupidly easy.

For instance –  pr6 been selling TLA text links for a long time.  Never dinged in google

but look at how easy it is to detect.

footer image

and now look at the html source code:

<!– Begin Text-link Ad code –>
<ul style="border: 1px solid rgb(0, 0, 0); margin: 0pt; padding: 0pt; overflow: hidden; width: 100%; border-spacing: 0px; background-color: rgb(240, 240, 240); list-style-type: none; list-style-image: none; list-style-position: outside;">
<li style="margin: 0pt; padding: 0pt; width: 33%; float: left; clear: none; display: inline;"><span style="margin: 0pt; padding: 3px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); width: 100%; font-size: 12px; display: block;">  <a style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-size: 12px;" href="">Donate your car</a>  </span></li>
<li style="margin: 0pt; padding: 0pt; width: 33%; float: left; clear: none; display: inline;"><span style="margin: 0pt; padding: 3px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); width: 100%; font-size: 12px; display: block;">  <a style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-size: 12px;" href="">Payday Loans</a>  </span></li>
<!– End Text-Link Ad code –>

How hard is that to detect?

So of course Google thinks they can detect that… I mean a monkey can detect that.  Am I wrong?

Now lets say the person didnt put the footer links like a idiot and didnt include the TLA HERE code in their html.

Its still easy to detect cause you just look for the plugin within the wordpress plugin directory.  If its found the server returns a 200 code if not a 404.  If its a 200 google knows you have it installed. (emphasis added throughout response)

So basically what Schoemaker is getting at is that if people "randomize the physical name of the plugin" and use some brains when writing the HTML, Google will not be able to detect it. Because as he says, they’re "not even detecting the ones that are VERY EASY to detect."

Thanks for the insight Jeremy.