Paid Link Reporting Spurs Furious Debate

    June 20, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

Matt Cutts posted a note about Google being in position to handle paid link report submissions from the Internet community; Michael Gray complained about the fairness of the request.

A long time part of the ranking of sites for given keywords in search results includes inbound links. The more links connecting anchor text to a site, the more that site is seen as authoritative in the search rankings.

Move up the rankings to the first page of search results at Google, especially in the top five for a given query, and the relative traffic for the query should easily outdistance that from lower ranked search results.

To get that bonus placement, many webmasters over the years purchased links from other sites in order to gain an advantage. As the practice grew, even though links are not the sole arbiter of where a site ranks, Google began looking for ways to weed out these paid placements.

So when Matt Cutts followed up his chat with Eric Enge by advising people it would be a good time to drop new paid link reports on Google, Michael Gray responded with a lengthy complaint about Google’s chasing of paid links.

"Your rules are selectively enforced and you take an aggressive hard line stance against Internet marketers, while little Mary A-List gets off scot-free," Gray said of Google and its treatment of high-profile bloggers who receive valuable offline considerations in exchange for their coverage of companies.

Gray wants to see Google pursue the so-called A-List of bloggers, determine whether or not they picked up some kind of benefit in exchange for favorable blogging, and penalize them the same way Google penalizes link sellers.

"Why does Google aggressively go after the SEOs and ignore the PR people? Why do people continue to tolerate Google’s double standards and two-tiered justice?" Gray asked.

One might argue that quality comes into the equation. A link from a high-profile blogger to someplace of relevance and value means more to the person who discovers it than a link to a site that does not provide anything approaching an equally quality experience.

In either example Gray gave, PR-purchased blog coverage versus a webmaster to webmaster paid link opportunity, a benefit goes from one party to the other. The difference is no blogger worth his or her keyboard would ever admit to being influenced by the largess given out as part of a PR campaign.

A little equal treatment may be helpful. But Google will need an army of investigators to dig into even a small selection of high-profile blogs, in order to figure out if a relationship between a blogger and a linked site merits action.

We don’t see that happening for a reason beyond the obvious. Google wants to drive out the influence of paid links, but they don’t want to push the A-list of bloggers into simply using other means of getting the word out about their posts.

Imagine if the best way to figure out what a Gray or a Cutts had to say was by tracking the topics they cover without using Google search. Online forums abound when it comes to webmaster topics, of course. Social media and shared bookmarking sites each offer people the chance to be a network of like-minded interests.

Drop in participation on a messaging service like Twitter or FriendFeed, and there’s little reason to proactively search when relevance from either person arrives unbidden. Imagine that scenario, where for a particular interest, Google just isn’t as important.

Not every niche would draw similar interest; don’t look for Google to fold or for its founders and CEOs to give away their billions to live as fudge-cooking Trappist monks as search traffic falls to zero. The seeds to do more without Google exist. It’s up to people who hold views like Gray’s to plant and water them.