Struck the Sponsored Links Nerve, Did I?

    December 14, 2005

Well, judging by the reaction to my sponsored links post I’ve struck a nerve. And I have to say, it feels like there’s a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of FUD out there. I’m still trying to digest everything. But so far I’ve found that there are at least three sides to this issue.


Yeah. I’ve since heard directly from three of the advertisers. Advertiser #1 said “we’re outta here!” and pulled their link. Advertiser #2 said “we’re with you man!” And advertiser #3 said, “hey, give us a nofollow on our link.”

Interesting, huh? I sure couldn’t have predicted these results.

In fact, if I had merely asked what people thought of this practice, I probably wouldn’t have received even 20% of this feedback. And speaking of feedback, it’s my turn to point at and respond to a bunch of what I’ve read so far in no particular order. (Bear in mind, it’s 1am as I start to write this) As a bonus, you don’t have to track down a bunch of this on your own.

#1 In what is otherwise a pretty good summary over on SearchEngineWatch, Danny Sullivan says that I’m caught in a link selling debate.

Caught? No, I practically *started* the debate. I’m facilitating it. And it’s teaching me a lot.

He also says:

What’s going to happen to Jeremy? As Greg notes, he’s not going to be yanked from Google. His site is far too important for that. But Google might prevent it from passing along link juice to others. Apparently, I’m told by others (not Google itself) that Google’s done the same to Search Engine Watch because of our SEW Marketplace ads that we sell.

Far too important? Ha! was removed, if I recall. I think anyone would agree that WordPress is far more important than my dumb blog!

He then goes on to bash the practice of de-juicing entire sites rather than specific links:

If so, Google’s just stupid. If it can’t figure out that we carry the same sponsored links in the same area and filter out that part, really — they’re dumb. They’re even dumber if they have to wipe out the ability of an entire site to help influence its results in a good way. We link to many excellent things — including things Google wants people to know about. Our links don’t carry weight because Google’s not smart enough? And Jeremy’s site might not carry weight as well? Please.

There’s some commentary in the SEW Forum too.

Tim Converse (of the Yahoo! Search Engineering Team) adds to this a bit:

Anyway, selling linkage does make life harder for search engines, but maybe that’s our problem not yours. (By “our”, I mean people who actually work on the search engines themselves.) A perfect search engine would be able to detect which links were true endorsements and which were purely sold, and adjust accordingly. But to the extent that imperfections exist, there’s money to be made.
He also asked why I wasn’t using nofollow and speculated that it’d make the links worthless. Using nofollow would have ruined the experiment. I’m trying to find out “does this stuff really work? And is it sustainable?” And the early returns are mixed, as I noted above.

Part of what makes me wonder is the fact that these link brokers exist and seem to not be going out of business. What’s behind it all?

#2 Jarrod at (hadn’t heard of them until today) says that there’s lots of excitement over this.

It’s too bad that he didn’t say more, since he’s clearly got an insider’s viewpoint.

#3 In Links, Condoms, Shit and Fans we learn that I’m “essentially daring the engines to throttle his outflow of link juice.”

I assure you, if that was my goal I could have come up with a much more dramatic way of doing it. (No, I’d rather not explain what that might be.)

But, hey, good attempt to make it look like I’m playing chicken with the folks in Mountain View or my co-workers. I’d give it a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.

#4 The folks over at Best of the Web have posted their thinking on the matter which also came to me via e-mail.

A couple of weeks ago, Brian received an early afternoon email informing him of a pretty intriguing advertising offer. We were told that industry pundit, and Yahoo insider, Jeremy Zawodny would soon be accepting advertising – text link ads, to boot. Naturally, we were excited – the demographic of Jeremy’s readership is a nice fit for BOTW eyeballs. We signed up by the end of the day.

That’s the first I heard of operations on the buying side. I guess that means they had expressed an interested in buying links and waited for a site that matched their profile to come along. They also thought about asking for a nofollow right off the bat, but decided no to:

Ultimately, we decided not to ask Jeremy for the tag. Primarily, we hoped that we would get the “juice” that we needed to start pulling better in Yahoo, an engine in which we have historically had difficulty making significant headway. Ironically, we were not trying to manipulate Anchor Text/PR for Google purposes, but quantity of links in an attempt to boost our Yahoo listings.

They’ve changed their minds since in light of the recent discussion:

we have decided to ask Jeremy to add the rel=”nofollow” tag. (I just received an email from Jeremy saying that he’d “rig up the code to do that within a day”) In hindsight, we should have requested it from the beginning, and I hope that this is not now a case of closing the barn door after the cows have run out.

Advertisers discussing the thinking behind their choices and doing so in public? Nice.

#5 is all about playing up the drama in Paid Links Soap Opera:

Will Jeremy fold and add nofollow? Will advertisers pull out because of that? Will Jeremy say up my arse Google? Will Matt counter with a sitewide penalty/ban? Will Matt take it to the advertisers?

Marc is really fond of this “Jeremy vs. Matt” meme. As if I was thinking “ha! Surely *this* will get under Matt’s skin…” all along. I suspect Matt’s job is hard enough without me actively trying to get in the way too.

#6 Over on Threadwatch we see that seobook (who I must assume is Aaron Wall) says several things, including:

Keep in mind that this is not just any old search employee selling links. Jeremy has on multiple occasions posted how much he hates spam. So long as the link is not pointing at spam Jeremy sees no problem with it.

Eh? I can’t think of a single Internet user, let alone a Yahoo! employee, that I’ve not heard complain about spam if the topic came up. This hardly makes me special, now does it?

But like I said in my previous post, I visited each site to see if it felt like spam. If it did, I rejected ’em.

Anyway, there’s some interesting questions in the comments on that post.

#7 Over at Search Engine Roundtable, Barry used a headline that bugged me: Google Fights Paid Links & Yahoo Defends Paid Links

I said the following in his comments (which have some sort of posting delay, so I ended up making the same point twice):

Your title is just plain wrong.

Making this out to be a “Yahoo vs. Google” think is barking up the wrong tree. And you know better.

What I do on *my* personal site is my business. If I experiment, I experiment. I’ve been pretty open about this, past experiments, traffic sources, money sources, etc. It has nothing to do with Yahoo policy.

I’m pretty surprised that he did that, but he’s also going for some drama points I guess. It’s odd, because he specifically points out that this is a *personal* site in his post.

His post also appears on Search Engine Journal (“fair and balanced” as it is).

#8 There’s a funny Greg Boser quote in the SEW Thread:

Reminds me of a quote Greg Boser made at SES San Jose something to the effect that “Google started this whole link popularity game but now they want to take their ball and go home.”

That reminds me of what I was thinking over two years ago when I wrote PageRank is Dead and said, among other things:

Google has a really hard problem to solve. It’s not unlike the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. PageRank stopped working really well when people began to understand how PageRank worked. The act of Google trying to “understand” the web caused the web itself to change. Blogs are only a recent example of that. Oddly, unlike many of the previous problems with Google (see also: search engine optimization companies; link spammers; google bombing), blogs were not designed to outsmart Google. They just happen to use the web and hyperlinks the way we should have been using them all along.

#8 Over on I read one of the more amusing titles: Six Degrees of a Lesbian Porn Scraper

thanks to Jeremy Zawodny a large portion of the web just got one step closer to lesbian porn.

It’s pretty late now, so I’ll resist the temptation to make a juvenile comment about doing my part to surface more lesbian porn.

#9 In Text link follow-up, Matt Cutts (of Google) digs into what the links link to and was the one to uncover the Lesbian Gay Sex Positions site. Luckily he does this stuff for a living, so he can call it “work.” :-)

He also suggests that I could offer flying lessons to my 10,000th visitor. I’d need to get my CFI certificate first, but you never know… Gimme a couple more years.

There’s some amusing theories, wild speculation, and even a few insightful comments in the discussion on his post too. Give ’em a read for what both sides think.

Matt is wise not to respond to those asking him if AdSense is providing most of the motivation for folks who want higher ranks and resort to various tactics to get it. There are mines in that field!

#10 Over on the ink-stained banana, JR (a co-worker) says:

What Jeremy is doing is the same thing as a Morning DeeJay doing a spot for a mattress company or a TV show character talking about how comfy Brand X shoes are. You pony up extra, you get that extra love.

Everyone listening to the morning dude knows it’s and advertisement when he says that stuff. But would a speech to text system? What if Google tried to index all radio ever broadcast using such technology?

#11 Jesus, it’s almost 2am. I’m going to bed!

Jeremy Zawodny is the author of the popular Jeremy Zawodny’s blog. Jeremy is part of the Yahoo search team and frequently posts in the Yahoo! Search blog as well.

Visit Jeremy’s blog: Jeremy Zawodny’s blog.