The Blurry Lines Of Google’s Paid Links Policy

    May 17, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

As you probably know, Google isn’t a fan of people paying for links that pass PageRank. It’s considered to be a manipulation of search results and a violation of Google’s quality guidelines, which are the focus of Google’s Penguin update. It’s interesting that there seem to be exceptions to the rule, such as a directory like Best Of The Web, which has users pay for their sites to be considered for links.

Update: BOTW has gotten back to us since this article was published. Please see BOTW President Greg Hartnett’s comments toward the end of the article.

Perhaps more interesting is that some similar directory sites, which aren’t necessarily in clear violation of Google guidelines seem to be getting penalized, or at the very least drawing the ire of unhappy webmasters looking to get their link profiles cleaned up after receiving messages from Google.

Should a directory in which you have to pay to get a listing be treated like other sites that offer paid links? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Google recently launched a PageRank update, and many directory sites saw their PR plummet. Best Of The Web, meanwhile, has managed to maintain 4s, 5s and 6s. At at a time when flustered webmasters are looking to eliminate lower-end links, the topic of directory links on the web seems more relevant than it’s been for quite some time.

Webmasters Are Angry

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable ran a very interesting story about Google being “the cause of lawsuits over links to web sites.”

“Can you imagine writing a story, linking that story to other relevant web sites and then years later being hit with a lawsuit over linking to a web site?” he asks.

The gist is that webmasters who have been receiving those messages from Google about unnatural links are threatening to sue sites that are linking to them. “Some webmasters are taking extreme measures and threatening to sue publishers and webmasters who are linking to them,” he reports.

I don’t know how often this is actually happening, but I can’t say it’s much of a surprise. If any such lawsuit is successful, then we have a problem.

I don’t know about the legal threats, but I do know a lot of directories are getting angry emails from webmasters who have links coming from them.

Google has taken issue with directories in the past – sort of. Here’s what the company told us in 2007:

There’s no “outright penalty” for being a directory, but we do value, as I’m sure you’ve heard, “unique, compelling content.”

Directories can run into the problem of not containing original information.

There do seem to be some directories that have historically received a bit more respect from Google. This includes Best Of The Web, which as I said, charges users for possible inclusion.

Google has talked about this in the past. Here’s a video about it from Matt Cutts from 2009:

The user-submitted questions Cutts was responding to was:

Will Google consider Yahoo! Directory and BOTW as sources of paid links? If no, why is this different from another site that sell[s] links?

He doesn’t entirely answer the question, however. He does say:

“Whenever we look at whether a directory is useful to users, we say, ‘OK, what is the value add of that directory?’ So, you know, do they go out and find their entries on their own, or do they only wait for people to come to them, you know, how much do they charge and what’s the editorial service that’s being charged?”

“If a directory takes $50 USD and every single person who ever applies in the directory automatically gets in for that 50 dollars, there is not as much editorial oversight as something like the Yahoo directory, where people do get rejected. So, you know, if there is no editorial value add there, then that is much closer to paid links.”

So basically, it sounds like if a directory rejects some things, this is OK.

How Best Of The Web Works

So how does Best Of The Web Work, exactly? You go to submit a site, and you’re presented with a page like this:

Best of the Web

It’s clear that the main motivation for submitting to this directory is to help your search engine rankings. It says, “Listing your website in the internet’s most respected directory will help increase your website’s visibility in major search engines.”

The first example of a “link scheme” Google lists on its page about them is: “Links intended to manipulate PageRank.” While I can’t find anything on BOTW that specifically says anything about PageRank, is that not what submitters are after here?

Best Of the Web presents multiple quotes from various marketing-types, like:

“After implementing a plan with listings across several BOTW directories, we were able to see immediate and quantifiable improvement in our rankings. Working with BOTW has been a great success for Marriott.” — Benjamin Burns, Search Specialist

“BOTW provided excellent service for us and our listings. I would hire them over and over again every time we need directory listings.” — Marek Wawrzyniak, SEO Specialist

“Best of the Web has proven to be a successful strategy for Extra Space Storage when coupled with other local SEO techniques. We have seen a consistent ranking improvement in many areas with our local storage facilities by having Best of the Web part of our organic strategy.” — Tim Eyre, Interactive Marketing Manager

It’s obvious that the reason one would want to be listed in this directory is SEO. It’s not because people are going to the directory to search for businesses. It’s an SEO strategy – something BOTW seems pretty up-front about.

Link Schemes

Let us refer to that “Link Schemes” help center page (linked to from its Quality Guidelines page) for a moment. That says:

Your site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

Let’s read that last one again. “Buying or selling links that pass PageRank.”

Links That Pass PageRank

As far as I can tell, if you have managed to get listed in Best Of The Web, the link will pass PageRank. The links I looked at do not include the nofollow attribute, which would prevent them from passing PageRank:

The links marked as “ads” at the top of category pages do include the nofollow atribute.

The category page above has a PageRank of 5. Some pages are higher, and some are lower. The home page has a 6.

Back To The Submission Process

If you click to get started, you are prompted to provide your email address (twice), and then to fill out a large form. The last part of that form is for the payment details:

Best Of The Web Payment Details

You can choose from two plans: annual fee or one time fee. Once you click submit, your card will be charged. You must check the box that says you’ve read the ToS and privacy policy. It’s only when you click through to the ToS, and through one more link there, that you find out your site may not even appear in the listings. It says, “There is no guarantee that my site will be added to the directory” and that the charge is non-refundable. You agree that you understand that, “BOTW editors, in their sole and final judgement, shall determine the suitability, placement, title and description of all sites listed in the BOTW Directory.”

There’s nothing wrong with BOTW wanting to be selective in the editorial process. That’s what Google has indicated in the past is actually what makes directories like this higher quality in Google’s eyes. That said, Google is always preaching about user experience, and encouraging sites to provide what’s best for the user. User trust has been a major theme, particularly since the Panda update.

BOTW does require submitters to read the TOS, before charging them, but the part about potentially not being included, even with no refund, seems a bit buried.

Is BOTW’s practice OK in Google’s eyes because they’re using enough judgment not to include EVERY link that people are paying for in hopes of a listing?

Is This What Google Wants From A Directory?

I’m not going to advise you sell or pay for links at all, but I feel like Google is sending some very mixed signals here.

Search engine industry vet Tim Mayer, who worked from Yahoo until 2010, tells WebProNews, “It is interesting as they [BOTW] are positioned similarly to the Yahoo directory of old with editors and payment. Other directories’ such as business.com model failed due to Google changing their treatment of them. Not sure if this was due to quality or the lack of editorial oversight.”

“Many other directories are or are considered spam sites/directory link farms as they are just pages of paid links,” he adds. “Seems to me this is may be legacy treatment. But I have not looked at BOTW and analyzed it in some time. Google probably has a better sense of if this is a good authority hub or not. If it is they should use it. I would bet that they are better quality than most directory sites.”

But it’s not really even an issue of quality. It seems like more of a double standard on Google’s part, given that the company clearly lists “Buying or selling links that pass PageRank” as an example of a link scheme.

Editorial judgment is clearly a factor, but is it really the “best” of what the web has to offer or is it some of the best, with some that actually paid for reviews getting in there too, regardless of whether or not they’re really the best. Update: Hartnett says “an almost imperceptible percentage” of the links are from those who paid for the reviews.

Look at this listing for Caagal.com on BOTW’s Business Classifieds category page, for example. A quick glance at this site (complete with loading errors) doesn’t suggest “best” of what the web has to offer in this niche, though this is certainly subjective. It doesn’t even seem to be largely business-oriented, but more property and boat oriented. For the record, I have no idea if this site paid or not.

Granted, the site is nowhere to be found in Google, for the query “business classifieds” (at least within the first six pages). It’s hard to say how much value that site may have gotten from paying to be listed in Best Of The Web, but I guess they at least got a PageRank 4 link out of it (PR for that category page).

Obsess With Google’s Quality Guidelines or Not?

Webmasters are frantically trying to distance themselves from some directory sites after getting messages from Google about unnatural links. Even directories who have never offered paid links are getting emails from upset webmasters. Jayde, for example (disclosure: owned by WPN parent iEntry), has gotten quite a few. Jayde has never offered paid links, and recently made all links nofollow.

If webmasters are looking to start suing sites that are linking to them because they are under the impression that these links are hurting them, that’s pretty bad.

Interestingly enough, Google used to encourage directory submissions.

“In fact, if you look at our webmaster quality guidelines, we used to have a guideline that says, you know, submit your site to directories, and we gave a few examples of directories,” Cutts explains in that video. “And what we find, or what we found was happening, was people would get obsessed with that line and go out and look for a lot of directories.”

“We ended up taking out that mention in our webmaster guidelines so that people don’t get obsessed with directories and think, “Yes i have to go find a bunch of different directories to submit my site to,’’ says Cutts in the video.

I realize this video is 3 years old, but I have to say, this seems to be an example of mixed signals coming from Google again.This would indicate that you shouldn’t obsess over the things in Google’s quality guidelines, but as you probably know, the Penguin update, which launched a couple weeks ago, was all about targeting sites violating the quality guidelines.

To Sum Up

– Google used to encourage directory submissions from the quality guidelines.

– Google decided people shouldn’t obsess about that.

– Now people are freaking out about links that they have from such directories that they submitted to, and some may even be so angry as to threaten legal action (though I can’t imagine there are any legitimate grounds).

– Best of the Web, who charge money for the chance to have links designed to influence search visibility, which seems like it would violate Google’s guidelines aren’t considered a major problem.

Something seems wrong with that picture.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment and have not heard back from them.

Update: We have received a thoughtful response from Best Of The Web President Greg Hartnett.

On the criteria for sites to be considered the “best,” and gain a listing, President Greg Harnett says, “Our guidelines for listing are pretty straightforward: we list sites that contain quality, unique content in the most relevant category within the directory. If the site does not provide a user with informative content then we don’t list it. We have always been focused on providing the user with quality content from trustworthy sources.”

“When users (humans or spiders) come to BOTW, they know that they can trust that (for instance) all of the listings in a San Francisco real estate category contain relevant information about San Francisco real estate,” he adds. “A human being has been in there and verified it. We’ve got a dedicated team of fantastic editors that ensure that.”

On the percentage of submissions that are rejected, Hartnett says, “I don’t work the submission queue, so I don’t really have a handle on the specific numbers. However, as a percentage of total submissions, I believe that we reject fewer sites now than we did in the past. The overall quality of submissions has increased as the years have gone by. Perhaps in general, people are now building better sites. Perhaps it’s a matter of more people knowing that BOTW doesn’t accept low quality sites, and they don’t even bother submitting. Whatever it is, I know that it makes our editors happier.”

We asked: It seems like Google advises against paid links, but doesn’t Best of the Web charge users to have their links reviewed for possible listting?

“Google certainly advises against paid links,” Hartnett tells us. “We’re not a pay for placement, or link buying platform. Payment for review in no way influences whether or not a site is listed within the directory. The fee is for the review, and is non-refundable. It’s not for a link. We caught a lot of flack about that policy in the early years of the directory, but we did it for a reason. We retain complete editorial control and integrity with each submission and listing. It’s completely up to our editors to decide is the site gets listed, and if listed, the title, description and category placement.”

“It should also most definitely not be overlooked that the review model accounts for a minuscule amount of the listings within the directory,” he adds. “We have millions of listings, of which our editors have added approximately 95% for free. They work daily scouring the web adding quality sites to relevant categories to build a more comprehensive resource. An overwhelming majority of the listings in the directory have had zero interaction with BOTW at all, nonetheless paid for a review.”

“I have no idea why Google does or does not approve of what it is we are doing,” says Hartnett. “I don’t work for or with Google and I don’t have any access to them outside of what Joe Internet does. I’d be surprised if they thought about us at all, but if they did I would like to think that they respect what it is we have been doing for all these years.”

“We feel we have put together (and continue to build) a fantastic resource for users that are interested in finding resources that they can trust,” he says. “We have always focused on providing the user with quality resources, and figured users appreciated, and will continue to appreciate, that effort. We’ve recently added the ability for editors and site owners to add social information for each listing, as we continue to evolve with the landscape and provide users with additional information about listings as well. It’s really been a fantastic project to have been working on for the last decade or so, and we’re excited to continue on our mission.?”

Do you think Google is sending mixed signals about paid links? Let us know in the comments.

  • John T

    Oops, google is not selling links with adwords and adsense 😉 It is like pot calling kettle……..

    Google business model seems to be falling apart, cluttering of the SERP is a good signal they are trying to “bilk” the market for short term they can.

    • http://www.bbc-antiques.co.uk martin

      my site appeared in top 3 / 4 listings on page 1 but has fallen to page 5 and six , has it been google slapped ? will it recover ? I believed i was doing all the right things ! its all driving me crazy !

  • John Templa

    Oops, adwords and adsense are not link selling 😉

    Looks like google business model is falling apart, people these days don’t click on the ads and are ready to go to page 2, page 3 where you can find better quality products/services, google SERP is no more trust worthy.

  • http://www.php-developer.org/ Codex-m

    Another test shows that an authority site can be attacked by negative SEO (spammy inbound links), this time targeting a specific page post: http://www.php-developer.org/why-google-penguin-update-is-too-risky-for-negative-seo/

    The major flaws here is that Google trust authority website signals too much than relying on content.

  • Renaldo

    Is there any indication that BOTW or YahooDirectory links actually help a site rank in this day and age? Google always claims to be after “editorial” links (those added by an impartial webmaster because the linked material is useful), and these directory links are anything but.

  • http://aplawrence.com Tony Lawrence

    I have a Linux/Unix consultants directory. It’s free, but at one time I had an optional “Premium listing” available for a small fee. I killed that because of fear of Google’s wrath. I also changed every outgoing consultant link to “nofollow” for the same reason.

    Honestly, I get tired of having to change stuff because I don’t know how Google will see it. A directory like mine should obviously not be a problem, but since you never know (and Google won’t tell anything to insignificant people like me), I constantly have to look over my shoulder.

    It’s annoying at best and of course it can turn much worse from simple carelessness or ignorance.

  • http://www.thriftywholesaler.com Thielia

    Watch out google bing and yahoo has joined forces they are about to steal your thunder. Rome did fall and so will ebay and paypal.

    • http://www.a1webstats.com Andy

      I really hope that Bing/Yahoo DO actually do something innovate that benefits both searchers and businesses. However, there appears to be far too much sheep mentality and they may take the easy option of PPC type models. I suspect they’ll start off being seen to be a bit friendlier than Google but in the end they’ll end up being a duplicate.

      The opportunity is there though (for Bing/Yahoo to do something really innovative).

  • Adam Feinberg

    Penalizing sites for questionable paid links is ridiculous, especially as article says directory submissions were actually encouraged previously.

    Hitting sites for types of links they have gotten in general seems extreme. A better policy would just to be to devalue them, in my opinion, if Google thinks they are a paid link.

    The SERPS are terrible now because almost anyone who was serious on the web about getting traffic has taken hits, but Google has such market share that people probably are not going to switch to a different engine. I personally am looking more at Bing and Duckduckgo for results, as results are more relevant.

    Well Google is proving its point — if you tried to get organic traffic with link building — you are stuck now with Adwords — only Google can make money off of links :)

  • http://www.stevegillman.com Steve Gillman

    Of course it’s contradictory, and the problem is that the “quality” issue cannot be determined by an algorithm for every site that sells links. Years ago, when I sold links on one of my sites, I always rejected half or more of the requests because I would not link to low quality sites. Did the algorithm know that?

  • http://www.alda-architects.com Alan

    For all the changes that Go0gle are making I am finding that search results are diminishing in relevance. I was today searching for U values for windows. One of the largest manufacturers of glass was on page 5. This endless tinkering is not improving quality and is merely causing confusion.

    Google should take a break. Introduce well thought through changes on a yearly basis. We can live with any shortcomings.

  • http://websitedesignsaustralia.com/ Susan O’Dea

    If my sites won’t rank organically through providing unique content…as they used to…then I certainly won’t start paying for advertising. The bids will get too high if every marketer has to resort to doing adwords to get noticed.

  • http://www.orb-web.com/en/webzine.php Orb Web

    Sometime I wonder if we should not do a week strike on Google to let it feel how, they are nothing without us. Our life have been hell for more than a year, let’s it feel for a week what nearly no traffic means…

  • http://www.actionadvertising.com Raul Bello

    As some of you have noted, it certainly appears as if the results of the searches are no longer as relevant as they used to be. I find that when I do a search for my own use, I no longer find the information that is really pertinent to my search. I think Google had good intent, but somehow the results have totally gone downhill in quality.

  • http://Admain.se AdMain

    Plenty of black hat opportunities with the penguin, if you are that way inclined. We are not, but have spoke to somebody else that did this.

    They had a link from a website, regardless of whether it was paid or not, that they thought was the reason they lost ground Google for the anchor they used.

    The edited the URL to a competitor’s and as soon as the link page got indexed, their competitor disappeared for that search term and they started to rise again.

    Unscrupulous and dirty tactics, but the Penguin has opened the door for massive blackhat attacks, i.e. “If they can’t get a site moving up, then get the sites above de-ranked, meaning you naturally move up the rankings.

  • Google should be more modest

    Google should be more modest

    • http://www.octomatic.com Shelly StarZZ

      the worst part of this is Google doesnt care!

  • sj

    Google search results have definitely gone downhill – I’ve quit using it and am now relying on duck duck go and bing for search. Google is really shooting themselves in the foot and leaving the door wide open for some serious competition to move in. HOORAY!

  • http://europeforvisitors.com Durant Imboden

    As the old saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” If a manual review by Google finds that the BOTW or Yahoo! directory is adding value for users, and if fees are charged for submission (not for guaranteed listings), it shouldn’t take a degree in search engineering to understand why BOTW or Yahoo! have Google’s blessing while Freddies-fifty-dollars-per-thin-affiliate-and-ecommerce-link.com directory is treated less charitably.

    • Rob Jones

      Yeah, Cutts video answers that point succinctly, clarifying it without having to add another page to the TOS.

  • http://irrelevant.com Pierre

    It seems that G is getting the attention on many lawmakers now. After all the one-sided, self-generated crissis they spread throughout the world with their very childlish approach DO NO EVIL…will come back to haunt them… ‘Cause it turns out to be the absolute opposite… They should look at what the medical field has done with their “DO NO HARM” Hippocratic Oath, also devised in a past era, long long ago, no longer relevant to the real world. Who’s minding the store, while kids fool around with the real world?

  • r

    It seems like it makes sense to not count paid links. BOTW, just like all other useless directories are build to manipulate page rank by proving links. Not links because your site content is good ( which is suppose to be the intent ) but because you paid for it. Seem like a conflict of the idea of ranking based on links as votes. All these directories are useless and provide no value other then to create a false linking profile.

    • Mark

      Wrong, to u they are worthless as you may work for or bow to the big G. The only difference between a directory and G Bing or Yahoo is that the big search engines go out and take listings with out asking for their directory or search results what ever you want to call it. I guess that is their own way of creating original content, aka adding value. If you did not notice there is nothing original about the content they have created it’s all duplicated off of someone else websites. Not all directories charge for links, reviews or placement, Many are completely free however I think they get penalized with these dumb G algorithms. Directories are an excellent way to build collections of sites of interest, as long as they are well organized then in my opinion they do add value. But that’s OK you are always welcome to pay for Adwords for as long as you want and you probably will not be punished that way.

  • Kate Lennon

    “The fee is for the review, and is non-refundable. It’s not for a link….. We retain complete editorial control and integrity-”


    • Mark

      What do you think adwords is?

      If Google was not in the business of promoting websites for money (adsence) and I mean big bucks, they might have a leg to stand on. However when the antitrust and monopoly law suites hit the fan for holding the little guy down. I will fully understand. The big G monster makes some cool products however when big companies get to big and start stepping on everyone elses toes for their own gains. The govt or some other authority may have to step in and set them straight. Now the G monster has added “play” to their g page tool bar where they don’t even need to come up in a search result to out do the competition, they sell things right from the toolbar.
      Don’t call it Penguin, call it what it really is, Monopoly.

  • http://www.lawborhood.com Philip L. Franckel, Esq.

    I don’t think the signals from Google are mixed. It is possible that the signals from some websites and directories are mixed and it’s also possible that Google has some tolerance for that.

    A paid link is not a paid link if the payment is for editorial review.

    You wrote, “As far as I can tell, if you have managed to get listed in Best Of The Web, the link will pass PageRank. The links I looked at do not include the nofollow attribute, which would prevent them from passing PageRank:”

    There is no problem passing page rank as long as it is not a paid link and payment is for editorial review. I have a niche directory for legal related websites at http://www.lawborhood.com. I charge a fee for all listings submissions because I personally review every listing upon submission and annually. I do not accept reciprocal listings.

  • https://canadaseopro.ca/ Todd


    Its been well recorded that “Google would prefer to illuminate SEO altogether”

    I’m not one to complain but enough is enough. Google is jumping on the “corporate parasite list”

    Google sells us links to be placed in search through ad-words. Go figure!

    Who died and made them boss? Go away Google your ruining a lot of lives!

  • http://www.healthysnackmoms.com Harry Fassett – HealthySnackMoms

    Yes, Chris used one too many “,” in his article. E.G. “…and will continue to appreciate, that effort.” :0) All kidding aside, great information and good to know, even though I’ve got to go have another “fuzzy navel” after reading it!?

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/chris-crum Chris Crum

      That was actually Greg, though I supposed I could have edited it.

  • http://exactservices.nl AngloDutch

    Sponsoring wp templates sued to be part of my overall marketing – as advised by an SEO specialist. I stopped that some 4 years ago as I lost trust in the SEO – but it has now come back and bit me in the ####. Sites that links Point to ALL fell in latest update. Trying to get people to change or inistall the footer ( which is often encripted ) is a nightmare. I think google is turning poacher come gamkeeper which is a shame

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    Am I reading this right that if I acquire a lot of paid for links and shady scam links and other Google tabooed links and then I link to a competitor’s site that this link might get that site banned from Google?

    • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

      Hello? Chris … anybody?
      Does this boil-down to a formula that I could use to cause problems for another site’s ranking or Google listing?

  • http://topsavings.net Aaron Siegel

    I have a listing with BOTW and feel privileged to be in the directory. As far as SERPs go, Google has screwed me so much I don’t even care anymore. I’ll pay for my links on reputable sites whether Google likes it or not.

  • http://www.strategicrevenue.com John

    Recently noticed that BOTW started adding the nofollow on the sponsored ads this year. Think it stared around Jan, 1 2012 or so,etime around there. I was thinking it was interesting to see even the veteran directories starting to get worried and make sure they are following all the rules. Good thing to becuase if this article came out a few months back, it would have looked worse. They way they do it now should be fine, achor controled by user = nofollow – Link anchor controlled by directory editors – follow. That seems reasonable.

  • Google Needs to Start Thinking

    My only take is that Google needs much better clarity in thier thinking and logic. The focus should not be on punishing but finding good contents.

    Tell me one thing, if a website has been getting very high ranking for a very long time and suddenly disappears from the search result then what does it indicate? Doesn’t it indicate that Google’s search has not been effective for so long? Or the reverse is true that it is not effective now?

    There are major flaws with Google’s approach and the only saving grace for them is the brand they have become…. but then as someone rightly pointed out in one of the comments that even big things tend to fall if they miss on critical points.

    No website in the world would be able to say that they have never adopted any black hat approaches. More or less but everyone must have done it to some extent. And when Google has been placing importance on linking, it is natural.

    If Google comes out of this mind frame of trying to punish instead of trying to find right and better content, they would not do a favor to users but to themselves also.

  • http://bankvibe.com Dan – BankVibe

    I can’t believe its 2012 and we’re still having these link discussions in regards to SEO with google. I think we just have to accept the fact that certain sites are allowed to get away with much more than others. BOTW, Yahoo directory, Business.com, etc will never be rid of their PR simply because they are too reputable (regardless of the fact that their business model is essentially based on selling links to pass PR).

  • http://www.affiliatesgetseenhere.com Mike

    It is about money and nothing else. If you look hard enough you will see that all updates are aimed at cutting out SEO and encouraging paid inclusions (Adwords).

    Google is a publicly listed company and therefore has an OBLIGATION to increase the value/income for shareholders without exception. That is why it has all gone wrong for them and that is why webmasters have to jump through hoops.

    If Google did not have this OBLIGATION to it’s shareholders it could concentrate on good content instead of making it more difficult for sites which do have good content and should rank highly on search engines.

    In effect Google has now encouraged webmasters to turn back to the old ‘traffic driving’ and ‘banner exchange’ systems to bring visitors to good content sites with a few bad backlinks which in most cases they have no control over once the link has been placed.

    Do No Evil? I have a suggestion FOR Google – ‘DON’T BE EVIL’

  • http://www.sixthsensemarketing/about/bradley-davis/ Bradley

    There is a fine line between buying links and paying for a listing in a quality directory such as BOTW, but in terms of the quality of the typical blog purchasing network and the BOTW directory, they are worlds apart and can not be compared in my opinion!

  • http://www.bbc-antiques.co.uk martin

    its all driving me crazy

  • http://www.bbc-antiques.co.uk martin

    http://www.bbc-antiques.co.uk my listing is in freefall page 5-6 when it was position 3 page 1 HELP !!?

  • http://www.bbc-antiques.co.uk martin

    http://www.bbc-antiques.co.uk anyone fancy +1 me on google or reviews on google maps ? please ! my site has fallen from page 1 to 6 and its driving me crazy !

  • http://www.seonorthamerica.com Tom Aikins

    Google started doing a lot of things 14 years ago that they now probably wish they hadn’t done. I’ll bet using these paid directories was one of them. But they’re kind of stuck now. And I’ll bet they’re stuck with a lot of things they’re not crazy about but would have a hard time changing at this point.

    • http://www.stockpicturesforeveryone.com/ Nita

      Absolutely right! These so-called prestigious directories are in it to make money but Google likes them.

  • dotpro

    BS answer from Matt.

    BOTW is a JOKE. I know someone who submitted 2 websites, another friend submitted a website as well. None of the websites have original content. They have press releases, etc. and friends website gets approved while other two get punished and rejected. so, editorial process or discretion is absurd and shady.

    Big companies favoring other big names/companies and that’s all it is.

  • http://www.atkinsonsits.com Will

    I’ve never paid for a link in my life, and I never will. However, paying for directory inclusion cannot be overly penalised by Google.
    If a business wants to pay for a listing in a business directory, it should be allowed to be listed in that directory. Google cannot prove that the listing has been sought to manipulate page rank.

    Submitting to directories is one of the few things that webmasters can do for free to help a site’s visibility (away from altering site content).

    But don’t risk everything by paying for a link. Use free directories and make the link relevant. The results may not be groundbreaking overnight, but over time those links will have a positive effect.

  • Sunil

    Google and specially Matt Cutts does not have any practical idea of SEO and under what conditions and how a small business operates. Google is trying to create an ideal and pure Search engine by eliminating small businesses with tight budgets trying to make a living in a cut throat world and with minimal resources. But is there such a thing as an ideal Search engine or an ideal society?

    Matt Cutts and Google are doing what Hitler tried to do with a pure Aryan race and decimated the population of Europe in order to create a pure race and a pure and ideal society of big and rich companies.

    They are eliminating businesses that may have or may not have played by their rules – which in any case are ambiguous and unclear – but do they have the right to execute a business and website – without a hearing? Just because small businesses depend on Google – does not give Google a right to penalize businesses because they do not have the resources that big businesses do.

    I think Googles dominance is near its end – because when you become too big and arrogant – the fall is harder. With PENGUIN – they have spited and disfigured their face to make their body look good – but they have forgotten that the FACE is what people look at first and its UGLY now (SERP results).

    Is Matt Cutts upto a challenge? Leave Googles job as Webspam head for a few months and take up providing SEO services – without using his name and clout and knowledge of Google algorithm. I bet he wouldnt be able to feed his family and go on his jaunts and enjoy the perks of life that he is enjoying now.

  • http://wredlich.com Warren Redlich

    Pagerank toolbar showing zero pagerank for many pages on botw.org today.

  • http://www.ntouchmarketing.com Ryan

    There is a fine line between what is going on here. This is something that should be addressed and not with the normal round about speak that we are always getting. If you pay for inclusion then it is a link. I have my own listing sites for local businesses. They are niche related and I do have paid advertisements on the site and the ability to place for placement. I on the other hand will allow any listing whether you have a site or now since my main concern is for my users and not the search engines. It is all a matter of how you look at it, and in all honesty none of us will ever know what the truth is about how a site is looked at. At least not until Agent Mulder gets involved.

  • Jack

    so is this a link site Google would accept?http://www.laspecialists.com/

  • http://www.studioartistx.nl Lex

    I’m with Susan on this one, NOT going to spend any money on AdWords at all! There was a time that I was willing to do that, or even better – I DID! – when my sites were ranking very well and I was earning with AdSense some decent money, actually, I was living from it. So, at some point I figured out: why not spend some part of my incomes on AdWords (like 10-15% or so) for even more targeted traffic…?! But I guess I made a mistake! Once Google sensed I was willing to spend my money on AdWords, all changed for me. I won’t claim AdSense and Adwords are having some TIGHT connections, but it would be naive to believe there’s no connection at all. The fact is however, that from that moment on, with each ‘so called search engine update’ my sites were getting less and less traffic (for no particular reason, no black hat involved whatsoever…), thus less and less AdSense incomes. Once I noticed that change, I cut spending on AdWords immidiately. But I guess it was too late already. My traffic is still decreasing (3d year in a row) no matter what I do, while one thing remains unchanged: regular Google AdWords bonus letter offer keeps arriving every month, which I never used, nor am I planning to! In stead, I redirected my business a little so it’s not 100% web based anymore. Right now I’m about 40% dependent on Google as far as my incomes are concerned, which is a huge shift from being 90% dependent on Google 3 years back. Still working on it to make it not more then 30% or even less, so I can peacefully sleep at night regardless of what Google does. Whether they are good or evil is of no importance to me anymore.. because I guess I’m happily out of their claws now. I know when I’ve made mistake. Perhaps Google should know that too? Because big doesn’t mean wise. From my point of view, Google has stopped being wise a long time ago. Now it’s chasing it’s tail and drawning in greed.

  • dude

    Simple: If Google makes us scared/hesitate to buy links from third party sources, the market is more likely to spend with Google. Easy. Given this business model, the future looks gloomy for BOTW and link directories that have been spared. They steal potential customers and income from Google. The only way I would invest is if could refund my money if it gets penalized in the future.

  • http://www.netmarketing.mk Igor

    It is very funny now.

  • AJ

    So how do you guys see sites like PRlog.org, where you can pay a ‘premium’ sub to have anchor text added to your PR articles? Is this a bad form of ‘Penguin’ practice? As a normal article is free, but you pay to have your link added, not reviewed!

  • http://none penguinism

    this is exactly what is happening. with the Penguin algo update blackhat attacks tatctics will rise to kill the competitors ranking.
    Don’t be surprise if blackhats seo gets popular for it services.

    Can we use Blackhats attacks to Google website so that they can feel the taste of their own medicine.

  • http://harounkola.com Haroun Kola

    Google is making the rules, bending them and breaking them since most traffic is from their esteemed site. Soon when social media, and perhaps +1s and like take on a greater relevance, we’ll see another shifting trend!

  • http://www.consultancymarketing.co.uk Ian Smith

    Fascinating article. In fact I would suggest you may have understated the issue Chris.
    Many websites that seem to be coming out of this squeeky clean are certain ‘trade’ blogs. Many of these have a very high pagerank, are full of articles that people never read, and are dominated by ‘paid links’ in all areas of all pages. Links costing hundreds of US Dollars per month!

  • http://www.eplatformmarketing.com Jim Hobson

    If “paid links” from big directory sites (expensive advertising sites) are okay, and paying a small company or individuals to create links in “affordable measures” is deemed to be wrong, then Google is giving the advantage to companies with the most money to spend.

    And, such a move would redirect “link building revenue” from a large number of companies, to only the select few companies that Google chooses. Personally, I see it as a way to help companies like the yellow page companies to recapture ad revenue and circumvent their extinction.

    After all, isn’t a directory site just a site with very little subject content and a LOT of paid outbound links? (. . . which are often sold under the pretense of helping with SEO . . . )

    • http://www.stockpicturesforeveryone.com/ Nita

      I agree with you Jim. Google is favouring big brands and in this way helping them make money. Smaller and unknown websites are being pushed aside. I wonder why Google does not realise that this is directly against their policy of providing the most relevant content to users. There are a lot of very good sites which do not pay directories and these also get affected.

  • http://www.ifafinancialadvisors.co.uk Dave Whelan

    A friend of mine has been hit with a Google penalty. It’s an E Commerce site. So a lot of the content is the same as other sites selling the same products. For example the description for a kindle. Google says create unique content and value add, but all sites are doing this. I agree that submitting to directories is a total waste of time. We are based in the UK so why should we submit to 5,000 directories across the world for a few dollars.

    • http://www.discount-pool-supplies.com AJR

      My website also took a major hit because of the “content spam” that is manufacturer’s ad copy.

      It is hard to imagine what Google was thinking when they came up with that gem of an idea. Oh wait – A way to pressure those who do not wish to re-create ad copy for 100’s -1000’s of listings to give up on organic search and start paying up through adwords?

      It really is all becoming so obvious now.

  • http://bloghands.com Chris

    This is a really good point… I’ve never thought paying for a directory listing was worth the fee but in the case of the yahoo and BOTW directories it might be…

    The more the average joe knows about Google’s algorithms the scarier internet marketing becomes.

  • Michelle

    I think that considering how much spam is a problem, and how much these articles talk about how Google is penalizing websites for having links on them that they didn’t put there and have no control over, maybe the site blog owner should consider regulating the comments better and getting rid of the obvious spam.

  • http://www.ehlinelaw.com Michael Ehline

    The idea is to keep everyone in the dark and be as vague and ambiguous as possible. That is Google.

  • http://www.tag-services.co.uk/ Phil

    What is a quality site. They way the search results are now in Google, you have to trawl though non related sites, blogs and YouTube listings before you get a decent site. You can write as many articles etc on for your site, just to please Google. That does not mean your products or services are good.

    Google is just making it harder for the small business to get good rankings. Forcing them into Google Ads to get hits. They don’t care how many decent sites and businesses go down the pan.

  • hearingtracker

    Great article. I'm surprised I'm the first to respond. I thought I could not be possibly swayed by Greg Hartnett's response, but he does actually provide a reasonable explanation for the business model and Google's acceptance of it. Is there any update on Google's stance to BOTW. Their scouring somehow hasn't identified my website even though it shows up on Google's front page for certain keywords.

  • Reece Coleman

    I also take this “scouring” with a pinch of salt! The only time I’ve ever got a site listed within BOTW is when I’ve paid for a review! My concern is not so much whether a listing will improve a sites’ position in Google (although it would be nice), as whether it might damage it now, or at some point in the future. With so many businesses hinging on how Google feels about something, I do wish that another search tool would break the Google monopoly as it’s not healthy to have one company with so much control. The fact that many of my clients now call their OS or the Internet itself, “Google”, is not encouraging!