22 Jan 2008

Link Buying: Reviewed and not Guaranteed is the line in the sand.

In Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, they say you should:

Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.

I know a lot of webmasters have questioned what is the difference between paying Yahoo for a Directory link, and paying any other web entity for a link.

This issue has been brought up as far back as on December 11, 2005 when Josh asked on Matt’s blog:

Question: Generally doesn’t Yahoo’s directory require payment? Isn’t that pretty much the same as getting a paid link? I might be wrong on that, its been a while since I’ve looked at them, just curious.

Matt’s response was:

Josh, with Yahoo, you’re paying for the manual review of a site by an editor–it’s not automatically approved by any means.

A year later, on December 19th, 2006, in Rand’s post called "I Disagree with Danny & the Google Engineers About Link Buying Practices" , Matt commented

I think I’ve been straightforward on Google’s behalf: paid links should have a nofollow attribute. Other choices run the risk of losing trust with Google in various ways.

Which doesn’t seem to address paying Yahoo for a link. But later in the comments robertk asks,

If I paid money to Yahoo to review my site for listing in their directory, would that be considered a "paid link"? Money did change hands and without it, my site would not have been added to the directory. However, there is no guarantee the site will be listed.

So.. is it a bought link, one that Google would like me to ask Yahoo to add a "nofollow" to it, or am I okay to leave things as they are?

Gotta love grey areas

Rand then chips in with:

or paying Citysearch.com for profile listings or paying MSN Small Business directory for inclusion or buying an online newspaper classified and getting a link or paying local directories, industry niche directories for a link. Or buying a BBB membership and getting a link, or donating money to the local Elks club and getting a link… Oh how the list goes on.

The following day (Dec 20, 2006) I picked it up that question about the Yahoo directory being a paid link in my blog post about Paid Links and Loosing Trust. In my comments, Eric Enge from Stone Temple said

Regarding the Yahoo! directory question, there is a clear difference. As I posted in Rand’s blog on this topic, a Yahoo! directory link involves a human review by a trusted editor.

I believe that Matt has been clear that the problem that Google has with paid links is the lack of editorial judgement. It’s the editorial judgement that they are wanting to value when they see a link. A purchased link involving no editorial judgement is what they see as a no-no.

Whereas the Yahoo! directory reserves the right to reject your submission, even though you have paid. In addition, they will put your listing in a directory different than the one you picked, if they feel you recommended the wrong one. 

Later that same day, (Dec 20), Eric Enge at Stone Temple did his own post weighing in on link buying, where Matt commented

I think you put this pretty well, Eric. Search engines want links to be real: editorial votes based on quality and merit. 
With Yahoo, you’re paying for the reviewing service; Yahoo rejects plenty of submissions.

The following day, Dec 21, 2006, Graywolf made reference to Matt’s comment above and said:

So it seems it’s not ok to buy links, however it is ok to pay for an editorial review which may get you a link as long as it’s not guaranteed.

Where Matt replied:

Huh, it feels like I said something similar recently. Oh, I did:
http://www.stonetemple.com/blog/?p=100#comment-2259

(comment 2259 says "I think you put this pretty well, Eric. Search engines want links to be real: editorial votes based on quality and merit.
With Yahoo, you’re paying for the reviewing service; Yahoo rejects plenty of submissions.")

So I see a pretty clear consistant line that’s been drawn by Google over the years.

I’d say the message is pretty clear "Links that have been humanly reviewed, where they are not guaranteed a listing, are OK".

On a side note….the Yahoo directory has a description for We Build Pages of "Designs business web sites and offers search engine optimization, link building, and pay per click services."….We don’t design business web sites, we don’t do design at all. When I sent my suggestion for a description, I never said anything about design. Their editor never really reviewed our site or he would have seen no where on our site anything about "design services". They are no better, no worse than webmaster…maybe worse if anything…a webmaster will probably review "submissions" for thier own site better than an editor hired by Yahoo.

So if one were to write to a website with: "Hey, I’d like to pay you to review this "listing", "ad", "site", "page", paragraph", etc. and that webmaster applies his editorial judgement and does not trip any "trust" filter, because the listing is relevant, …the links should be fine….right?

…..feel free to sphinn this to drum up the talk.

Comments

  1. graywolf January 22, 2008 at 8:38 PM

    all of which begs the question why is OK to pay for a directory review, but not a service like reviewme …

  2. Jim Boykin January 22, 2008 at 9:01 PM

    Bingo. …or services like “would you review “this” to go on this page of your site”.

  3. Jim Boykin January 22, 2008 at 9:06 PM

    In the second case, it’s a double opt in review. A human reviewer has decided that a link is relevant for a page, and proposes it to the webmaster, and they agree and place it…..what if the person put “The following has been editorially reviewed” instead of “Sponsored ads”?

  4. JaeWeb January 22, 2008 at 9:41 PM

    I’ve come across a lot of much smaller directories that accept a small payment for a faster directory listing. They also contain disclaimers that state that they reserve the right to not include your website etc etc.

    I’m sure a lot of these guys were penalized by google in the ’07 google paid links witch hunt as well………….. so what’s the difference between them and the yahoo directory?

  5. Jim Boykin January 22, 2008 at 9:45 PM

    JaeWeb,
    I’m not sure….wish I knew….maybe one day they’ll clarify that for us. They’ve said Yahoo is fine because there’s editors and it’s not guaranteed….same formula should apply to directories…..but we all know a lot of the directories that got smacked in 07 were doing other stuff (selling links for PageRank)…not all, but most that got smacked.

  6. Eric Enge January 22, 2008 at 10:22 PM

    The difference between Yahoo and many other directories (and sites like ReviewMe) is how much Google trusts them. Yahoo, and certain other directories are trusted. How this determination is made I can’t tell you, but the issue is definitely one of trust.

  7. JaeWeb January 22, 2008 at 10:48 PM

    @ Eric: The trust factor is obvious. But as Jim has pointed out in this post, the professionalism of the yahoo editors is questionable….

    It’s strange how Google finds sites it thinks it can trust and then devotes itself to them no matter how flawed the model may be (eg wikipedia)

  8. Vince January 22, 2008 at 11:02 PM

    I think there’s also an issue with the way Google hands out “trust” to these sites because of their age and/or size. Maybe because of that trust they’re able to get away with some things like Chris Bennett, Rand and Andy Beal reported regarding RipOff Report (in their respective order):

    http://www.97thfloor.com/blog/public-spam-report-google-your-honeymoon-with-rip-off-report-has-to-stop/

    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/chris-bennet-on-rip-off-report

    http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2008/01/ripoff-report-ripping-off-those-reported.html

    Things like dupe content, title spamming and other stuff gets overlooked with some sites…why not the fact that trust can be placed automatically for a “quality review fee”?

  9. Jamdo January 22, 2008 at 11:09 PM

    Well it’s pretty clear that Yahoo IN GENERAL will only accept reasonable sites with reasonable content.

    It’s also pretty clear that the publishers of services like ReviewMe will IN GENERAL publish any bit of crap that they get paid for.

    If you were designing a search engine and good results was at the top of your agenda, which of those types of links would you trust?

    What you guys are really upset about is that the rules are not applied blindly and without prejudice.

    But how do you propose that Google return relevant searches from their imperfect algo, without making any exceptions to any general rules?

  10. Matt Cutts January 23, 2008 at 1:33 AM

    Hey Jim, I left a comment on the Sphinn thread you started at http://sphinn.com/story/24523#c27968

  11. David Eaves January 23, 2008 at 3:59 AM

    “a lot of the directories that got smacked in 07 were doing other stuff (selling links for PageRank)…not all, but most that got smacked”

    Selling PageRank? My directory got hit in that update and I have always had very strict guidelines about the types of sites I would accept, far stricter then the Yahoo! directory. Most of the other directories that got hit also had strict guidelines. How can you say these guys are selling PageRank, but these guys are not, what is your definition? I like the design of this one? or I know the owner of this one?

  12. Nick Wilsdon January 23, 2008 at 9:46 AM

    Thanks for the clarification Jim.

    P.S. Great to see you blogging again 😉

  13. Doug Heil January 23, 2008 at 12:38 PM

    Hey Jamdo; Good post! Totally agree.

    For the rest of you; if you do not know the difference between a quality directory which does not list every site submitted, and a PPP site or review site, or any other type of paid link, I truly feel for you.

    Common sense is something many of you need to recall from within yourselves, as it seems like it was lost along the way. 🙂

  14. Nick Wilsdon January 23, 2008 at 12:49 PM

    Yep, I think most of us know the difference between different types of sites Doug. However, it’s an interesting discussion to see how this rule or logic would be applied to non-directory sites (which could mimic the same structure and listing conditions).

  15. Jim Boykin January 23, 2008 at 1:14 PM

    Nick, spot on.
    The point I’m making is really very simple.
    If I can pay Yahoo $299/year for their review and link, and that’s OK with Google (and recommended by Google), then those same rules (review and not guaranteed) should apply to all sites. (directory or not). If the rules are different for Yahoo than the rest of the world then I’d like to know…otherwise, I’ll assume the rules google has for the yahoo directory are the same for all sites…whether you’re a blog, a directory, a search engine, a mom and pop website, a forum, etc….I can’t believe Google has a special set of rules if a site is a directory, and another set of rules if you’re another type of site.

  16. Doug Heil January 23, 2008 at 2:12 PM

    If I ran a search engine I would not be telling each SEO exactly which sites I trust to give a majority of good reviews and which sites I do not trust. You have to put your shoes on the other foot for awhile. Why the heck would Matt Cutts or Google or any other major search engine tell you specifically the rules for each one of you?

    If the yahoo directory is trusted and an authority, do you think that joeslinkexchange directory should have the same rules applied? If so, why? Do you really believe Google should have the same set of rules regarding paid links no matter what kind of site it is? If so, why?

    It appears you also believe that Google should never reserve the right to make judgments PER SITE. How would you like Google to continue to serve up relevant results if all sites are treated exactly the same for paid links, and all sites have the exact same rules for paid links?

    Doesn’t it seem kind of silly?

    Further; let’s say the rules are indeed the same for all sites, and there is no authority status in the algo, nor no trust factor either, and let’s say Google put those rules in stone regarding paid links for all of you too read. Is this feasible or sensible?

    If ran a quality directory of some kind, would I just love to be judged based on that link exchange or pagerank directory as well? Heck no I wouldn’t. Why would you think Google would see a quality directory who reviews sites for a fee as the same exact thing as a directory who sells pagerank and asks for link exchanges?

    Come on now folks.

  17. tyler dewitt January 23, 2008 at 2:44 PM

    That was a good post Jim

  18. Jamdo January 23, 2008 at 6:55 PM

    Jim Boykin said – “If I can pay Yahoo $299/year for their review and link, and that’s OK with Google (and recommended by Google), then those same rules (review and not guaranteed) should apply to all sites.”

    Why?

  19. Sydney January 23, 2008 at 11:02 PM

    So to have a directory be trusted by google it must meet the following conditions:

    – be selective of submitted URL
    – The URLs should be of high quality
    – the fee should be for the human editors to do an evaluation of the site.
    -you must be yahoo directory

  20. Vertical Measures January 23, 2008 at 11:40 PM

    It’s pretty frustrating… playing a game without knowing all the rules. It also makes it very interesting. Personally I think following Jim’s “go underground mantra” is a good idea. After all aren’t we entitled to keep some of our “techniques” secret too?

  21. Tony Tellijohn January 23, 2008 at 11:45 PM

    I find it interesting the Google claims to know that Yahoo is rejecting “plenty of submissions.” I’m sure Yahoo is handing over proof of this to their much larger competitor–and wouldn’t want that data to be skewed in any way to make sure they stay an authority, so they can continue to offer a valuable service at $300 a pop.

    My big problem with the paid link debate is that I thought Google’s filters were supposed to be able to tell when two sites had related content, and hence should be able to tell when the links between those sites are “valuable” or not, regardless of whether they’re paid or free. I know personally, I wouldn’t pay for a link that I didn’t think was going to be relevant in the first place.

    I don’t fault Google for trying to improve their results and reduce some of the crappy sites that come up in results–lord knows it needs the improvement (even if it costs them some AdSense revenue)–I just happen to think they missed the mark with this particular approach.

  22. Farhad January 24, 2008 at 8:06 AM

    So now all ReviewMe, and a host of other websites who sell links need to do is say “we don’t guarantee your link will actually ever go live”, and voila… they should be ok in Google’s eyes???

  23. Michael Martinez January 24, 2008 at 12:07 PM

    Instead of dictating to people how they should be marking up their pages (which is totally inappropriate and way over the line), Google representatives need to shut up about paid links until they significantly improve the quality of their search results BY PLACING THE MOST RELEVANT CONTENT FIRST.

    Paid links are NOT an issue with SITE SEARCH, where less relevant Main Web Index pages continue to rank above more relevant SUPPLEMENTAL RESULTS PAGES.

    And as Michael Wolf might say, “Google, until you put NOFOLLOW on your own paid links, you have ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS telling people to put NOFOLLOW on their paid links.”

    Matt Cutts, SHUT UP.

  24. Jim Boykin January 24, 2008 at 12:42 PM

    Be nice now Michael.

    I guess the reason I’m probing here is because I want to know the answer to a question I’m often asked. And that question is “What does Google think about what you do.”. If those people who asked that did some research they’d see where Matt says “Don’t buy links”, “Don’t sell links”.

    I value paying Yahoo $299/year for their directory link. I also know a guy who paid a webmasters of a trusted site $299 to review a relevant ad on one of their pages. The webmaster told this guy that he reviewed the ad, and it also seemed relevant to him (hey, these are double reviewed…first by the advertisor, then by the site owner).

    Google’s said it’s OK to pay Yahoo since they review the link, and don’t guarantee a listing, but don’t pay anyone else to review your site, and don’t follow that logic to PPP, Link Buys, Advertising…..

  25. Prisoners of War in the Battle for Paid Links January 25, 2008 at 6:10 AM

    […] To be clear I’m not talking about hiding things from search engines, or burying text below the fold (which while not a technical violation is clearly a violation of the spirit of the recommendations), I’m talking about clearly labeled advertising, sponsorship, or reviews. Why is it OK to pay for a Yahoo directory review but not a review from a another service. […]

  26. Link Building this Week (04.2008) | Wiep.net January 25, 2008 at 10:57 AM

    […] Jim Boykin has been digging up some Google and/ or Matt Cutts quotes to outline what Google’s stance is in the paid link discussion. Not only does his post show that Reviewed and Not Guaranteed is the red line here, but he also unleashed a discussion at his own blog and at Sphinn. […]

  27. Why Google is Screwed Up January 26, 2008 at 12:01 AM

    […] Also take a look at a post Jim Boykin wrote called Link Buying Reviewed now read down and look at Matt Cutts responses which I’m not going to say anything Bad about Matt Cutts, but I will tell you this Google picks and chooses there people put it this way if someone out there had more power then them or right next to them they won’t touch them and I think Yahoo has made that clear and a few other people which like I said I’m not going to get into names, but the bottom line is they don’t want certain people making it, but yet some of these big brand names can get away with whatever they want and thats how it works. […]

  28. tyler dewitt January 26, 2008 at 12:30 AM

    Its funny how Google says Editorial Links are ok, but yet they want to pick and choose on who they penalize.

  29. Buying links: The debate rages on… January 27, 2008 at 8:21 AM

    […] The debate rages on. Interesting reading here and here. […]

  30. Jim McNelis January 27, 2008 at 10:17 AM

    Jim,

    I have attempted to weigh in as well on this debate several times over the last couple months. Here is a recent post on Matt’s blog, which I doubt got much attention.

    I address the Yahoo Directory specifically:

    #
    Dito Said,

    January 8, 2008 @ 6:45 am

    Matt,

    Let’s say a blog does PPP or ReviewMe or a similar service. Let’s say they get 20 requests per month for these reviews or posts, and let’s say a reviewer only takes 5 or the 20 requests per month. Let’s say he/she only takes reviews of products that he/she endorses, and chooses not to review inferior products. Let’s say this person has a blog about electronics and all of the products that have paid reviews are in fact electronics.

    Please explain (if you don’t mind) the difference between this example and a paid directory that has not been penalized for selling links, such as BestOfTheWeb or Yahoo! Directory.

    I still am failing to understand the difference between paid links in a directory vs. a blog or any other website that sells links.
    I do think it should be equal across all websites, rather than these perceived double-standards.

    We have discussed this before, in brief in this post: Selling links that pass PageRank. Your reply referenced this article.

    I have been pondering this issue since then, and I have even made a post recently on my blog about the same topic (Click my user name if you care to read the post).

    Am I missing some important piece of the puzzle here?

    Thanks Matt,

    Jim McNelis

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-to-report-paid-links/#comment-120219

  31. tyler dewitt January 28, 2008 at 12:32 AM

    Jim,

    I feel the same way about things yahoo directory, botw and many other directories continue to sale links, but no google is not going to hold the page rank peter over there head…

    The thing is Google will continue to do what they want even to people that are actually trying to promote ethical brands thats just the way Google works.

    I will still continue to do what our clients want and thats paid links, most of our clients that call us want paid links.

  32. Google’s Line is Just Too Thin | Wiep.net February 4, 2008 at 4:33 PM

    […] Last month, Jim Boykin wrote a great post about where he tries to determine where Google draws the paid links line. In the discussion at Sphinn, even Matt Cutts joined in to leave a comment, but he also wasn’t able to make the line clear. Well, after seeing something like this, it’s getting more and more clear to me that it’s not possible for Google to draw a line anywhere. […]

  33. Prisoners of War in the Battle for Paid Links at Web Optimization 2.0 February 9, 2008 at 9:52 AM

    […] To be clear I’m not talking about hiding things from search engines, or burying text below the fold (which while not a technical violation is clearly a violation of the spirit of the recommendations), I’m talking about clearly labeled advertising, sponsorship, or reviews. Why is it OK to pay for a Yahoo directory review but not a review from a another service. […]

  34. Rooms in York March 24, 2008 at 9:30 AM

    That is a very interesting article, there does seem to be a lot of inconsistantcy on googles part i mean there are loads of directorys that will review your site for a fee but most of those have now been penalised with pr0 where as Yahoo continues un penalised and also as the most expensive directory out there. Maybe if i start my own directory and charge $500 a listing google will think its great too!

  35. charles March 25, 2008 at 1:28 AM

    google can say all they want but the reality is, how can they really check it all? I recently watched a little video by and SEO expert and the one thing that hit me dead on was, would google pay the costs necessary to do all that they are hinting at? NO! It’s isn’t in their interest to purchase the amount of equipment necessary to do all they require and there really isn’t any reason. They know there are all types of “link exchanges” going on, but the reality is they can’t do anything about it. All they can do is notice if you suddenly get 1,000 links over night–well, that’s not normal. . .let’s slap them down. However, if it is natural building of links, paid, exchanged (one-way, two-way, three-way) then they can do nothing other than say, well. . . that site is about widgets and your site is about guitars, we don’t think they are as relevant thus we don’t give you full credit. Well, that’s the game. . .if it is at all true. I doubt that it is.

    I’m in “alternative medicine” and the compitition isn’t that great, thus you can see clearly that google does accept a lot. Just recently looked at a friends site–they didn’t do anything but they were ranked high, with bad on page SEO. . . how? Well, a site wide leak from an author’s blog. I don’t know about you but writing and acupuncture?!?!? Just as much a strech as widgets and guitars.

    I’m a newbie to all this, but it does seem that google looks for over optimization more than link buying….just my two cents…..

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