20 Dec 2006

Paid Links and Losing Trust

There’s a highly interesting thread going on at SEOmoz about what Google should officially say about the issue of buying text links.

Rand starts the thread out with comments about the nofollow tag and ends with what he feels Google should use as a written statement about buying text links. Rand thinks Google should say:

Honestly, if a relevant, high-quality link requires financial compensation to acquire, we have no problem with that. We may have an algorithmic preference for links that point to content without a monetary incentive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find good links that need to be bought. However, we’re pretty darn good at evaluating who’s selling "PageRank" and who’s trying to manipulate us with their link schemes. When we see that, we’re going to do our best to discount it and oftentimes, that means removing a site’s ability to pass link juice. If you’re selling links, you should think about whether you’re giving those links a good, solid editorial review and adding value for your visitors, because that’s what we’re thinking about, too.

Later Danny comes in and give some good information, including:

In short, if you’re buying a link, nofollow is your way to tell Google you mean no harm. If you’re confident that the link is (1) not really a paid link they’d be worried about or (2) a paid link they won’t detect, go nuts. Don’t do nofollow. I can appreciate that there is a ton of gray area in terms of what’s a "paid" link out there, and I’ve written extensively on that topic and how I think Google is trying to put a genie back in the bottle. It was, of course, one of the exact issues I raised with Eric Schmidt earlier this year. But if you are buying links, specifically buying them, and you’re worried about Google, nofollow is in fact a far more elegant solution for the *purchaser* to demand than hoping Google will get the crap shoot of an algorithmic guess correct.

I do agree it would be better if they could just evaluate links, paid or not, and decide if the link seems good. And let’s not be foolish — they are doing some of this. Nofollow isn’t the perfect solution, and I do see much of what Google wants to shape as trying to conrol the link genie. But nofollow remains excellent advice for that nervous webmaster that wants to buy a link and not been seen as doing harm. I’m glad they have that condom to slip on.

Jims Thoughts:
If your site is selling a bunch of spammy links, and you are spotted (through a forumula, or by hand), you’ll surely loose your ability to pass link juice from your site.

If you’re buying links…buy them under the radar. If you are buying a lot of links from sites that are "over the radar", then put a no follow on them, and figure your value is the traffic you get for the price you pay…. your value might not be from any google juice.

Later Matt comes in and gives the ole official Google statement:

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.

If you look like a link spammy SEO you might pay the price of poor rankings, lost rankings, or worse yet, the fate of Matt’s axe (reminds me to remove, or slap a no-follow, on a big link I bought for some site last month that got sandwitched between some other shady buyers….(sending email now)).

Rand quickly follows Matts comments with:

I would say that you’ve been consistent and direct, which are both admirable. I’m merely disagreeing with the logic behind your position. My point is simply that, to my mind, it seems illogical to ask webmasters to attach nofollow to links when the benefits of not doing so are high and the liklihood of being caught (if you’re intelligent about it) are relatively low.

I’m just hoping for a shift towards something like the fake quote I made for you above.

Later Robertk then poses the question of the year that I’d love Google to respond to:

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.

There’s a lot of great information, questions, and debates there – check out Rands post about his Link Buying Practices.

Let me ask YOU – If you found a great page….let’s say it was relevant to your site, and that page had lots of backlinks to it, and you could get a paragraph of text added, with your link imbedded, and you knew that even if an engineer saw it they’d say "Hum….is that an ad?….is it relevant? Is it a quality trusted site that giving the link (non-bastardized, real backlinks)?…is the link going out to a site that can be trusted?….is this spam?….and you think you’d pass the test…but you had to pay someone $….would you nofollow it?