Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog

(QualityGal) Graywolf, Guy Kawasaki, and Paid Links Rules that Can’t Be Enforced

As I was leaving a comment on Graywolf’s post about Guy Kawasaki and Link Payola, I realized I had more than a few words to say on the matter.

Google’s policy on paid links is impossible to enforce. Or at least it’s impossible to enforce fairly and consistently.

If I review an amazing product that was given to me for the purpose of reviewing it, does it make my review any less valuable? Any less relevant? No, of course not.

If someone gives me money to review their website – and let’s face it, just linking to someone is a form of review because you always check out a site before you link to it – it’s no different. As long as I’m not misrepresenting the site I’m linking to, I don’t see the harm.

There are billions of web pages online, and sometimes it takes a little motivation to get someone to look at and link to one of those pages. Money can be the motivation. Or a free product or service. And people need the motivation, because little sites won’t get recognized without someone linking to them.  The search engines will ignore them if no one links to them, but no one can link to them unless they can be found in a web search. Catch-22?

I think that Google should take the cue from Yahoo, who doesn’t care if a link is paid or not, as long as it has value for the user. Because seriously? If I’m looking for product reviews, I don’t care if the person reviewing it got the item for free, as long as they’re being honest and upfront about everything. As long as it lists pros and cons, that review is valuable to me, and I don’t want Google removing it from my search results just because it was paid for.

And if I’m looking for health information, and I follow a link to a helpful health website from another helpful health website, I would likely neither know nor care if the originating website had gotten some form of monetary compensation for placing the link.  If it helps me, that’s all I care about. But if Google’s going to penalize people for placing paid links, I might not be able to find either one of the helpful health websites in my web search. And for what?

If Google is really all about serving user intent, they need to focus more on worrying about their users.  Otherwise, this is all about AdWords. AdWords and AdSense provide relevant contextual paid links for many Webmasters out there.  The paid links they’re penalizing are really only cutting out Google as the middleman – and that doesn’t hurt anyone, except perhaps Google’s profit margin.

But back to Graywolf and Guy Kawasaki.  I don’t think Guy has done anything wrong, and I know that Graywolf doesn’t think that Guy has done anything wrong either. He’s just pointing out the flaws in the paid link penalties Google is handing out.  In the end, I hope Guy doesn’t get penalized; I hope the penalties disappear. And I’m not saying this because of Jim and his elite team of link ninjas.  I’m saying this as an Internet user who only wants access to the best information – whether the person providing the access has been paid for it or not.


14 Responses

  1. Wow, one of these theys you will tell us who you are right. :-). That was more wisdom than any other SEO who talked on this issue. Jim should give you a raise. Jim, you listening???

  2. Couldn’t have put it better myself! The Yahoo model is definitly the one to be followed and the way of the future.

    Links are links, some take you somewhere good and others somewhere bad, some are paid and some are free… can Google honestly say every paid link takes you somewhere unrelated and not useful?

  3. Good response to the original article. I agree that links paid for with money… or any currency are indeed paid links. Is that bad? No… well I don’t see how any form of advertising can be bad. Lets face it, if I own an Ozzy Osbourne fan website and a toothpaste company want to advertise so be it. However I do feel that they would be better spending their advertising budget on a health conscience website. Should that link count less? Certainly as it’s just not related. So is the real problem here AdWords/AdSense or is it that Google just can’t tell if it IS relevant or not?

    For the record I feel that AdSense ads have a long way to go before they are truly reflective of the websites that they are appearing on.

  4. interestingly its still a hot topic – I suppose people believe the google PR machine. You dont have to look far to see the truth – you can’t easily judge intent through a search engine algo.

  5. I am of two minds. I am really trying hard to build my online business. I am using the methods I have been taught. I don’t necessarily agree with buying links. I do have to agree that as long as the link and the site are providing value to the visitors coming to the site than in that instance it is OK. Unfortunately, many people who are buying links are just trying to boost their ratings with the search engines instead of focusing on content and value.

  6. @Cora I don’t know if you’ve been at many SEO conferences or done a lot of SEO but most SEO’s will agree paid links are apart of any successful SEO campaigns.

    Paid directories are paid links and Google says they are fine with those.

    Money isn’t evil. Just to reiterate what Guy K. said:

    “Every link in the world is paid. Only the currency is different: sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s favors; sometimes it’s friendships, sometimes it’s backscratching, and many times it’s simply that someone made something very good via a lot of hard work.”

  7. Of course, Graywolf then went on to write an apology post to Guy Kawasaki, and turned off comments on the post. I found that interesting, because I get the feeling he didn’t think he came off all that well with his initial gripe based on the comments on the post. Personally, I agree with you here in thinking it was unwarranted, and that Guy Kawasaki, of all people, deserved a break on it, especially since Graywolf hadn’t investigated his story to determine all the facts first.

  8. @ Mitch: Yeah, Graywolf was pretty much hounded by that post (:P pun intended). However I think his biggest mistake was to name someone and what he believed payment was. While his details were way off I still believe his point was where exactly do you draw the line at paid links? It’s obvious that some are fine, some are not – again, where do you draw the line?

  9. Personally, I don’t have a problem with paid links, and I don’t think Google should either because, after all, that’s what they do. I don’t do it myself, but in the long run it’s all about money, and if someone is willing to either shell out the money to try to get more business to their sites, or put in a lot of time writing content for pay, well, just how different is that than Adsense or those paid for ads that show up at the top of Google’s searches when someone else’s site is actually number one for the search term?

  10. @ Mitch: Spot on! After all doesn’t it pay to advertise on billboards in high traffic areas? It’s exactly the same thing online/offline.

    I think the big problem really is the PageRank issue. We know that it’s really a load of bollocks but some are still treat it like a religion.

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