15 Sep 2008

(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.