Cutting Through The Paid Link Hysteria

Is it ok with Google if you sell paid links on your blog? Yes

As long as we’re talking about links, this seems like a pretty good opportunity to talk about a simple litmus test for paid links and how to tell if a paid link violates search engines’ quality guidelines. If you want to sell a link, you should at least provide machine-readable disclosure for paid links by making your link in a way that doesn’t affect search engines. There’s a ton of ways to do that. For example, you could make a paid link go through a redirect where the redirect url is robot’ed out using robots.txt. You could also use the rel=nofollow attribute. I’ve said as much many times before, but I wanted to give a heads-up because Google is going to be looking at paid links more closely in the future.

The other best practice I’d advise is to provide human readable disclosure that a link/review/article is paid. You could put a badge on your site to disclose that some links, posts, or reviews are paid, but including the disclosure on a per-post level would better. Even something as simple as “This is a paid review” fulfills the human-readable aspect of disclosing a paid article.

And then:

To make sure that you’re in good shape, go with both human-readable disclosure and machine-readable disclosure, using any of the methods I mentioned above.

Google isn’t saying you can’t sell advertising on your site.
Google isn’t saying you will be banned for paid reviews or paid text links.

What you will be given grief over: Subversive paid links.

Matt gives a few different examples on how to mark your paid links:

Ash, there’s absolutely no problem with selling links for traffic (as opposed to PageRank). At http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/hidden-links/ I mention a couple ways to sell links that Google would have no problem with.

Aaron Nimocks, I believe AdBrite constructs their links with JavaScript so that links are being sold for traffic, not to affect search engines. Things like JavaScript, the nofollow attribute (or meta tag), or doing a link through a redirect that is robots.txt’ed out would be techniques to sell links for visitors/traffic, as opposed to trying to influence search engine rankings.

So selling paid links on your blog is totally cool, ok? Keep on keeping on. Just make sure to fix the link up like Matt suggests and you’re fine.

Where Things Get Tricky

It’s hard to say at this point who is going to be penalized for the unmarked paid links. Will it be the advertisers that buy links or will it be the websites that display unmarked paid links? Personally, I think it’s going to be bloggers and webmasters who display unmarked paid links that will be hit by Google.

Will those sites be removed or banned from the Google index? I doubt it. What I think will happen though is that your site will be dead and worthless for passing any link juice to outbound links. So if your site makes its money on selling links, there won’t be any market for you once Google flips the switch off for your site.

If that doesn’t bother you, go ahead and do what you like. However, you need to realize that dead juice sites won’t have the same market value as the rest of the Google law abiding net. This will be a problem if you build up a site to flip, there’s potentially less resale value to it.

Moral of the Story

It’s up to you to protect your investment. Your website, your domain, is like a piece of real estate on the web. You either invest in it to build up value over time, or you ride it for everything it’s worth while you can, then dump it.

There will be plenty of ad brokers and review sites that will have plenty of link buyers to send your way. They won’t be penalized, they have nothing to lose. YOUR site will be marked, not theirs. Be aware.

Summary

– Yes you can sell paid links
– If you don’t mask them or mark them, be prepared to lose

If You Don’t Like It

Too bad. Google’s the boss now. Quit feeding the beast (adsense/adwords). If you’ve followed SuperAff for any length of time at all–you know I’m not a Google fan…saving my breath now, back to work I go…

Google The New Jabba?

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I’ve been trying to find my way online for more years than I care to admit.

9 thoughts to “Cutting Through The Paid Link Hysteria”

  1. I agree with what you have written – its how I have been interpretting Matt’s unofficial information on ranking in Google, too.
    The one thing I don’t ‘get’ is how advertisers will know that the site isn’t passing link juice anymore.
    The only thing I can think of is the PR bar going to 0, but surely that would have to be reflected with poor rankings?
    Overall, the whole thing doesn’t make sense, probably because we only have Matt writing what he feels like passing on in his personal blog, rather than complete, offical official info from Google.
    🙁

  2. Okay, a couple of quibbles:

    (A) Most text link brokers don’t allow you to no-follow the links, so this would mean you have to work directly with advertisers – which would put AdSense’s competitors out of business (and there’s the real motive here).

    (B) Yes, you can say this means the text link brokers are selling pagerank, which is not nice because Google owns it. But hello – pagerank is only a metric for something that always existed – site authority as measured by relevant inbound links.

    I actually remember the days before pagerank. You bought links from sites that had relevant inbounds and lots of them. The only difference now is that Google gave you this little number to shortcut the research process. If you trusted Google’s valuation system, which everyone did whole-heartedly, letting Google do their thinking for them. I admit, I bought into it somewhat too.

    The best solution is for Google to discontinue public pagerank and just keep those metrics to themselves like any other business. The only purpose public pagerank EVER served was to help people decide who to buy links from. So now Google resents that? Fine – take it away!

    We still won’t want no-follow or scripted links, though, at least not exclusively. When you’re launching a new site, traffic is great, but you need the bots to find it.

  3. Sorry to spam, LOL, but one more thing:

    I’m absolutely convinced Google doesn’t send all that much really quality traffic to my sites. I have no fear at all of them penalizing me for having paid links. My only concern is that they’ll succeed in driving text link brokers out of business, which would suck since that’s proven such a great way for me to find advertisers I never would’ve met otherwise.

    But hey. I’ll just use social networking to find those advertisers on my own. 😉

  4. I don’t think this is anything new for google (cutting the link juice on a domain without banning it), what is new is cutting link juice on sites for selling paid links that aren’t first ‘wrapped’.

    First Google has to catch you though. They can’t flip the switch on something that they don’t know about. It’s a risk some may want to take, text links can bring in some good $–more than adsense if it’s not a high traffic site.

    I think there are plenty of cuttletts and competitors that are itching to rat someone out though, so who knows how long a site selling links can stay under the radar.

    How can an advertiser know whether or not a site is passing link juice? I’m not 100% sure just yet, some ideas though.

    offical official info from Google.

    AFAIC, with Matt’s post–it’s official official. It’s an official warning that a shakeup is heading down the pipes.

    I wonder what will happen with links sold in the past? If you sold a permanent clean link a year ago, and it wasn’t against any official Google rules to do that back then–how unfair would that be for this new policy to go retroactive and wipe out your site based on sales that weren’t a problem in the past? It’s not something that you can change today–you made an agreement, a sale and accepted money for it. How does one fix that to accomodate today’s rules?

  5. I’m absolutely convinced Google doesn’t send all that much really quality traffic to my sites. I have no fear at all of them penalizing me for having paid links. My only concern is that they’ll succeed in driving text link brokers out of business, which would suck since that’s proven such a great way for me to find advertisers I never would’ve met otherwise.

    I finally have a $ site ranking (well hovering) top 10, top 20 in the money keywords. I swooned and thought I hit the motherload :lol:. Reality was my earnings per visitor dropped and not much happened with the new goog traffic. All those freakin years wondering and striving for the almighty big traffic from Goog–just to discover Goog’s a fat flop in bed lol.

    But that’s just one $ site, yeah MSN and Yahoo traffic convert a hell of a lot better for that same site–but maybe it’s just not a good fit for goog’s eyeballs. Whatever.

    Good point on not caring so much about how goog treats your site, but more on how your business partners may be affected (paid link companies). I really don’t think advertisers are going to be all that concerned or run off though, they’re not going to be the ones slapped by Goog.

    Where it will become a problem though is that they (advertisers) won’t have a good selection of places to buy text links from that will still pass the juice (haven’t been cut from goog). If advertisers are just looking for traffic and branding, not a problem. But if they’re just buying text links to juice their sites with inbounds that count–now there’s a supply prob.

  6. And FWIW, I think the copycats that came rising up out of the water after Pay Per Post and Text Link Ads were the ones that blew it for everyone. Raised the paid link profile too high for goog’s liking and things just didn’t look small-time problem and self-contained any longer. IMO ;).

  7. I think this is a great discussion going on. Both you and Sapphire have thought a lot about this and I appreciate being able to listen in as you discuss the issue.

    Initially upon hearing about google cracking down on paid links, I saw nothing specified that they were only cracking down on the publishers. I think if advertisers didn’t look that hard, they may not have realized (initially) that they were not at risk. However, that initial vague announcement was very much in googles favor if people started backing out of their other link buying companies.

    I can only hope that this is something else that will sort of pass.

  8. I was debating getting rid of text link ads on my site (the one linked to my name). It’s mostly for fun and I don’t even have time to update the navigation which is now out of synch with the site. Then this whole flap came up and I thought “That’s it, not worth the throuble”. Two of the advertisers I didn’t care about and regard them as spammers almost (and that was one of the main reasons for wanting to take down the links, since I thought they reflected poorly on me). One customer, though, buys two links and is exactly the kind of business my visitors would be looking for and that I want to support (a small-time mountaineering guide service with 3-4 partners).

    Anyway, I contacted them to see WHY they bought links from a little old site like mine with only about 3000 uniques a month (10-12000 page views). He told me it was for the traffic, not the link juice. In fact, he said his business depends on making 80 sales per year, and in the six months since he bought links on my site, I brought him two sales (so 5% of his sales!) Anyway, that’s why the TLA ads are still there for now – he’s a small businessman and a nice guy and he really wants the traffic he gets from my site. I think it’s only fair that he pay for the links, but at the same time it does have some editorial quality. At least on my site, the non-relevant links will be axed as soon as I get a chance, but his will stay because they are relevant. That said, they aren’t so relevant that I would put him in the banner on every page without payment.

    So I’m thinking – I’m a small site and he’s a small site. Neither of us are the sort of people who could be expected to read Matt Cutts or SEO blogs. It just happens that I used to be a moderator of the PHP forum at Webmasterworld, so through osmosis I ended up with some interest and knowledge in the SEO world and thus happened on various folks talking about the paid link issue, but why should I be expected to know that, as a small-time webmaster with a fun (for me anyway, if not for my visitors) little site on hiking and climbing in Yosemite?

    Lately I’ve been making a variety of searches that have crap for results, but not as a result of spammers or people buying links, but because the SE relevancy algorithms are such crap. I feel like a lot of this “paid link” controversy is a red herring. The scandal isn’t that people are buying links, but that the search engines ability to understand what is on a page and what I mean by my queries is still incredibly archaic. On the one hand, I can’t use powerful boolean searches. On the other hand, they can’t understand simple human questions. In the meantime we’re stuck with algorithms that tend to penalize small-time hobbyists who often have the best information, but have no interest in SEO.

    I see this as something that will mostly hurt small timers looking to offset hosting costs without having to actually interact directly with advertisers (a la Adsense). So the small timers are left with nothing but Adsense (which fluctuates dramatically as opposed to the modest but steady TLA income) and the big fish will still attract direct advertisers.

  9. I gauge google’s quality on how it reacts to any info searches I do, and to be honest, Yahoo is better…jmo

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