SoloSEO

The Perfect Solution to Paid Link Disclosure

Posted by Michael D Jensen on April 16th, 2007

Paid Links Disclosure Solution

There is a big brouhaha over Matt Cutt’s recent postings (yes, 3 of them) about the disclosure of paid links (big one here, another here, and one more here). There’s been a lot of postings about it, with a great summary here by GrayWolf at SEOclass.com, some here by GrayWolf at Wolf-Howl.com, more here from Todd Malicoat of StuntDubl.com, more here from Matt McGee of SmallBusinessSEM.com, and another here from Andy Beal of MarketingPilgrim.com.

Essentially, Google wants you to disclose paid links to both users and to search engines. Google wants to know which links are “paid” instead of “natural” so they can discount their weight.

My feeling about it is this: Paid links are advertisements, and as such should be distinguished in some way from other links that are not advertisements. The disclosure should not be deceptive to users or to search engines. Disclosure can be subtle and is okay to be undetectable (not deceptively) to search engines/machines.

Google’s own webmaster guidelines specifically discusses that we should not do things specifically for search engines, but focus on the users:

Make pages for users, not for search engines … Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

If we look at other forms of marketing and advertising, there must be disclosure for advertisements. If you read a newspaper, it reads “This is a Paid Advertisement” somewhere on/near the ad. If you watch infomercials, it says “This is a Paid Advertisement”. If you listen to the radio and hear a political ad, it is disclosed as a political ad. If you look at Adwords and other text ads by search engines it has some form of disclosure, like “Ads by Google”. If you see a banner ad, well it either screams “I’m an ad” because it’s an image and it looks like an ad, or it says “Advertisement” somewhere. These advertising property owners do not make these statements because they are pretty or interesting, but to obey laws for advertising disclosure.

And now, for what you all have been waiting for…

The Perfect Solution to Paid Link Disclosure

So, I have the perfect solution for you to disclose your paid links to users and not search engines, that anyone can implement quickly and easily. This method makes it virtually impossible for a machine to implement an algorithm based on this code, but makes it fully disclosed to users.

To see the paid link disclosure in action, click on the following link (the next page has the link examples):

SEE EXAMPLE PAID LINK DISCLOSURE HERE

How to implement Paid Link Disclosure

Step 1

Copy the CSS code below and paste it in your existing CSS file for your site. (or create one, or put it in the template of your site so it shows up on each page).

a:hover.linkx { 
    background-image: url(/images/solop.gif); 
    background-repeat:no-repeat; 
    padding-left:10px; 
}
a:hover.linky {}

Step 2

Change the name “linkx” to something else and don’t include words like paid or ad or affiliate. This keeps variability from site to site and gives it no semantic meaning. “linky” can be changed to something else also, but essentially all that is doing is giving your other links a class so that all links have a class assigned to it and cannot be “filtered” based on having a class attribute.

Step 3

Create an image that in some way reflects that the link is paid. Don’t just copy my $ image here, use a unique image and rename the filename to something else (keep it ambiguous). You may want to use a star, an asterisk, an exclamation point, or a turtle. It should be unique to you so again there is no regularity for the search engines, but at the same time it gives appropriate disclosure to your users. Place this image file behind the folder you created in step 4.

Step 4

Create a folder (give it any name, just be creative) and disallow search engines from access to this folder (learn how to do this in your Robots.txt file). No this is not deceptive, you just don’t want them to go there. This is for step 5.

Step 5

Create a file in the directory you just created and include a disclosure about paid links, describing that you disclose paid links by using an image icon next to links when a user mouses over them. I wouldn’t even include the icon on the page, just describe it with text, like “A dollar sign icon will appear when you mouse over a paid link”.

Step 6

Add the class attribute that you renamed in Step 2 above to the anchor tag of your paid links and any new paid links.

This solution would be incredibly difficult, and I would go as far as to say “impossible”, for Google and others to detect on a wide scale basis (which is what they face). Their problem is that this code is ambiguous, and could be doing any number of things besides attributing a paid link, and so they cannot fully determine that it is actually a paid link based on the CSS itself. But you’re still being ethical because users are aware before they click on the link that it is a paid link.

If you want to disclose paid links without having to hover, just modify the CSS code above and take out the “hover” part (see live page here of it in action):

a.linkx { 
    background-image: url(/images/solop.gif); 
    background-repeat:no-repeat; 
    padding-left:10px; 
}
a.linky {}

If you have any improvements or other suggestions, add them to the comments below.

UPDATE: Matt McGee gives his idea for a solution, which is quite novel too.

13 comments Visited 7216 times April 16th, 2007 Michael D Jensen

Related Posts:

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  • What do the Presidential Candidates use for Analytics?
  • Purchase Links… Is it Moral or Ethical? Is it Legal?
  • Entry Filed under: Advertising,Business,Customer Perspective,How To,Links,Search Engines,SEO,Web Design

    13 Comments Add your own

    • 1. Andy Beal  |  April 16th, 2007 at 2:55 pm

      That’s one way to test if Google really cares about the user-experience or their own algorithm. ;-)

    • 2. A Compromise for Disclosi&hellip  |  April 16th, 2007 at 3:05 pm

      [...] Michael Jensen has a novel approach to disclosing paid links. His idea helps users know if a link is paid, without telling Google anything. This should flush out if Google really cares about the user or its precious algorithm. [...]

    • 3. Headlines of Note for Apr&hellip  |  April 16th, 2007 at 3:14 pm

      [...]   The Perfect Solution to Paid Link Disclosure  [SoloSEO] [...]

    • 4. Tom  |  April 16th, 2007 at 4:36 pm

      You just earned a -30 ranking on this post now. If logical and rational thinking starts becoming part of the conversation between SEO’s and Google experience hell will freeze over.

      We must remember that Google is the only large company in the world that puts everything else in front of profits. If you start showing this as a canard, they may actually have to do no evil…

    • 5. If I Were Google, Here&hellip  |  April 16th, 2007 at 11:23 pm

      [...] Michael Jensen and I were apparently thinking alike today, at least at the idea level: Is there a better way to handle this “problem”? Michael’s idea, spelled out in his post The Perfect Solution to Paid Link Disclosure, involves the creative use of CSS to make a small image appear when a user mouses over a paid link. This method will tell human users what’s paid and what’s not, without telling search engines anything. I’m not a fan because it interferes with the user experience. It’s interesting, but it obviously doesn’t solve the so-called problem from Google’s point of view. Michael is attacking this from the disclosure angle; I think disclosure is just a symptom. The real problem is at the algorithm level, and that’s where any solution has to be targeted. [...]

    • 6. Andy Beard  |  April 17th, 2007 at 4:53 am

      I am sorry but this is a next to useless solution, because if the intent is to inform users, and 90% of users read your content in a feed, then this isn’t going to show up.

      Even if you use inline CSS, some feed readers strip the CSS code (e.g. bloglines)

    • 7. Michael D Jensen  |  April 17th, 2007 at 6:39 am

      Great point there, Andy.

      My question: What percentage of paid links are in a blog versus a “typical” web page?

      I know a great way to overcome this, and in a jiffy. Make a wordpress plugin that converts it to just show the image next to the link. In the option settings of the plugin you would just put in the class name (like “linkx”) and what image to use. Or instead of images you could just put in some text like (p).

      I definitely overlooked that, thanks for your comment.

    • 8. Jonathan street  |  April 17th, 2007 at 7:24 am

      ““linky” can be changed to something else also, but essentially all that is doing is giving your other links a class so that all links have a class assigned to it and cannot be “filtered” based on having a class attribute.”

      You might want to repeat the css attributes for linkx but with a blank image or the lack any attributes in the class could be the red flag that google detects.

      Other solutions would be to prevent access to the css file in robots.txt

    • 9. Andy Beard  |  April 17th, 2007 at 9:40 am

      It really depends on a definition of paid link and whose blog.

      I would estimate 50% of Matt Cutt’s blog is paid links, and slightly less for Robert Scoble.

      PPP use a javascript badge being called through tinyURL, but I have criticised that as not working in feeds either.

      I typically block affiliate links using a robots.txt file these days, mainly because the cloaked pages were ranking higher than my content… oops.

      On my blog there are currently 3 paid posts, and a few hundred pages of unique content, but I disclose that every post I make has some kind of commercial connection.

      It will actually be interesting how many links you get through to this, as solutions for disclosure rarely get the same coverage as people moaning about paid links.

      I have had less than 20 links through to my disclosure policy plugin from within actual content, not my comments, and far less to my Disclosure Policy Feedflare which can be used almost anywhere other than WordPress.com

    • 10. Google vs. Paid Links - T&hellip  |  April 17th, 2007 at 11:20 pm

      [...] The Perfect Solution to Paid Link Disclosure [...]

    • 11. Google Zigs… Let Th&hellip  |  April 18th, 2007 at 12:39 am

      [...] Now on to far less important matters. In SEO land there continues to be a conundrum concerning Google’s decision to discount the ranking influence of paid links. I wanted to throw out a few thoughts at this comparatively insignificant mess. Firstly, I must say I was impressed with Michael’s reaction to the announcement, as he took the “problem” head on from a programming standpoint. He masterfully came up with an insightful solution. The code Michael offered is an excellent way for those providing SEO services to still get the ranking results they crave from paid links, by not allowing Google to “know” they are paying for links, while it also offered full disclosure to the public (as required by law) that the link was a paid link. I really liked the solution, it was pro-active and effective. I also agree it is not our responsibility to assist a public company improve the manner in which they rank sites. If Google wants to discount the referral power of a paid link, and they feel it is better for their search clients overall, then that is exactly what they should do, but it is up to them to create the system. The public should not necessarily rush to comply with these requests and make Google’s job any easier, even if it was a good idea. Google came up with the algo which put them at the top of the search heap, so let them continue to refine their system to deliver the results they feel are most relevant to their clients, with or without the public’s help. That is Google’s original purpose as a company, to provide an algo which offered better search results than the competitors, so please Google, continue to improve your core competency. It is a simple Business 101 principle. [...]

    • 12. Google vs. Paid Links | T&hellip  |  January 30th, 2008 at 12:06 am

      [...] The Perfect Solution to Paid Link Disclosure [...]

    • 13. William seo  |  March 13th, 2008 at 12:23 am

      Hi,

      I do study that conversation, yes that is correct some of the people are using paid linking techniques those are not part of white hat seo: means they try to place there links with in content in order to deceive search engine by paying some amount to different web masters. Its very easy for google to disclose this type of advertisement by adding a check for this type of advertisement.

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