SoloSEO

Paid Links are Bad, No Good, No Bad…

Posted by Aaron R Stewart on December 13th, 2007

Google-Aid

Michael Gray doesn’t know who I am, I don’t expect him to. We sat next to each other one day at lunch during Pubcon, he is a polite, engaging guy, with obviously tons of knowledge in SEO/SEM field. I enjoyed Michael’s many interviews on Local search, and learned much from his posts. He has earned a great deal of respect for his knowledge in this industry, no bones about it. (And here comes the but). But in his latest rant concerning Google and paid links, which was in response to Matt Cutts’ blog post about paid links, I think Michael’s perspective of the situation is just a bit too simplified. Now, I am not what anyone should consider a SEO, I am more of a SEO theorist at best. I have been learning SEO to selfishly help our businesses grow online, so I analyze SEO related, and most business related situations through my experience as a small business owner and based on basic economic principles. These lenses are the only ones I feel comfortable using when analyzing interesting business issues, just so we have established my perspective.

Michael Gray has a problem, as do many, with the apparent hypocrisy within Google. On one hand Google asks us to not buy or sell links, and to report sites which do one or both. Google tells us this will allow them to adjust a site’s rank, and relevance calculations accordingly, which needs to be done because links currently influence a site’s rank. So, in a paid linkless world, Google, in theory, would only be serving up the most relevant sites for each of our search queries. This of course is a preposterous dream, but we will leave this a discussion on another post, it still remains the stated purpose of Google’s actions.

Now to the other hand, while Google publicly denounces and punishes those dealing in paid links, they turn around and make piles of cash selling links for placement on their SERPS, as well as on other sites participating in their ad delivery system. On the surface there is definitely some cause for concern, and the appearance of impropriety is nothing short of glaring. It is this apparent conflict of interest which has Michael Gray and SEO minions riled up. “Why can Google sell links on their site, but we can’t sell them on our site?”, is their united cry. It is a good question, it is a fair question, and one I don’t think Google has quite answered completely or eloquently enough, which possibly increases the ire even more.

So from a simpleton’s business perspective, let me provide Google with a little defense fodder to this whole selling links dealio. I do not come at this as a dyed-in-the-wool Google Kool-Aid drinker, although I do use them as my primary search engine. Nor do I do this because Matt Cutts was genuinely cool to Michael Jensen and myself as we left PubCon one night. (Matt: we sincerely hope you are using and enjoying the SoloSEO swag item in good listening health.) We all enjoyed a few minutes crossing a busy street together, which in Vegas is a bonding moment, as is any other near-death experience.

The simple reason Google is trying to manage the paid link situation in this heavy-handed manner, is they are protecting their core business, that’s it… That’s the answer, nothing more to see here, move along. Now Gray suggests in his post that Google had in fact created the paid link mess, but this isn’t totally correct. Links have always been a good measure of a site’s popularity, many of us will remember all the early sites, which proudly displayed a “Links” page, I used those “referral” pages all the time. Links to companies, from companies I already trusted, made a difference to me, as I am sure they did to many. Even today, links out from trusted sites are a good referral, and lend credibility to that site. So not including the incoming links as a measure of a site’s quality would be a huge mistake for any search engine. Links must to be measured by all serious search engines attempting to deliver relevant results. And because links are beneficial to our site in terms of traffic and sales, some are willing to pay for them, that is why paid links abounds. So Google didn’t create the paid link mess, but by profiting the most through the selling of links, they definitely have the appearance of being holier than thou in their current stance. Perhaps Google and their billions don’t particularly care what we think, but I don’t think that is the base motivation behind their actions.

There is one area in this paid search mess which does concern me a bit… Google’s position on why buying links from them is ok, is based on the fact that when we buy from them, they know who we are, and they know not to pass page rank from those links, in order to keep their rankings systems pure. Here is the tricky part, if Google is squeaky clean, then the relevance and popularity of any paying client’s site should not be improved or effected, even though they are paying clients. We can only hope Google is ethical, and this is how it is handled, otherwise Google is no better than Tyco, WorldComm and Enron. Unfortunately, I know of some who now buy ads with Google, not only because they hope to get more traffic through SERPs, but also because they believe it potentially improves their organic positioning on the SERPs. So, in an odd way, Google actually profits from the appearance of a possible impropriety, most likely based on the current corporate climate, in which many of us just assume big businesses are greedy, lying, cheating, crooks. Pretty sad.

Ultimately we may never know if there is a benefit to a site’s ranking through advertising with Google, this is a part of Google’s “secret sauce” and protected as proprietary. So unless someone from the Google inside commits corporate hara-kiri, and tells the world how it all works, we will never know. So, in a perfect search world, paid links to Google would not have an effect on a site’s organic position within Google’s SERP, this practice, in principle, would be going against their core business model of providing the most relevant, naturally occurring search results for every search query.

For me personally, I understand why Google sells advertising… Because they can, and because it makes them loads of the green. We all would do the same if we could, in this regard the Google haters are being a bit ingenuous. I also understand why Google tries to manage the paid links conundrum, in a sense, to protect and improve their ability to provide their clients with the best search experience possible. We can only hope Google is being responsible in keeping the two practices mutually exclusive, and not influencing results based on their paying client list. It is also easy to understand why many are suspect of Google, there have been so many instances of corporate greed in the past, that many are cynical, rightly so. But not to worry, history has shown us again and again that business is the survival of the fittest. And the fittest companies are the ones that do things ethically and honestly for the long term. Eventually the law, or competition puts the fakers/takers in jail, or out of business. It has always been that way, it doesn’t matter the market, it doesn’t matter the product or service, and it doesn’t matter the company, eventually time runs out. We will know at some point in the future if Google is doing what they claim to be doing, or if they are truly are as slimy as some believe them to be. In the meantime, while Google carries their big stick, we might want to think twice before buying links, not everyone at Google is as pleasant as we found Matt to be.

9 comments Visited 3861 times December 13th, 2007 Aaron R Stewart

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  • Purchase Links… Is it Moral or Ethical? Is it Legal?
  • Entry Filed under: Business,Competition,Customer Perspective,SEO

    9 Comments Add your own

    • 1. Richard Manley  |  December 17th, 2007 at 11:37 am

      The difference between links bought for traffic (advertising) and links bought to influence search engine algorithms (spam) seems obvious to me.

      The issue is how search professionals who bought text links move on and continue to provide positions for their clients, not whether or not Google’s stance is hypocritical.

      The industry needs to move on from paid links, just as it had to move on from meta keyword stuffing or hidden text. Long term, ethical search positions should be based on best practise, good content and proper research, not on shortcuts such as paid text links.

    • 2. Max Jackson  |  December 20th, 2007 at 5:00 pm

      I wish they’d make their mind up! SEO is difficult enough without google messing about. I’m currently using Artemis Pro to help me to promote my site

    • 3. Web Directory  |  December 27th, 2007 at 2:43 pm

      The undeniable fact is that paid links work on natural rankings. Why would anyone want to stop this practice? Unless Google can prove that paid links can get you delisted (then it would be so easy to point spammy links to your competition). Building links take a lot of work and money, and Google should embrace the free market instead of crying like a baby.

      There’s only so much you can do with on-site optimization and content. To take a website to the next level, you need lots of links (free or paid).

    • 4. Bookmarks Tagged Ingenuou&hellip  |  December 30th, 2007 at 5:33 pm

      [...] all bookmarks tagged ingenuous Paid Links are Bad, No Good, No Bad… saved by 17 others     tincan456 bookmarked on 12/30/07 | http://www.soloseo.com     Time for the Democrats to Houseclean saved by 16 others     Ryoura bookmarked on 12/30/07 | thestrangedeathofliberalamerica.com     Kike Wisse Like Me saved by 16 others     Ryoura bookmarked on 12/30/07 | http://www.commentarymagazine.com     Asya Nemchenok Art Gallery saved by 17 others     tincan456 bookmarked on 12/30/07 | rivistapaginazero.wordpress.com     Luca Barbato: Looking for an Abstraction Layer… saved by 7 others     titanita25 bookmarked on 12/30/07 | planet.gentoo.org     [...]

    • 5. John James  |  January 1st, 2008 at 5:34 am

      Personally I think google is etting too big for its boots. I get lots of advice about things like this from Frank Haywood

    • 6. Fred333  |  January 3rd, 2008 at 3:49 pm

      I would have to agree that Google is getting pretty powerful. I wonder if they will ever fall form grace?

    • 7. web designers  |  January 5th, 2008 at 8:23 pm

      I love the google aid logo it’s awesome. google does aid many a company.

    • 8. Don’t be a Victim o&hellip  |  January 24th, 2008 at 11:37 am

      [...] In short, please be careful when purchasing SEO services, make sure the providers will be accountable, make sure they give you some benchmarks on what they will accomplish over the term of the contract. Not so much in terms of traffic, traffic will come if the SEO is done right, instead make sure they give you a timeline on when the keyword research will be done, how much time they will spend building links, and how they build links, (hopefully they avoid purchasing links), and how much time will be spent on content, etc. Pin them down, and make them commit to a defined time-line. This is the way business is typically done in the offline world, we should demand and expect the same level of responsibility from the online world. Don’t be intimidated by their perceived expertise, you know more about other stuff than they do, I assure you. Speak with confidence, and expect them to stand by their performance. [...]

    • 9. Mark Albright  |  April 3rd, 2008 at 9:25 am

      Of course paid links are bad.

      Unless of course you are buying them from Google.

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