Google Wants You to Report Paid Links

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Google Wants You to Report Paid Links

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Matt Cutts created a firestorm recently by announcing in his blog that there’s now a way people can report websites that seem to be using paid links.

You can do this using either an authenticated or an unauthenticated form through Google’s webmaster console. You need to log in to access the authenticated form, but Matt says they are given more weight.

Link buying is pretty common. The list of places to buy links is endless: from text link ads and brokers like TextLinkBrokers or Text Link Ads to link auctions on Ebay and LinkAdage, to sites like ReviewMe, PayPerPost and Blogsvertise, where you can buy links on blog posts. Link buying is easy and widespread — and it looks like Google is planning on building the devaluing of bought links into the ranking algorithm.

This particular blog entry of Matt’s attracted almost five hundred responses. Chief among webmasters’ concerns was how to define a “paid” link. If you do a friend a favor by linking to their site, is that the same as a link to a client or an all-out link sell? How can third-party observers who might be considering reporting you to the link police tell the difference?

Another big concern is dishonest link reporting. People are worried that their competitors might follow their links back to a site with a higher PR ranking than theirs, assume they paid for the link, and make a report to hurt their business.
Shady competitors might also try to buy Text Link Ads for their competition and then denounce them to Google.

The bottom line? The most direct benefit to anyone pointing out a paid link to Google is to hurt a competitor’s business. Chances are, many people who take the time to do this won’t have pure motives.

Andy Beal raises a good point: What business does Google have in forcing webmasters to disclose their business relationships in a certain way?

And does “full disclosure” really benefit the user that much? Eric Ward brought up a good point in the comments on Matt’s blog “I can envision scenarios where the searcher’s experience was in fact better because of some type of ‘compensated’ link strategy performed by the sites appearing in the results.” As long as a link is useful, do users care whether they’re paid?

There’s really nothing wrong with paid links from a ethical standpoint . Buying a link is no different than buying another type of advertising, like a banner ad or a television commercial. A lot of people feel that Google has no right to tell them where they can and can’t spend their advertising dollars.

While Google insists it’s all about keeping SEO’s from manipulating organic results to suit their own ends, the SEO’s are nervous that this is a sign of Google’s plan to dominate all advertising online.

A lot of people are accusing Google of being hypocritical because the more Google makes it difficult for webmasters to benefit from buying and selling other links, the more money they’ll spend on AdWords, right?

Most link buying is not for the click though traffic. By and large, they’re buying links for ranking juice or Pagerank — a system Google set up itself. And if Google’s really planning on cracking down on paid links, what about web directories. Just about all directories have degenerated into link sells, even if people tend not to admit it: you submit your site to a directory for the same reasons you’d buy a link, only they say you are paying for the review. What’s the difference?

The big question, of course, is what Google is planning on doing with the reported sites. Matt stated in his blog that the information people send will only be used to tweak the algorithms to better tell paid from nonpaid links. Google wants to build into the algorithm the ability to distinguish paid from nonpaid links so they can turn off the link juice from the paid link. They claim they don’t want the people with the money ranking better than people with good content.

There’s a chance that people are making a mountain out of a molehill. That may turn out to be true, but as I’ve said before: what’s making people nervous isn’t what Google says it will do; it’s what it’s capable of doing.

Google Wants You to Report Paid Links

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