Posted April 14, 2007 6:58 pm by with 43 comments

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UPDATE: Google now wants you to use the “report spam” form to snitch on any site that you feel might be selling links!

Ok, so we know that Google frowns on paid links. We know that they gave us “nofollow” for one reason, then used it as a backdoor to weed out paid links. Fair enough, it’s their search engine, they can make the rules.

Now, Matt Cutts is suggesting that webmasters disclose all of their paid links. Yep, he wants you to help Google find the links they should discount.

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.

I don’t like to impose on others, my thoughts on disclosure (I personally disclose any relationships in our disclosure policy), but I think Google is going too far with this “best practice”.

What business does Google have in dictating the disclosure of any business relationships on others?

  • This is just going to far IMO. This might be the most ridiculous thing I have read in a long time from Cutts. What is to stop companies in competitive markets from hiring someone who’s sole job is to snoop around, find the sites, and report them, in an attempt to sabotage their rankings?!?!?!

  • I totally agree, he says it is just for data right now and that he wants to broaden his sampling. But that has to be for future changes to the ALGO and seriously what is to stop someone from going and buying a million crappy sitewides for their competitor and then filling out a nice report.

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  • Jeremy Luebke

    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • 3 Practical Solutions to the “Paid Links” problem:

    1. PR block every site that has any outbound links on it, regardless of whether they are paid or not. This will save them frustration in the long run.

    2. Quietly Pay webmasters not to sell text links.

    3. Acquire all of the link building/ SEO companies out there and pay them to play ping-pong all day.


  • This is a warning shot against PayPerPost systems that are done mostly with the aim of getting their clients onto Google’s index.

    Think about it. If Google allowed such a system to prosper, then why would its advertising clients advertise with Google? They’d just go with the cheapest system.

    Not to mention there’s a double whammy against Google. If it allows its system to be gamed (and, if someone else doesn’t) then its relevancy ratings will go down and its marketshare will go down.

    I doubt Google is too worried about one blogger selling links on his/her own, but rather systemized selling like PayPerPost and other advertising vendors are trying to do.

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  • Robert – I agree, Google is doing this purely for its own benefit. However, I do think it has a goal to eliminate all paid links – if not, why not just go directly after PPP and other review sites, Google knows who they are.

  • Ben and Chris, I mentioned in my post that this is partially in response to requests that I heard at SES London. People wanted a way to tell us more about paid links at Google, and using the keyword “paidlink” is an easy way for people to do that. Over the years, we’ve used tons of different keywords to let people give us feedback on specific issues.

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  • The big strength of Google is that their search results and rankings are largely based on an algorithm. Meaning, the biases and opinions of humans are largely removed.

    To have people reporting paid links introduces a human factor which will be extremely variable (because it’s dealing a money-laden topic), therefore I don’t think that’s a good idea.

  • This is beyond comprehension. This is a late April Fools Day joke right? OK its not.

    Robert I don’t think it is warning shot to PPP, Google has been complaining for a long, long time about paid links. PPP is a just harder (not anyone more since having to tag itself as paid) way to identify paid links. I really think they simple need help making the algo better by identifying all paid links in some form or fashion.

    It really doesn’t matter I don’t see this working at all. They have a way for us to report SPAM and it doesn’t work as far as I can tell. I reported at least a dozen different types of spam reports and all still are out there fine. Of course this is much more “push button”. Once the report is made and verified it can be tagged and loaded into the index fairly quickly, unlike trying decipher a large SPAM report.

    Who knows in the Google toolbar one day we could see an option to report websites with paid links on it.

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  • Their hypocrisy with this is incredible and disappointing. After all, just a bit less than a month ago they unveiled their own version of embedded text ads, which aren’t disclosed.

    So assuming that they know about them (since it’s their link), how does that protect unsuspecting readers from clicking an undisclosed sponsored link and making money for that advertiser?

    Seems to me they’re using unfair practices to promote their own programs.

  • I strongly agree with you. It seems as Google is the only one authorized to make money online, or at least it’s the only one able to decide who’s authorized to.

  • So are they planning to know who’s submitting real paid links for the sake of “search quality” and the ones doing it for their competition, it won’t be long before people start buying links for their competitors and reporting them!

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  • Good idea from Google to down the illegal websites.


  • Robert you have paid links almost every day on your blog, going to Podtech and sponsors – you should nofollow them all, and I should really report you for webspam.
    I did report Matt Cutts for webspam, he keeps linking through to Google, and as an employee and most like shareholder, he gains a monetary benefit linking through to Google and promoting Google products on his “unofficial” blog with convenient legal clauses.

    I have gone a little bit further though and bitten the bullet and reported myself for writing paid reviews asking for an official (not from Matt Cutt’s blog) notification as to whether I am doing something wrong.

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  • Very nice A. Beard. If I was really mean I could get one of my programmer buddies to write a script to sign up for Google accounts automatically and each account auto flood them with random paid link reports.

    Man that sounds like so much fun. Then I think to myself, wait, this is all hot air and I have money to make. Oh well, back to counting my Benjamins.

  • Exactly, but then you might not be looking to pitch a startup that might be a potential competitor to Google, Amazon and Ebay to investors, and the FUD severely affects whether such a startup would get backing 😉

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  • I wonder how this fits with Matt Cutts statement that sites cannot hurt other sites ranking.

    This whole thing makes me wonder if people who report paid links are going to be lumped in with the enemy, similar to how the fbi puts you on their terrorist watch
    list if you report suspicious activities.

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  • Matt-Cutts-Bashing and Other Blunders

    Responses to what appeared to be an upfront disclosure and an honest solicitation of industry-input have quickly developed into a slew of Matt-Cutts-bashing. I’ve never met the man but, folks, he simply doesn’t deserve that from us.

    That said, I do find horrendous problems for Matt Cutts in finding ways to define, to identify and to monitor paid links. I’ll just give you three examples here.

    1. Define What is a Paid Link

    At law, compensation doesn’t just mean cash. It also means goods, services and even love. What is a paid link? If I write a 750 word article and allow it to be posted on a Web site in exchange for a link, do you not realize that I have just paid between $220 and $750 in time and talent for that single link even though no money traded hands?

    If a philanthropist donates $20,000 to a nonprofit and that nonprofit posts a thank you for the sponsorship on its Web site and provides a courtesy link to the donor’s Web site, is that not a paid link? If it isn’t, than all link farm sites can become nonprofits and give away links for a “donation.”

    2. How Will Google Know For Certain How to Identify a Paid Link?

    I just finished a backlink campaign for a client yesterday. I submitted 100 links. Not one was a paid link and not one was given a reciprocal link or a “no follow.” If my record holds, 90% of these links will be accepted. But here’s a problem. Five of these links were to directory sites (PR 6 or greater) that also post paid links and links that are paid for by reciprocal links. No one but the sites’ Webmasters and I know for certain which category of link I applied for. I’m certain that the Webmasters of these sites would not want to volunteer how many of their posted links are given for free. Like all of us, they have mouths to feed.

    3. How Will Google Monitor and Mediate?

    If a competitor of my client’s Website “reports” to Google that I have paid for links, will Google notify me so that I may initiate a slander or libel lawsuit? Will Google mediate so that I have an opportunity to refute the accusation? (How many new employees will Google have to hire to monitor and mediate the accusations and complaints?) Or, are we to be presumed guilty with no opportunity to prove innocence?

    So Matt Cutts asked for a discussion, so let’s discuss. I am seriously pleased that he gave us this opportunity to participate. And for all the panicking Web site owners, may I just point out that it is possible to garner a Google Page Rank 7, place #4 on a Google search out of 256,000,000 Results for a 2 word Keyphrase, with a Home page that does NOT contain the Keyphrase and a Web site which has only 20 inbound links. If your SEO expert doesn’t know how this is possible, check next month.

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  • Yea stop everybody from gaining a few $ and let Google conquer the world if possible.

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