Google Wants You to Snitch on Your Competition in 3 Easy Steps

Teli Adlam —  June 14, 2007

Report Paid Links Step 1: Log into your Google Webmaster Tools account.
Step 2: Click on the “Report paid link” link.
Step 3: Fill out the form and submit.

In case you haven’t noticed it yet, Google is now depending on the integrity of its webmasters to help distinguish between paid and natural links.

We appreciate you taking the time to help us improve our service for your fellow users around the world. By helping us detect violations of our quality guidelines, you’re saving millions of people time, effort and energy. (Found at the bottom of the “Report paid link” form.)

Millions, huh? I had no idea so many people worked for Google, Inc. Wow, that is surprising.

Bloggers could be hit hard by this because more than a few use paid links as supplemental income. Consider that paid links extends beyond just some random links in your sidebar or footer — if you participate in paid-to-blog programs such as ReviewMe, PayPerPost, and so forth, it’s considered a paid link.

Advertisers purchase those sponsored posts because they’re under the impression they’ll get exposure plus a clear backlink to their website and this new turn of events from Google has left some people in a tizzy.

NoFollow Revisited

Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

  • Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag
  • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

I find their first solution rather suspicious as the rel=”nofollow” attribute was originally created to help deter comment spam. But, I’m beginning to think Michael Hampton (along with many others) was right when he said that, essentially, Google was having bloggers and webmasters help them clean up their index (i.e. doing their job for them).

As we’ve seen, rel="nofollow" is Google’s way of having bloggers effectively delist themselves from search engines under the guise of protecting them from comment spam.

Part of me wants to believe that nofollow was implemented with a genuine desire to help combat comment spam, but the logic in me dictates that Google pulled one helluva spin job on everyone. Instead of combating spam, it morphed into a way for webmasters to help clean up Google’s index for them while penalizing the legitimate contributors.

The Future of Paid Links

It would seem rather unfair for Google, going on the word of a single webmaster, to penalize a blog for selling links if there is no strong evidence — plus, Matt admits they’re testing to help improve some new algos for paid link detection.

In that respect, it may happen that Google will more closely monitor the links that begin to appear on a reported website or blog for irregular activity (i.e. linking to completely unrelated information) or certain keywords which would indicate sponsored links for purposes other than advertising.

This development could cause link merchants to change their policies (one of the TLA selling points is not using the nofollow attribute) or have a number of users jump ship for fear of repurcussions from Google.

Sure, some webmasters will use the report link and start reporting various violations of Google-law, but I doubt it will squelch the link buying/selling industry; it will simply change how business is conducted.

Flying Below the Radar

As I mentioned earlier, this new development probably will not deter the link buying and selling industry, but it will change how the transactions are handled.

  • Website Ambiguity. Where many services would plainly list their inventory along with links to the actual sites where links could be bought, this new change could mean that website URLs are no longer displayed in the inventory. Instead, descriptions and niches will be used along with other indicating factors like PageRank, Alexa Rank, Technorati authority and so forth.
  • NDAs Abound. It may seem like a complete stretch, but some services may now start requiring Non-Disclosure Agreements when selling links in order to protect themselves from any penalties arising from this “reporting” feature.
  • Creative Labeling. For the most part, bloggers are all about transparency and plainly label their paid links as “sponsored” or “supporters”. This may change that and spur some more creative names for their site’s financial contributors.
  • Long Term/Varied Term Links. The average length of a sponsored link is 30 days. It would be fairly easy to pin down a website that sells sponsored links by mapping exactly how long a link stays active on the website. Instead of purchasing short blocks of advertising, more people may opt for longer term links (i.e. 6 month, 1 year, lifetime, and so forth) or simply start varying the time frame (i.e. 33 days, 91 days, 127 days, and so forth).
  • Increased Topic/Niche Discrimination. More bloggers and webmasters will start using common sense when it comes to buying/selling links. For instance, instead of selling links to a porn site when you run a Christian Fellowship website, you’ll seek out other related websites to buy up your link inventory.

(By the way, most of the above already exists.)

Of course, there are other options — for instance, playing by the rules. Instead of selling clear and free links on your site, sell advertising links that contain the nofollow attribute or redirect through a script or sell banner advertising.

By the way, if you want a free and clear link on a PR7 page from the Google.com domain, it’ll only cost you $1,995. Well, I guess for that price, of course Google won’t nofollow those links or redirect them through an “intermediate page”. Using that system, maybe you should start a contributors page for those people who purchase “your cool product”, then you can justify not having the nofollow attribute or page redirect. ;)

Worth a Read

There are a lot of other bloggers out there talking about this, and some of those articles are definitely worth a read.

[tags]google paid link report, link selling, link buying, link building, seo, search engine optimization[/tags]

Teli Adlam

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5 responses to Google Wants You to Snitch on Your Competition in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Wow! What a great summary. I felt the exact same way when I first came across this post by Matt. Thanks for the tips and links.

    I am starting to wonder if Google isn’t slowly forgetting its “Don’t be evil” motto lately. This would primarily affect the “little guys”, whose endorsement are only worth something without a nofollow…

    Anyway, thanks again for the great summary :)

  2. Google’s attitude towards paid linking service is clearly commercial indeed and will be somewhat unfair to the way business is done within this niche industry.

    Most of us can’t sit around waiting for heaven’s gate to open up it’s glory of making our website more attractive and more viable with a higher page rank therefore we seek out the option of buying “relevant links” to take our website to the next level.

    Waiting for months sometimes years for Google to endorse you with the esteemed recognition of a PR4 web page is redundant to say the least, we all want our websites to move up the ranks therefore since the option exist for us to improve our PR with a “legal transaction” of a value (cash) for value (back link) exchange there is certainly nothing unethical about acquiring backlink from an agreed purchase from another webmaster willing and able to do business with you.

    Encouraging lesser fortunate or otherwise devious competitors to snitch on others legitimately going about their business on the internet is taking the “GOD AMONG US CONCEPT” a bit too far as those who wish to do business to improve their lot online should be allowed to do so without Google’s organising a cyber-military bunch of bounty hunters to hunt and cut us down with a deputised liscenced to kill off other webmasters to suit the “prim and proper ethical persuasion” of Googledom.

    I wonder for a moment about those websites of a caliber of PR7 or higher that offer a back for a “contribution” of $1000.00 or more if indeed they too will be penalised or is just about the “little guy” peddling their wares and hustling on the cyber-corners that will certainly be out to suffer this injustice.

    Authority websites such as W3.org depends on contributions by well thinking webmasters who are willing to “contribute” an offering of $1000.00 or more for a backlink to a secondary webpage which is a PR9, an opportunity that I myself wouldn’t think twice to capitalise upon but on the other hand would the Google Cyber-Military Squad take after websites like W3.org and those who contribute to their cause?

    Who are the “criminals” that Google and her marauding bunch of do gooders are really after? And again what is so criminal about promoting your website to where you want it to go by purchasing a link or two?

    What about the black hat technocrats? Yes the ones who can code at the highest level and snatch up thousands of backlinks for free, what plan does Google has who can gain an unfair advantage without paying a dime for a backlink?

  3. San Diego SEO Blog August 6, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    The de-valuing of paid links was bound to happen.

  4. Dominico Hastings January 11, 2008 at 12:50 am

    I think it’s still gonna be really darn difficult for google to figure out which links are paid and which ones aren’t. For example tnx.net leaves practically no footprints. The links last as long as you want (you pay a monthly fee per link) and they blend in with the rest of the links. Google’s still a far way from detecting these types of links.

  5. I wonder what will happen with the fake reports and abusers…anyway I think this will help Google but the result will not be 100% accurate.