14th June 2007

Dear Google,

I need clarification. Am I putting myself or our clients in jeopardy by buying or selling text link ads, or are you really just trying to filter them out of the ranking algorithm?

In April, Matt Cutts from Google asked on his blog for people to report paid links and it created quite a buzz in the search world. Naturally this fueled some discussion by Matt at June’s SMX Advanced show, and when I left there, I thought Matt’s answer was something like this -

(I’m paraphrasing Matt) – You can buy them, and you can sell them, but Google can ignore them for ranking purposes if we want to, assuming we can detect them, and that’s why we want the reports. – Fine, fair enough.

I thought I understood Matt’s point to be that Google merely wanted to gather info so they could more easily identify them (paid links), and “discount” their value and importance when it comes to ranking sites.

But now, less than two weeks later, I read at Search Engine Land that we can report people buying or selling links right in Googles Webmaster central. I logged in, and there it was!

Following the new link “Report Paid Links” takes users here where it says this:

Unfortunately, not all websites have users’ best interests at heart. Some site owners attempt to “buy PageRank” in the form of paid links to their sites. Buying links to improve PageRank violates our quality guidelines.

So Google is going to determine the intent of the purchaser and then punish them? That’s what it sounds like. After all, they’re violating Google’s “quality guidelines which can lead to .

Then says this -

Google uses a number of methods to detect paid links, including algorithmic techniques. We also welcome information from our users. If you know of a site that buys or sells links, please tell us by filling out the fields below. We’ll investigate your submissions, and we’ll use your data to improve our algorithmic detection of paid links.

What? It says “…buys or sells links?” I had left SMX Advanced giving Google the benefit of the doubt, assuming they were simply not going to reward the owners of paid links with additional ranking benefit, but this sounds like a more serious effort to stamp out anyone from selling links.

Is Google now going to frown upon me because I engage in the sale of links, or do you just want to know who I am for more research?

Are there official Google link seller guidelines somewhere? It’s long been “recommended” to display them “correctly” with no follow tags, but is that all you’re looking for with this research, Google?

What if I don’t have the ability to “nofollow” them? Do I now have to give up the revenue?

On one website, I have some text link ads for which I’m making $80 a month, which I thought was pretty cool. I got them working in under 5 minutes, through the company Text Link Ads, who brings together advertisers and providers, at a 50/50 revenue split.

Is that somehow “not okay”? Am I jeopardizing my ranking somehow by being an advertiser? Matt, can I keep them if I promise to only use that $80 to pay for my broadband, and promise to search using only Google? ;)

This whole thing is getting sort of ridiculous, and I wonder if the only ones really being penalized are companies like Text Link Ads.

Do you think I’ll get in trouble for having a no followed affiliate link to Text Link Ads? Maybe you’ll want to go buy some ads for your competitors there, or sign them up as an advertiser!

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