Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Paid Links Evil?
There’s a bit of controversy over paid text links, as used in Jeremy Zawodny’s blog
, and it’s a tough issue indeed. Matt Cutts
of Google says, “Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.” Greg Boser
suggests to use “link condoms” by adding the rel="nofollow” attribute to paid links, and Matt agrees. Such a link condom has two direct effects; it may decrease the value of the links one sells, but at the same time, makes sure advertisers arent signing up purely for linkjuice either.
Indeed, if a site pays for a link to them and they’re doing it purely for the linkjuice, it could be a dangerous neighborhood to be associated with; your own site may lose authority in the eyes of Google and others. When I accepted paid text links around here, I evaluated every site and rejected many if I found them too unrelated or too “affiliated.” In the end, I rejected more than I accepted. A forced “nofollow” would have been an option as well.
As always, it’s a matter of balance. Link to one irrelevant site (irrelevant or worse!) and you should be OK if your site is otherwise non-spammy, but link to a bunch of such sites and your blog might enter a bad search neighborhood. As for Jeremy’s choice of links, well, there is a share of “Super Affiliate”, “Website Hosting”, “Local Coupons” and so on. This could hurt his own site’s ranking, something which a “link condom” would prevent. Now, some things should be remembered here:
- Google can be thought of as preposterous and arrogant when they oppose paid text links; after all, they plaster large parts of the web with text ads of their own. Well, they don’t sell Googlejuice, but they are Google so they play by different rules, and they have their share of problems with these ads too (they are effectively paying many zombie directories).
- There is, and pretty much always was, advertisement all around the web; banner ads, text links, Flash ads, and so on. The rel="nofollow” attribute was introduced by the big search engines but it’s still only semi-official and everyone’s free to use it.
- Yes, if everyone would be using link condoms then Google would have one problem less. But the world is not creating web pages for Google (or at least not most of us), we’re creating web pages for people to read. Most people simply don’t care about whether or not you use the rel="nofollow” attribute.
- If you put up ads, you are indeed associating your site with those ads to some degree. Why shouldn’t that be reflected in search engine rankings? Of course, it should be valued much less than main content links; but isn’t it up to Google and others then to solve the hard problem of figuring out what a site’s “main content” is?
Matt Cutts’ main argument (and we should all remember he’s not Google, or speaking for them in any official way in his blog) is a humble “OK, you can all do what you want with selling links, but then give us the freedom to down-rank you, too.” The problem is, if Google would down-rank sites like Jeremy’s which have real authority on the web – let alone all the other sites with paid ads! – then Google has a problem, not Jeremy.
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