The Morality of Paid Links and Google's 'Intent Algorithm'
It is Google's fault actually. No one can be blamed for this
matter more than Google itself.
Google came up with a brilliant plan for determining the best web
pages to show in their search engine results. And then without
telling us the intimate details of their plan, they told us about
part of their algorithm by explaining the importance of inbound
links --- the Google PageRank (PR) system --- in their
Google itself planted the seeds its own future headaches. Nobody
did it to them; they did it themselves.
I am sure the fault really lies in Google's marketing
department. They wanted to tell the world what made their search
engine algorithms more powerful than the competition. It probably
was an innocent mistake on their part. But once the genie is out
of the bottle, it is impossible to put the genie back in the
So, now the whole world knows that if you want to get good search
rankings in Google, you must have links pointing to your website
from other websites on the internet. Everyone also knows that if
you want better search rankings in Google, then you should strive
to create even more links with the appropriate keywords in the
anchor text of those links.
There is always more than one way to skin a cat. There are many
methods that people can employ to build links to their websites.
1. Register free websites so that you can create inbound links
back to your own site.
2. Register new domains where you can place other links back to
3. Leave comments on blogs.
4. Link Exchanges.
5. Getting your own listing in any of the directories that are
available (dmoz.org, yahoo.com, etc.).
6. Signature File - getting involved in discussion forums and
actually adding value to the discussions.
7. Submit product and service testimonials to those product
distributors and service providers.
8. Social Networking - bookmark web pages through social
9. Link Baiting - creating a resource that people will want to
link to for the benefit of their website visitors.
10. Article Marketing - writing an article and giving webmasters
the opportunity to use your content on their website, IF they
agree to post your link on the page with the article that they
11. Press Releases - writing and distributing press releases
12. Buy advertising on a website.
13. Buy Link Placements on a website.
Good Links Versus Bad Links
I have always focused my attention on practicing White Hat Search
Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, instead of Black Hat SEO
Most of you know what I am talking about, but I have been
surprised a number of times when people did not understand what
was meant by "white hat" and "black hat." So, for those of you
who do not know what I am talking about, here is a brief
description. "White hat" and "black hat" are references to the
old serial cowboy westerns. The good guys always wore "white
hats," and the bad guys always wore "black hats."
By far, the link building techniques I employ most often are
article marketing, press releases, and link baiting. I still
frequently participate in forums and buy advertisements on other
websites, but I do those for public exposure and not for search
A Black-and-White Issue
I have always been extremely concerned with White Hat techniques
for building links to my websites and from my websites.
"Providing good quality content as the foundation for my linking
activities" has always been my golden rule. And, it still is that
main driving force behind everything that I do.
I like a black-and-white world where everything makes sense, and
I had no reservations about my thoughts on this topic.
The Morality of Paid Links
A couple weeks ago, I was reading Matt Cutt's thoughts about
paid links on his blog. Most folks in internet marketing know who
Matt Cutt's is, but if you don't, he is a software engineer
that works behind the scenes with Google in their quality
Generally, if Matt Cutts says anything at all about improving
your rankings in Google, you can take his words to the bank.
Now, Matt has made it more than clear that we do not want to buy
"paid links" to our websites as part of our link building
campaigns. Paid links are a big no-no according to Matt. That is
his advice, and I have always trusted it at face value.
That is why I have focused my entire link building activities
towards "content-driven linking."
I was reading a discussion of paid links in Matt Cutts' blog at:
After I read Matt's thoughts, I continued reading the comments
on the page. Many good points were made and responded to by Matt.
It was an interesting read.
And then, my black-and-white world was turned upside-down when I
read the comments presented by Dan Thies of SEO Research Labs at:
Here is what Dan said:
Search engines are free to develop their algorithms as they
see fit. They're free to decide which links they want to trust.
Maybe I'm the heretic here, but I don't see anything wrong with
Google identifying sites that are selling text links, and dealing
with that however they like.
I just hope Matt and his co-workers aren't expecting this to
solve their problem. He's already seen that people are looking
for better ways to game the system. I hope Matt and his
co-workers don't seriously expect the entire web to start
labeling paid links for them.
The Google ideal may be that "the best links are earned and
given by choice," but what does that mean?
If I add text links to my favorite florist, favorite online
casino, favorite unlicensed pharmacy, favorite travel site, etc.
will Google decide that my site isn't worthy to participate in
developing their "democratic" search results? If I "vote" for
George Bush or Michael Moore as a miserable failure, am I no
longer qualified to vote?
What's the algorithm for determining intent, Matt?
Intent Is Abstract and Important At The Same Time
There is the rub. How can Google know the heart of the webmaster?
They can't, unless the webmaster pointedly describes their
If the webmaster calls those links "paid links" or "sponsored
links," then Google can know that webmaster accepted money to
provide those links.
If I buy advertising on a website, to attract potential buyers to
my website, how does Google know my intent? Did I do it to get
traffic from that website, or did I do it to game the Google
results? They cannot know my heart.
Even if the webmaster does not call the shown links "paid links"
or "sponsored links," does the suspicion of the pay-for-placement
model label the webmaster as a "bad egg?" How does Google really
know if Dan is linking to a site because he wants to, or whether
he has accepted payment for that link? They cannot know.
And the final example on this topic comes from a poster named
Shelley who participated in the discussion at:
Shelley stated that she allowed two "paid links" on her
well-respected blog, because she had a car payment to make. She
traded on her brand name to get enough cash to make the car
payment in tight times. Will she be penalized for selling "link
space" to advertisers on her website?
Based on the comments that I have read from Matt, Shelley should
not be worried about her acceptance of "paid links" on her
website. If I have interpreted his comments correctly, her site
will not be hurt by her outbound links.
However, we are meant to believe that if you and I were to buy
links on her page, then we should be concerned about our future
in connection to the Google search results.
So these questions remain for the search companies to figure
1 Which links are paid links, and which links are freely given
2 Who is selling links to pass on their PageRank value, and who
is providing a useful or valuable link for their visitors?
Link Buyer's Intent:
1. Who is trying to game the Google results, and who is trying to
attract buyers to their website?
2. Who should be treated as a spammer, and who should be treated
as an honest performer?
This last question is the tricky one. We all know a spammer's
website when we see a spammer's website. But, how can the search
engines deal with the spammer's, without damaging the innocent
in their quest for search results perfection?
Yes, that is their problem, not mine. But, if Google's paid
links policy hurts my own placement in the search engines, then
the paid links equation becomes my problem too.
More Questions Than Answers...
Yes, it is true. I have posed more questions than what I have
presented answers. But sometimes, the questions are more
important than the answers. This is one such case.
Bill Platt owns and operates the "Links And Traffic" Link
Building program. Bill's team utilizes content-driven link
building processes to develop links to his client's websites.
People like this system and methodology, so much so that Bill
has doubled his staff in the last eight weeks. If you would like
to learn more about Bill's Links And Traffic program, feel free
to visit his website at www.LinksAndTraffic.com or give
him a call at his new office at 405-780-7745. Bill can be
reached between 9am-6pm CST, Monday through Friday.