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Reporting Paid Links To Google – Mountain Or Molehill?

Posted in: Google,Link Building,Search Engine Optimisation by Richard Hearne on April 16, 2007
Internet Marketing Ireland

Google has announced increased counter-measures will be put in place to neutralise the practice of buying links which game the ranking algorithms.

For many years webmasters and SEOs have indulged in buying links to boost the rankings of their sites in Google’s SERPs. This practice became especially prevalent as Google increased the link relevance in their ranking algorithm.

Google strikes back

On Saturday Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Web Spam (and generally all-round nice guy), posted about Google’s intention to go after paid links that don’t disclose their paid status to both visitors AND search engine bots. In the post Matt gave information on how users could report paid links that are not following Google’s guidelines:

- Sign in to Google’s webmaster console and use the authenticated spam report form, then include the word “paidlink” (all one word) in the text area of the spam report. If you use the authenticated form, you’ll need to sign in with a Google Account, but your report will carry more weight.
- Use the unauthenticated spam report form and make sure to include the word “paidlink” (all one word) in the text area of the spam report.

This data will be used to “start testing out some new techniques we’ve got“.

And what does the SEO world think?

The response in the webmaster/SEO world has been fairly predictable – virtually everyone is up in arms. For a great mash-up see here, more good commentary here.

There seem to be a lot of people who think this will be openly abused:

The call for submissions of paid links is also fraught with problems, most obviously that of competitors sabotaging each other by buying ads for them and reporting them to Google, and secondly of just how Google expects to be able to detect paid links without access to a webmaster’s bank account.

Now if you know Google you will be aware that they really hate human intervention. Algorithmic solutions scale far better than human solutions, and it’s commonly known that Google cant apply the HR to many areas that need them.

Is this valid?

I think that Google is going to roll out something that simply turns off the juice from any link that appears to be a paid link. So if I go out and spend my hard earned money buying links to point my competitor, and then report that competitor for link buying, all that will happen is those links will no longer pass any juice. Will the competitor’s ranking drop? No. Because they will still have all the link juice that got them their rankings in the first place. Google are going to tackle the supply side rather than the demand side IMO.

As for the request to report link buying activities, well that’s really some more smoke and mirrors. Google is after the link buyers so that they can ferret out the link sellers. And if you used Google’s spam reporting feature you’ll know that those reports do not result in micro-level changes to the index. Reported sites are not (generally) removed. Instead Google uses the reports to tweak their algorithm to pick up such sites on a later run.

It’s all about scale with Google

Google doesn’t like human intervention. Plain and simple. Google prefers automation. So I think that the reports will simply be used to test and tweak whatever automated techniques Google is about to unleash.

So will I be able to sabotage my competitors with this feature? I seriously doubt it. Time will tell.

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  1. Will the competitor’s ranking drop? No. Because they will still have all the link juice that got them their rankings in the first place.

    But their rankings will drop because their inbound links won’t be as relevant as before if Google has its way.

    Comment by Cormac Moylan — April 16, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  2. Rankings will only drop if they achieved those through paid links previously (and, of course, if Google can discover those paid links). But if I buy a tonne of links, point them at your site, and report you, will your rankings go down when Google turns off the juice from those new paid links? No, because you will be in the same state as before I undertook my dastardly act. I, on the other hand, will be out of pocket and may even have my Google account flagged.

    This all comes back to S.P.A.M – Sites Placed Above Mine :grin:

    Comment by Richard Hearne — April 16, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  3. Richard, that’s a good distillation/summary, esp. if people don’t want to wade through all the comments on that post.

    Comment by Matt Cutts — April 16, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  4. Hi Matt

    Your post sure is popular (or not popular depending on your viewpoint). Thanks for dropping by.


    Comment by Richard Hearne — April 16, 2007 @ 8:35 pm

  5. Personally I believe this is going to cause a wave of failures across the board and worse yet it will ripple into the index of Yahoo, MSN and any other Search Engines.

    My own opinion is that its their service so they can do what they want but when it effects the index of other Search Engines then its a problem. If there is an agreement with other Search Engines that it is a good move then so be it.

    At last, things are starting to get very interesting. :-)

    Comment by Gavin — April 17, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  6. [...] gives out regarding the real reason Google doesn’t like paid links with Richard Hearne giving good distillation/summary (per Matt Cutts) which has raised my interests. HalfDeck has gone and found us 21 [...]

    Pingback by Ireland SEO Marketing » Google Ireland Jobs – Touts On Money Makers Required — April 18, 2007 @ 4:05 am

  7. [...] a bit weary of adding people to the list without their permission and especially since some recent concerns, and further concerns, some more further concerns, regarding comments made by Matt Cutts on his [...]

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  8. [...] a chance that people are making a mountain out of a molehill. That may turn out to be true, but as I’ve said before: what’s making people nervous [...]

    Pingback by Google Wants You to Report Paid Links — SEO Blog — April 24, 2007 @ 7:24 am

  9. This is a heated topic, one that is certainly to get hotter as time goes by. Finking out the competition could become one way to destroy your competitors. Egads!


    Comment by Matt Keegan — April 25, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  10. I can’t imagine how Google will find paid links. Except one thing, but human is needed. Google hates human intervention, so no other solution

    Comment by Jay Pasta — May 4, 2007 @ 8:15 pm

  11. The problem for us is that we will not be able to sell some real estate on our home pages for advertising. Usually they are in the form of text links. It is this income on a monthly basis that can make a web page.

    Comment by Psychic advice — May 9, 2007 @ 5:19 am

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