Google Wants YOU!... To Report Paid Links
Recently there was a lot of buzz generated on Matt Cutts
blog (the most widely known Google engineer). Three hotly
contested topics were hidden links and text, links in Wordpress
themes, and how to report paid links.
Seems as though many of the Wordpress templates have back
doors in them, that are easily exploited by spammers. They
design great looking templates and then crack them, without
the site owner's knowledge, and fill them with nefarious links.
Hidden text and links... include things like white text on
a white background. White text on a white background, and
the text is a link. Using CSS to make hyperlinks that are tiny,
like one pixel high text. And hiding links in something like the
period, in the middle of a paragraph of text.
The "how to report paid links" post drew the most
attention, with over 580 fiery comments at last visit.
What Matt was looking for - bottom line - is disclosure of
paid links. Here's how Matt started things off, note how
he encourages people to report paid links to "augment"
"One thing I heard at SES London was that people wanted a
way to report paid links specifically. I'd like to get a few paid
link reports anyway because I'm excited about trying some
ideas here at Google to augment our existing algorithms."
"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."
"As far as the details, something like shadyseo.com is
buying links. You can see the paid links on example.com
/path/page.html is all you need. That will be enough for
Google to start testing out some new techniques we've
got - thanks!"
Yikes! New techniques? Augmenting the algo? Letting the
machine decide? More of Matt's comments included gems like:
"This post is to let people know in advance that Google
is looking at some new ways to approach paid links that
affect search engines. Google wants to hear about paid
links that pass PageRank in the same way that we want
to hear about things like hidden text or keyword stuffing."
""I'd be most interested in the "I'll pay X for a link
that affects search engines" type of stuff right now,
whether it be via a link that passes PageRank or a
paid post / article that isn't disclosed as paid.""
"We're looking to collect data for a new approach or two
that we're exploring, so I'm happy to receive pretty clear
cut reports right now."
"We've got a lot of data within Google already, but I
wanted to put out a call for external reports to widen
the set of data that we can test on."
"Right now I'm just looking to increase the size of the
dataset that we're running some tests on."
"I'm most interested in directly paid-for links right now.
I'm happy to hear about other types of situations though."
"Just to reiterate, I'd be most interested in reports of
sites that appear to be trying to game Google's rankings
via paid links that flow PageRank."
Note that they are targeting not only ads, but blog posts,
forums and articles. They've already have collected a vast
amount of data. They just want to disclose what they're
about to do, and "increase" the size of their data set. In
other words... the hammer is about to drop. They want to
come clean and yell... FORE!
Probably the most disturbing thing were the comments
about article directories. Could they be next on the
chopping block. Could their backlinks be going the way
of blog comments, Wikipedia, having their ability to pass
The comment made to Matt was along the lines of,
"The logical next step: Weed out those article submission
sites. They're mostly irrelevant content and they're used for
targeted link text. Passing PR is the only reason theses
To which Matt replied, "I'll take that feedback under
advisement. I'm always open to feedback on what Google
can do to improve results quality."
Let's hope that it doesn't come to pass. Because other
than site directories like Yahoo, (Are they considered
paid links too?) press releases and article directories,
are two of the last remaining ways to generate links.
On a positive note, Matt confirmed that it's ok to
buy links, so long as they are nofollow ones. "There's
absolutely no problem with selling links for traffic (as
opposed to PageRank)."
Moral of the story. Don't buy links unless the broker adds
the nofollow tag. Disclose your involvement and mark your
paid links, ads and posts as "sponsored." That way, you'll
sleep better at night, and more of your pages will stay in
- - - - -
The Mysterious Drop in PageRank.
You probably already figured it out. And it's easy to put
two and two together. There was a big ripple effect. It's
what happens when big PR8 sites suddenly have their Google
Juice (PageRank) turned off, because they were selling links.
Now I don't buy links. Never have. Never will. But
since some of those sites, linked to sites, that eventually
linked to me, there was a cascading drop down the line.
Much like when you drop a pebble into water, the rings
spread out to infinity.
But it won't stop there. With the data Google has
collected, expect any form of undisclosed advertising to
be targeted. That means anywhere you can buy a link or
put an ad, including articles, blog posts, web 2.0 sites,
forums, press releases, landing pages, even newsletters.
So if you're earning anything from the links on your site,
or the pages you host, you might consider making them
nofollow links, so they don't pass any search engine
benefits to the destination.
And on top of that, you might want to disclose any
earnings and clearly label your advertising. That way,
you'll stay out of trouble with Google, the FTC, and
- - - - -
Do You Know Who You're Linking To?
Want to see who your main competitors are linking to?
How about finding some new linking partners. Try out MSN's
Link From Domain tool.
Just go to http://www.live.com
and type this command:
(Leave out the www in front of the domain name and replace
yoursite.com with the domain name you want to check.)
Use it to check your Wordpress sites, especially if you
bought templates from a stranger or found them around the
web. They might be cracked and letting a spammer inside.
Some people have found dozens, or even hundreds of
unauthorized outbound links.
It's also handy for finding link rot... sites that you linked
to in the past, that are now out of business. Worse yet,
they went out of business, let the domain name expire,
and it was picked up by an... ahem, "industry" that you
wouldn't normally link to.
Oh, one more thing. You can sorta use it to check for
reciprocal links. Just add in a secondary bit of text on
the same search query like this:
Try both commands at MSN's www.live.com
and you may
be in for a surprise or two.