As long as we’re talking about links, this seems like a pretty good opportunity to talk about a simple litmus test for paid links and how to tell if a paid link violates search engines’ quality guidelines. If you want to sell a link, you should at least provide machine-readable disclosure for paid links by making your link in a way that doesn’t affect search engines. There’s a ton of ways to do that. For example, you could make a paid link go through a redirect where the redirect url is robot’ed out using robots.txt. You could also use the rel=nofollow attribute. I’ve said as much many times before, but I wanted to give a heads-up because Google is going to be looking at paid links more closely in the future. Matt Cutts
Relevance is an illusion Google wants to maintain
We are led to believe that Google’s war on paid links is to keep it’s search engine results relevant. We know only too well that those of us who are monetizing their blogs with paid reviews and text links are at risk of losing any page rank they might have achieved and of being buried somewhere deep in the Google black hole of death … all because we dare to make Google more irrelevant than it already is. It’s a cause and effect that enrages webmasters who want to rate well in the world’s dominant search engine. Many feel this is part of a ploy to force them to buy ads on Google to get noticed.
How Relevant is This Google?
Let me show you a very typical example of Google’s relevance that has nothing to do with paid links or reviews. Below is a screenshot of the current Google Hot Trends page.
I clicked on the first Hot Trend, Richard Kuklinski, an infamous Mafia hitman known as the Ice Man. Notice that there are three blogs that Google has chosen to list under Blog Posts for the “Hot Trend” Richard Kuklinski. Notice also that 2 out of the three are nothing more than Splogs. Not only are they splogs, but they are Google splogs … Blogger blogs. The very first splog simply bypasses the splog altogether and redirects to a completely irrelevant page shown in the second screenshot below, “Get a Free Samsumg 42″ HDTV”, “Get a Free Laptop Computer”, “Get a Free Canon EOS Digital Camera” … well, you get the idea.
In addition, many of the splogs that Google rewards with high rankings in the search engine results are “Made For Adsense Splogs” … yep, Google’s very own paid links on pages designed to rank high for certain keywords with little to no other content other than Adsense.
The examples I have shown are every day occurrences in Google Hot Trends. I check it daily and the results are always the same. The first page blog posts are indexed at lightening fast speed after an item goes hot.
They are obviously scraper sites that scrape the Google Hot Trends constantly and autopost as soon as the newest Hot Trends appear. If it’s really all about relevance, why doesn’t Matt Cutts get his panties all in a bunch over the shocking gaming of the Google Hot Trends?
Not only would he have us believe that bloggers who do paid reviews are messing up Googles’ relevance, but he also wants us to turn in our fellow bloggers if we find them publishing paid reviews or paid links. Basically, he’s asking us to do his job for him and be a back-stabber in the Blogosphere as well.
Come on Google. We aren’t that stupid.
It’s seems an obvious conclusion to me that Google’s heavy handed punishment of publishers who use paid links to monetize their sites (outside of Google’s own paid text links) is nothing more than an attempt to crush its advertising competitors, particularly with Google’s ad clicks being on a downward spiral since the end of last year.
Are You Just Going to Bend over and take it from Google?
It’s pretty obvious that Google will continue on the warpath against paid linking. Paid linking is a big threat to Googles own online advertising and website monetization products, AdWords and AdSense. It’s in Google’s best interest to keep fighting it.
This will drive paid linking further underground. With Matt Cutts trying to pit blogger against blogger by asking them to report paid links to Google, it’s obvious that it’s currently impossible for Google to determine whether a link is a paid link or not. Regardless of the penalties, most bloggers are not going to settle for the paltry income that Adsense provides most of them.
What’s a Blogger to Do?
As a publisher you have to make a choice between selling paid links or following Googles standards. Most advertisers will not advertise on your site if you have a nofollow in the links. Here are some things you can do to help you stay under Googles radar and hopefully avoid a penalty.
- Hide your paid links within posts, blending them seamlessly with ordinary content.
- Use services that don’t require code installed in your blog theme. Broker your deals behind the scenes.
- Don’t plaster Paid Review ads all over your site. Be discreet.
- Don’t use headings like Sponsors or Paid Reviews or Sponsored Links on your site
- Don’t depend solely on Google for your traffic. By developing other traffic channels, if the worse happens and Google slaps you with a penalty, you still have your other traffic sources.
- Lastly, here is a brilliant trick for the non-technically challenged amongst you.
Eventually Googles PageRank will become meaningless and third party measurements will be developed to take its place. Many believe that it already is meaningless. I would agree except that many advertisers rely on it and still want to advertise on sites that are ranked in Google, but as new measurements are developed that will change.