Average CPC & Selling Ad Space from Aaron Wall over at SEO Book looks at how WordPress is now selling text links on its home page for $10,000 per day via AdBrite. What! Isn't selling links bad, and didn't WordPress get busted for doing something like this before? Short answer -- this isn't going to cause any Google or search engine problems like WordPress had before. The long answer is below.
First, the WordPress history. Back in March, WordPress got banned on Google briefly for hosting search spam. WordPress directed people to the spam via hidden links, but paid links weren't an issue. More details on everything is here: WordPress Caught Spamming After Enlisting To Fight Spam.
Next, the issue of paid links. The most recent round of whether selling links is bad got kicked off when O'Reilly was found to be carrying off-topic links on some of its sites. The links, many acknowledge, were purchased more to try and gain favor in search engine results than by getting direct clickthrough traffic. O'Reilly In Debate Over Link Selling gives you more details about all that.
The nofollow attribute was raised as an issue in link selling. Some feel that sites selling links should add nofollow to those links, to help ensure they don't skew search results. Google's Matt Cutts is one proponent of that solution. Google's Matt Cutts On Link Selling: Sites Might Not Pass Reputation; Buyers Might Get Targeted More explains more.
Others don't think link selling, even if done for search ranking purposes, should necessarily be considered bad. Our SEW Forums thread Matt Cutts Comments On Reputable Sites & Link Selling explores some of the debate of this. See also Paid Links Shouldn't Count? What Exactly Is Paid?.
So whether selling paid links for search ranking purposes is a "bad" thing depends on your own personal views. But fair to say, Google in particular is continuing to send out signals that it doesn't like link selling for this purpose, just as it did from way back with the SearchKing case in 2002.
The main difference since SearchKing is that Google advocates (in the form of spam fighter Matt Cutts) using nofollow as a way for a site owner to effectively say, "I mean you no harm." That brings us back to WordPress.
Skip the issue of whether WordPress is worth $10,000 per day (Aaron says whoa! Nick says no!). Isn't selling links going to land WordPress back in hot water, unless nofollow is used? I'd say yes, unless the search ranking benefits it gives through linking are broken in some other way. AdBrite seems to do this by redirecting links through its own servers.
Of course, redirecting doesn't always work to wreck link love or be a link condom in the way of nofollow. For example, see this search on MSN Search. The second link is from this Yahoo Directory category that links to the site. MSN Search is picking up the Yahoo Directory listing as a backlink despite redirection.
Google has done the same as MSN Search in the past, though a quick check today on a few sites were NOT showing redirected links from Yahoo as getting credit in Google. Google doesn't show all the links it knows about, so perhaps it is suppressing things -- or perhaps credit is no longer being given.
FYI, when redirection will break link love and when it doesn't seems to be a puzzle and may be down to what the individual search engines allow. I checked with David Naylor, one of our forum moderators who knows a thing or two about backlinks getting credit. That was his take. I may try to follow up with the individual search engines for an update later.
As for AdBrite, I checked a few paid links and didn't see any backlink data showing, so I'd say the redirection is working OK as a link love blocker. I checked with Jen over at JenSense who knows all things contextual, and she hadn't heard of anyone discussing AdBrite links as a way to improve search rankings. And Brad over in our SEW Forums noted recently that he sells through AdBrite and "nothing transmits PR and I don't want it too."
So conclusion? AdBrite seems a safe way for WordPress (or anyone) to make some money and not get back in hot water. Assuming someone stumps up the money, let's not have any pitchforks grabbed and thrust WordPress's way as somehow screwing with search results. Or Google's way -- given that AdBrite is backed by Sequoia Capital, which helped fund Google and has general partner Michael Moritz sitting on Google's board.
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