Matt Cutts, head of Google's Webspam team, has taken time out of his vacation to add some clarification to his post about Google's treatment of paid links. The original post has been widely discussed, with search marketers and webmasters coming down strongly on both sides – either happy that Google is cracking down on what they see as Web spam, or indignant that Google is dictating how they do business.
To clarify, Cutts' is asking webmasters to report instances of paid links that flow PageRank, meaning they are direct links to a site, without "nofollow" attributes:
As someone working on quality and relevance at Google, my bottom-line concern is clean and relevant search results on Google. As such, I care about paid links that flow PageRank and attempt to game Google's rankings. I'm not worried about links that are paid but don't affect search engines. So when I say "paid links" it's pretty safe to add in your head "paid links that flow PageRank and attempt to game Google's rankings."
Cutts also clarifies how Google may use the reports of paid links it gets from users:
- Measure and improve precision of Google's existing algorithms
- Build datasets that will help guide future algorithms
- Test new tools and techniques for detecting paid links
- Investigate and take direct action on those reports
He stresses that the reports are not going directly into algorithms, so it's not likely a competitor can buy links to another's site and report them to damage their ranking in Google's results
Cutts says he's not lumping directories into this paid links discussion, but he does offer some questions to consider when buying a link in a directory, if you're hoping it will pass PageRank:
- "Does the directory reject urls? If every url passes a review, the directory gets closer to just a list of links or a free-for-all link site."
- "What is the quality of urls in the directory? Suppose a site rejects 25% of submissions, but the urls that are accepted/listed are still quite low-quality or spammy. That doesn't speak well to the quality of the directory."
- "If there is a fee, what's the purpose of the fee? For a high-quality directory, the fee is primarily for the time/effort for someone to do a genuine evaluation of a url or site."
- "If you put on your user hat and ask 'Does this seem like a high-quality directory to me?' you can usually get a pretty good sense as well, or ask a few friends for their take on a particular directory."
Cutts also suggests putting on a "user hat" when considering the kind of user experience paid, irrelevant links would create. As Google's quality guidelines suggest, sites should be made for users, not search engines, so Cutts is not talking about buying links that are relevant to a site to drive traffic.