Paid Links Discussions at San Jose

SES San Jose has come to a close. It was another memorable event. One of the more interesting impressions I have of the whole event are the various flavors of the paid links debate.

For example, Michael Gray, aka Graywolf, assured his fame by starting his presentation in one of the link related panels with a slide that said “Google is not the government”. At this point, Michael was just warming up.

In another links session, one person got the microphone, and kept control of it for 20 minutes. They just would not let go of one aspect of the paid links issue. Specifically, there were insistent that one problem with Google’s stance on paid links is that Mom and Pop sites might buy links without knowing that this was not something that the search engines want them to do. The person then persited in stating that they might get banned and that this might not be fair.

Let’s get real folks. The person with the mic did not care about Mom and Pop sites. That person was angry. People (generally) do not get angry about what happens to other people’s web sites that they never heard of.

Danny Sullivan was moderating this session, and offered up a more reasonable concern, which was that Google should find a better algorithm so that whether or not someone bought links was not at issue. It’s a fine idea, and I am sure that Google will implement it as soon as they can think of a way to do so. Let me assure you, there is no one at Google who is in love with the problems related to paid links.

Fundamentally, the problem is that using uncompensated links to a given site as votes for that site represents one of the best ways to evaluate which site is the best site. No simple alternative exists for this basic algorithm. Don’t get me wrong – there is tons of money being spent by all the engines to investigate alternative algorithms. The big push on personalization is a just one example of this.

At the end of the day, my crude outsider’s understanding of the Google policy on paid links is this:

  1. Buying links is NOT evil.
  2. It is against their Webmaster Guidelines to buy links for purposes of influencing Page Rank and your search engine placements.
  3. As a result, buy links for traffic and branding, not for search engine ranking purposes.
  4. They reserve the right to assign no Page Rank value to any paid links they uncover.
  5. If you engage in egregious or deceptive practices, they may ban you.

Note that Yahoo! and Ask echoed similar sentiments in the session.

Related reading

A picture of the first slide from Greg Gifford's Brighton SEO presentation, featuring a movie still of a man in a racing car with the words "Marketing to Local Businesses" across it in orange, and below, "Moving beyond local SEO to win the visibility race" in white text.
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