Seems that while I was away, Matt stirred up some controversy by implying the engines would start hitting sites posting paid links without machine readable disclosure of those paid links and then in a second post, asked people to report sites “selling links”.
Scoble then commented about Matt’s post and referenced a post by the pissed off at PHD’s whore calling out Google for what he feels is their hypocrisy. The ability to report sites “selling links” has also caused quite a bit of attention.
Personally, I don’t care how Google chooses to treat what they detect as paid links. It’s their engine and their decision. What I do care about is Google creating what amounts to a Salem witch hunt for “link sellers”.
The bottom line is that good paid links are un-detectable by the search engines. These deals are done via emails and personal meetings in a way that is not obvious and un-detectable by algorithms, when done well. So, Google is making up for their incompetence at detecting well done paid links by enlisting the general public to report what they guess are link buying activities. But, again, good paid links aren’t obvious, so the end result is that Google will be taking these reports and guessing too… *guessing*… whether or not those links truly are paid and possibly penalizing your site accordingly.
I’ll give you an example. The banners in my Bona Fides (latin for good faith) section on my sidebar are not, I repeat not, paid for. These are links to companies or services I believe in. We’ll go down the list as to who has links and why:
– WebmasterWorld – I’ve been a lurker longer than a member and a member for many years. I’m a moderator for the YPN forum and the link development forum. I also speak regularly at their conferences and feel I owe a portion of where I’m at today to my membership at the forum and friendships developed as a result. I believe in the community and want to promote it to other people in the industry.
– SEO Class – I’m one of the people behind this workshop series and wouldn’t be if I didn’t believe in the service being provided. I link to it to promote it as a result.
– 888.com – I am an avid gambler and I don’t think anyone who reads this blog doesn’t know that. I also have met the people behind 888 several times. I consider quite a few friends. I’ve actually been to their offices in Europe and was amazed by the sophisitcation of their systems. I also was an avid player at Pacific Poker (owned by 888) prior to the ban. When I was gambling online, 888 was one of my first stops, so I have no problem letting others who still can gamble online know what I think should be their first stop.
– Webmaster Radio – The night Webmaster Radio launched their chat room, I was one of the first people inside. I’m still a mod in their chat room, even though I don’t make it in as much as I’d like. The owners behind it are friends of mine and other friends of mine have appeared on or host shows with them. They provide a quality service to webmasters and I promote them as a result.
– Best of the Web blog directory and web directory – It is no secret that I am friends with the botwah boys. Additionally, I have all sites that I care about listed in their directory. They are one of the few directory services out there that actually bring me a bit of traffic, their prices are reasonable and they pride themselves on listing quality and not quantity. Since I list with them, I feel they’re a valuable resource for others too.
– Design By Reese – This is the chick responsible for the Sugarrae logo, as well as the design of several other sites I own. I wouldn’t pay her for her services if I didn’t think she was one of the best designers available. I recommend her as much in person and private emails as I do on this blog.
– MacScan – This is owned by a very close friend of mine. I’m not a Mac user, but a lot of my friends are and have raved about his product.
– Powerstorm Hosting – I’ve been using Powerstorm for almost two years now. In addition to fair pricing and good value, the customer support is awesome. Site goes down from a Digg, I simply pop into IRC and they have it fixed within moments. A mixup causes a billing issue and I make a call from a conference and they fix it within moments. If I kill my blog by doing something dumb myself, a quick beg to the support guys and they fix the issue that I myself caused for me. These guys go above and beyond with customer service and their link on my sidebar was long overdue when I finally got it up.
So now you know that I don’t accept money for my Bona Fides listings and you know why I list these companies for free. Or do you? Maybe everything I said is complete bullshit. The only way for you, or Google, to know is to guess without access to the accounting books for both sides.
I get requests several times a week asking about the ad rates for my bona fides section. There are some people out there who guess, or assume, that these links are for sale. What if those same people report me for selling links without disclosing they’re paid? Then Google has to come to my site and *guess* on whether or not they *think* those links are indeed for sale. And if they guess wrong – about my links, or yours, we’re fucked with no recourse.
My general opinions on paid links aren’t important and neither are yours. This isn’t about whether or not paid links should or shouldn’t have value. What matters is that Google is going to decide whether you’re good or evil based on a guess they know full well has a coin flip toss chance of being accurate in the case of paid links done well. What is important is that Google stands up and admits their own weakness and finds another solution to their issue that doesn’t involve penalizing me or you, based on their “best guess” to a problem they themselves created when they based their entire algorithm on links.