Wednesday I posted an interview I did with Oliver Roup after accidentally stumbling onto his company, VigLink, through an article in Internet Retailer. And something pretty interesting resulted from it – well, interesting to me as an SEO anyway. However, I didn't want to overshadow the interview so I held back pointing out what it was and why for a separate post.
Considering that, as I mentioned in the intro of that interview that VigLink is basically like Adsense for affiliate marketing, it makes sense. However, what doesn't make sense is Google investing in a company whose goal is to create paid links on the web.
If you skipped the interview thinking it only had interest to affiliates, I'd suggest you read it, paying close attention to question number two, also posted below:
Rae: The VigLink site states: “VigLink lets affiliates create merchant links naturally, with no unsightly affiliate codes and no unintelligible jump domains. Cleaner links mean more user trust, more click-throughs and more conversions.” Can you give me an example of what an affiliate link using your software will look like on my blog?
Oliver Roup: Yes – the demo page has a number of example links all of which are affiliated by our software.
VigLink doesn't mask the links or add (or require) nofollows on those affiliate links. You link DIRECTLY to the merchant or product and VigLink creates an affiliate link without altering the actual link on the page. You link to it hoping for monetary compensation via affiliate sales.
So, as an example, let's say I write a post about a product I'm hoping to sell through affiliate on my blog as a VigLink publisher. I'd link directly to the product on the merchant's site (which would give full SEO credit) and VigLink then does their thing on the backend to attach my affiliate information to it. I actually CAN'T redirect the link for the VigLink system to work – it must be direct.
Now, I don't think an affiliate SHOULD have to nofollow or redirect affiliate links if they choose not to. BUT, Google's lead spam fighter, Matt Cutts (and an all around helpful and nice guy), has been VERY vocal that monetarily incentivized links within posts should not be direct. Period.
In that post, you'll note that Matt referenced penalizing bloggers that linked to K-Mart with direct links in exchange for a gift card. Google most recently penalized Overstock.com for offering discounts on purchases made at Overstock.com to .edu bloggers that linked to them. JC Penney was very publicly penalized, tarred and feathered for paying bloggers flat fees for links.
Yet, Google is funding a company that promotes bloggers directly linking to sites so they can hopefully receive a commission for it.
I'm not bashing VigLink here as I don't think they're doing anything wrong. I personally believe webmasters should be able to monetize however they see fit and that the whole war on paid links is ridiculous. I also believe a good portion of these links would exist anyway, with or without the monetization factor. It's Google's double standard that I'm putting a spotlight on.
My bashing is of the hypocrisy. Google is absolutely and strictly against direct links that are incentivized in any form. Unless they are created by a company they fund and profit from? When we say “Google hates paid links” we have to remember that Google is a huge company now. We (as SEO people) have the most contact with one division. And the question becomes is it really Google leading the war on paid links or a division within Google?
As well intentioned as their fight against paid links may be, this isn't the web of 1994 anymore when the web was pure and all about free expression, free information (and free porn.) The solution to their algorithm being passed by seems to be forcing the web to remain still. Even divisions of their own company look at compensated links and don't see the issue in the business world of the web (and neither do I.)
The only place on the web that compensated link IS an issue is in Google's antiquated algorithm.