Sebastian's Pamphlets

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Where is the precise definition of a paid link?

Good questions:

How many consultants provide links through to the companies they work for?
I do.

How many software firms provide links through to their major corporate clients?
Not my company. Never going to happen.

If you make a donation to someone, and they decide to give you a link back, is that a paid link?

If you are a consultant, and are paid to analyse a company, but to make the findings known publicly, are you supposed to stick nofollow on all the links?

If you are a VC or Angel investor, should you have to use NoFollow linking through to companies in your investment portfolio?

Are developers working on an open-source project allowed a link back to their sites (cough Wordpress) Yep, and then use that link equity to dominate search engines on whatever topic they please?
Hmmmm, if it really works that way, why not?

If you are a blog network, or large internet content producer, is it gaming Google to have links to your sister sites, whether there is a direct financial connection or not?
Makes business sense, so why should those links get condomized? Probably a question of quantity. No visitor would follow a gazillion of links to blogs handling all sorts of topis the yellow pages have categories for.

Should a not for profit organisation link through to their paid members with a live link?
Sure, perfectly discloses relationships and their character.

A large number of Wordpress developers have paid links on their personal sites, as do theme and plugin developers.
What's wrong with that? Maybe questionable (in the sense of useless) on every page, but perfectly valid on home page, about page and so on if disclosed. As for ads, that sort of paid links is valid on every page - nofollow'ing ads just avoids misunderstandings.

If you write a blog post, thanking your sponsors, should you use nofollow?

Some people give away prizes for links, or offer some kind of reciprocation.
If the awards are honest and truly editorial, linking back is just good practice.

If you are an expert in a particular field, and someone asks you to write a review of their site, and the type of review you write means that writing that content might take 10 hours of your time to do due diligence, is it wrong to accept some kind of monetary contribution? Just time and material?
In such a situation, why would you be forced to use nofollow on all links to the site being reviewed?
Disclosing the received expense allowance there's nothing wrong with uncondomized links.

Imagine someone created a commercial Wikipedia, and paid $5 for every link made to it.
Don't link. The link would be worth more than five bucks and the risks involved can cost way more than five bucks.

Where is the precise definition of a paid link?
Now that's the best question at all!

Disclaimer: Yes/No answers are kinda worthless without a precisely defined context. Thus please read the comments.

Related thoughts: Should Paid Links Influence Organic Rankings? by Mark Jackson at SEW
Paid Link Schemes Inside Original Content by Brian White, also read Matt's updated post on paid links.

Update: Google's definition of paid links and other disliked linkage considered "linkspam"

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  • At Tuesday, April 17, 2007, Anonymous Andy Beard said…

    Google really need to fix Blogger in a major way so it is easier to write comments and follow them.

    In your "yes and no" you have basically said that Pay Per Post links shouldn't have nofollow and I shouldn't use nofollow on my posts for reviewme or sponsored reviews.

    The income received is far below what I regard as the current "industry norm" for the level of experience I have, and the traffic and link benefit were inconsequential but measurable.

    You couldn't use javascript for the links in blog posts, and TLA doesn't either for their feed advertising solution.

    Javascript is used for advertising mainly from a convenience point of view, because it allows dynamic rotation and tracking.
    Javascript also works on any server.

    There is another reason to use text links, they are not blocked by browsers and in some sectors that is a major issue.

    It is quite possible to give Amazon and Ebay 1000s of links that are theoretically followable.

    There is no official requirement on Google's site for monetization links to be nofollowed.

    You have to remember that PPP is a scalable solution and they take a very small cut compared to their competitors. They have to have a solution that is easy to monitor, and it is the advertisers who get to choose link text. Link text can easily equate to higher click through rather than an SEO benefit.

    I don't think Google's algorithms will ever be able to determine whether a particular person is qualified to express an opinion about a product compared to how much they earn for expressing that opinion.

    By not expressing a definitive answer, and doing it from his personal blog, Matt Cutts is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt, and I have seen it in personal emails.
    That is extremely harmful for any company that is exploring advertising solutions for blogs and conventional websites.

  • At Tuesday, April 17, 2007, Blogger Sebastian said…

    Thanks for stopping by Andy.

    That's right, my yep/nope answers didn't say much about my take on business models or context. So to clarify, I think that with a pay-per-post review the links to the entity paying the post should be nofollow'ed, see my answer to
    If you write a blog post, thanking your sponsors, should you use nofollow?

    where "thanking" somewhat equals "disclosure".

    Again, I don't like it, but that's the way the cookie crumbles if you're keen on Google traffic and the ability to pass reputation.

    As for castrating links, there are several ways to do it, for example the very much disliked rel-nofollow microformat and redirect scripts. That'll work on every blog out there, even blogger. You know that anchor text of condomized links gets indexed and the page triggers search queries for phrases linked with condom or via redirect scripts.

    Technically I can put "hard coded" text links dynamically on nearly every page and that includes contextual mechanism where for example I can even justify my links depending on keywords in query strings of SERPs in the user's referrer, not to speak of precrawled page contents, keyword meta data or whatever. Adding a condom or linking out via an uncrawlable tracking script is doable with ease.

    I don't like to jump thru all kinds of hoops just to comply to Google's policy on paid links, but that's a pragmatic procedure to handle things with less risk.

    The lack of an official set of rules with regard to commercial links and their castration is a PITA. I hope that Google will give us something at hand when the new stuff goes life.

    As for Matt testing the waters before an improved algo sets facts, I'd say that I appreciate the brass monkey weather forecast.


  • At Tuesday, April 17, 2007, Anonymous Andy Beard said…

    You are not being consistant

    A housewife is probably far more qualified than I am about washing powder, but if P&G used PPP to launch a new product, paying 10,000 bloggers $10 to mention that there was a new washing powder, and provided them with a free trial so they could give some test results, would they really have to use a link condom?

    That would only cost them $100,000 plus some free samples in the mail, lets call it $200,000 tops.

    How easily could they generate that amount of exposure by an alternative method, and that amount of valuable feedback?

    Would the link through to the site be relevant? I am pretty sure it would be.

    That is an expert review for $10, and PPP posties have much better disclosure than 99% of bloggers.

    I have never written a paid review for PPP, but I respect their business.

    Are HP now going to get banned in the search engines because they used paid posts?

    Hmm, I wonder whether Nick Baum is now working with Matt Cutts, he seems to be following this story closely ;)

    Hi Nick!

  • At Tuesday, April 17, 2007, Blogger Sebastian said…

    Maybe I'm not consistent but I don't see inconsistency based on the few facts we have.

    That's not a question of qualification, although I'd consider me pretty much qualified on washing powders: I don't use them because of the ugly white sedimentary depositions on black and dark colored garments.

    Paying 10,000 housewives to review a product on their blogs and other personal Web sites, forums and so on gives a that unnatural linking pattern that the housewives *must* nofollow their links to keep their ability to pass reputation with links. In this case the question is not whether these links are paid --personally I think beta testing a brand new and unknown washing powder version 0.87 is risky enough to ask for a monetary compensation-- or not, applying nofollow to these links is sheer self defence, although the links in reviews are relevant and all that.

    Again, nobody utilizing paid posts will get banned. That's just good PR hence not penalized by Google. Ok, the link sources will lose the ability to pass reputation and the links will get nullified by the ranking algo, but there's still the human traffic generated by such a word of mouth campaign.

    AFAIK Nick Baum still works in the Reader team. Hi Nick!

  • At Tuesday, April 17, 2007, Anonymous Andy Beard said…

    But you stated that an expert reviewing a product and making the results public shouldn't have to nofollow a link

    Anchor text on these paid posts isn't necessarily a problem.

    I have seen things like, "read my blog, find an article you like, and write about it linking with a descriptive anchor link."

    For things with requested specific anchor text, which makes it easier for scalability, and for split testing either links through to different pages, or just testing different link phrase with anchor text.

    The paid blogger has more justification to link through to the site with a live link than Matt Cutts linking to Google with a live link.

    Matt certainly gains more financial compensation promoting Google than a blogger promoting washing powder, thus his reviews are suspect.

  • At Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Blogger Sebastian said…

    But you stated that an expert reviewing a product and making the results public shouldn't have to nofollow a link.

    Yeah. I think I should edit the post. It needs a disclaimer stating yes/no answers are kinda worthless without a precisely defined context. Probably exactly that's the reason why Google doesn't provide a few rules of thumb on paid links.

    If you are a consultant, and are paid to analyse a company, but to make the findings known publicly, are you supposed to stick nofollow on all the links?

    I still think "nope" is the right answer, because there's no valid analogy to Unilever hiring 10,000 housewives to review a detergent version 0.87.

    That's not only a question of expertise, but quantity (number of posts) and comprehensiveness. 10,000 housewives posting their take on Persil are certainly qualified to do that, but the intent is viral promotion of a single product. Perfectly legit but unfortunately matching a spam-pattern disliked by Google, thanks to a bunch of Internet marketers. For the sake of the housewives I recommend link-castration, although we do not (yet) know precisely how Google will handle such campaigns.

    When I as a consultant get paid to publicly review a company, my endorsement has a totally different character. I've to comply to a couple of laws and prescriptions, my experience must withstand a pedanticly revisal, and my professional opinion has to be backed with facts gathered by a solid research. My hyperlinked citations and references extent my document, that is my links function as --respectively are comparable with-- an addendum. The sole fact that I get paid for my work is not enough to necessitate link condoms.

    The paid blogger has more justification to link through to the site with a live link than Matt Cutts linking to Google with a live link.

    Since you're arguing on expertise, I'd say that Matt as an engineer who helped to create Google in her current shape posts with more expertise than both of us. Actually, I consider links to employers perfectly fine with Google, see question 1.

    Matt certainly gains more financial compensation promoting Google than a blogger promoting washing powder, thus his reviews are suspect.

    Well, being a Googler that's his duty, and I doubt Google pays him more because he blogs. Matt was the very first Googler stepping up the plate covering Webmaster issues, providing help even on particular cases in his spare time. We should respect and honor that.

    I have seen things like, "read my blog, find an article you like, and write about it linking with a descriptive anchor link."

    What's wrong with that? I do that all the time.

  • At Friday, April 27, 2007, Anonymous Andy Beard said…

    The housewives wouldn't have to even link through to the washing powder website, they could be paid to link through to a consumer report that was favourable such as "Which?" or a national newspaper report.

    So I could create a new startup, and give 100,000 people equity based on the amount of work they do promoting the new site (links)
    As shareholders they wouldn't have to use link condoms.

    This argument isn't whether Matt Cutts should be allowed to link to Google. Of course he should.

    At the same time other people should be allowed to link through to their employers as well, whether freelance or full time.

    Level of expertise is commensurate with how much you get paid. Better bloggers generally get paid more, because they generally have more readers, because they write better content.

    If one link is ok, 10,000 links should also be ok

  • At Saturday, April 28, 2007, Blogger Sebastian said…

    You're right, these 10,000 links should be Ok. Actually, they are "Ok".

    The problem is how to tell the almighty Google that our 10,000 housewives aren't instances of a clever Internet marketer payed by Unilever, using a pretty smart tool to generate 10,000 faked reviews of a hypothetical next generation Persil?

    And that symptom leads to the syndrome Google is reacting on. It sounds ridiculous that a perfectly legit marketing campaign has to factor in techniques invented by a search engine to prevent a search engine from Webspam, only to avoid SE penalization based on the sole fact that highly skilled and unscrupulous geeks can emulate natural promotional activities with algorithms developed to fool search engines. Actually, that is absurd. Thanks to a gang of "spammers" next year we're going to submit our marketing ideas and concepts to Google for pre-approval? Bugger.

    In fact that would mean that honest marketers not only have to catch up with spammers. So much the worse, to protect their long lasting campaigns they'd have to be way ahead of their wicked clones, and would even be in need of predicting Google's reactions to artificial imitations of promotional activities not yet running. Absurd! Reality?

    Perhaps we're carrying the paid links debate to excess, because Google's just after obvious PageRank selling and commercial link whoring.

  • At Monday, April 30, 2007, Anonymous Andy Beard said…

    What I plan on doing touches a lot on what I am discussing. I am not being hypothetical.

    BTW I am still seeing pink boxes on all links.

    There is also a new fix to remove nofollow from the linkbacks as well.

  • At Tuesday, May 01, 2007, Blogger Sebastian said…

    Yep, extracting all changes I've made to the template, including CSS and minor hacks, is on my ToDo list.


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