Paid posts are the devil incarnate according to search engines

All commercial content should contain nofollow outward links, all of it..

Read in isolation that’s some statement huh? Yet if you read the posts at Ted Murphy and Andy Beard regarding Google and paid reviews, then that would be a fair conclusion to arrive at. Seems that Matt Cutts has averred that paid reviews or posts that are commercially sponsored should all contain nofollowed links, even if they are to websites that are not owned or controlled by the sponsor.

No such thing as a free SERP

SERPs aren’t free, the sites within them are all there by virtue of a human being somewhere getting paid to create stuff or do things to get the site to rank higher for its target keywords or content. Google want the world to believe that it is they and they alone who decide how this happens, whilst SEO’s and marketers tell their clients that its their understanding of how it all works that either makes or breaks a site in any SERP. The truth of the matter is probably a whole lot closer to the latter, yet say this too loudly and the former will disprove that theory with venom.

I’ve always suspected that there is inside the minds of Googlers this huge fear that one day they will be challenged on the whole ‘free serp’ thing. In some ways I sort of sympathise too. Google have taken great pains to say from the off that their paid results (ads to the top and the sides) and their ‘algorithmic’ results are a completely unrelated and separate thing. They of course have no other choice as to say anything else would lead to a collapse of the whole delicately positioned house of cards. If sufficient weight and evidence could be applied to a position that postulated that Google knowingly allowed content that was created for the purpose of SERP manipulation to directly influence the way it ranked sites, then IMO that would make the presentation of any case seeking to disprove such a thing so much easier. The likes of the FTC and the EU commission not to mention a myriad of other national and regional governmental authorities would take great delight in disassembling the whole shaboogle implementing all manner of restrictions and investigations that would ultimately do no one any good; especially if you were Google or a shareholder of their stock.

Matt said to Ted

Ok, so I’m taking Ted at his word. I’m also assuming that what Matt apparently said is official Google policy as he is head of the Google webspam team, then it’s safe to say that what he said is pretty darn close.

If what Ted is reporting is a correct interpretation, then how could Matt (Google) realistically say anything else?If he were to say to Ted and his gang “Ok Ted, yup no probs, nofollow the core sponsor and all the other links will be just fine” then would it not be weakening its whole anti link stance? If he were to say after months of table thumping and anti paid post rhetoricising that he now accepts that a paid post is ok so long as its core sponsor isn’t rewarded in a way that would benefit their search profile then wouldn’t that just expose him and Google to derision and attack?

Content is a SERP manipulation tool

Let’s just assume that Matt Cutts had agreed with what Ted had suggested and that it was a good move and a welcome change to how they used to do things. Let’s then assume that word got out that paid reviews were now an ok method of search marketing and that the content within was now therefore ok with Google. What would people do with the knowledge that the content would be trusted editorially?

If you knew of a blogger who was part of a system that was paid by an advertiser to write reviews about a product or service that you knew would contain nofollowed links to the core advertiser, yet was allowed to link out to other content to enhance, support or compare the position of whatever it was that was being discussed then wouldn’t you try and use this knowledge? Furthermore, if you were an advertiser that understood the game, then again what would you do too? Would you seriously just sit idly by and not use that knowledge to help your cause?

Clever content creators create all sorts of value for their sponsors. Their sponsors are often unseen hiding in the shadows, silently profiting from their works. Amazon, Yahoo, Ebay and any other number of sites you’d care to mention all exist to turn a profit, all exist to benefit themselves or those employed to write or promote them in one way or another. How many of those have at one time or another appeared in the SERPs for competitive keyphrases? Were they there on the basis of being most relevant or did their market dominance and Googles over reliance on link text have an influence instead?

Bloggers themselves are exploited in the millions by the ‘free’ platforms like blogger and wordpress. Content is syndicated and reassembled and plastered with adverts that enhance the bottom line of the likes of Google and Yahoo and any other number of networks that make use of the content. Journalists are paid to push editorial agendas of publishing houses with huge commercial interests and sponsors. Politicians are influenced by commercial interests in subtle often unseen ways that lead to decisions that have massive impacts on the lives of millions of people the world over. The world is a commercial place, commerce doesn’t live in a vacuum, it’s an intrinsic part of all our lives, we all know too that it’s not going to go away either, especially in the online world.

As for Google or search engines and their SERPs. Nothing has changed, it’s as its always been. The SERPs are there to be hit, but you can’t brag about it. You have to play softly softly catchy monkey. Paid posts and reviews play softly softly catchy monkey badly for a few reasons. Most were borne out of or created by people who used search metrics as an advertiser hook. They sold their programs on the basis of the benefits to be had from an external entity unowned by them. They acted as if the 1000lb gorilla wouldn’t really notice their existence and would just allow them to go swimmingly along their merrily merrily way.

Google hack me off too but..

Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t like the fact that bloggers have to tread tippy toe and exercise great caution around what they write or how they monetise what they do. I don’t like the whole dictatorial attitude that is expressed by those who leech off of and make millions from the backs of those whose content they use. I don’t like the fact that they are now influencing the very shape and fabric of the time space continuum Internet by way of nofollow and adsense based content, I don’t like a whole list of other things either, yet I’ve ran out of time so I’ll leave the list at that for now.

I’d just say in closing that there is a radar and you have to keep below it. Once spotted you have to have the right markings and paperwork too, otherwise you just get shot out of the sky. If you want to get those markings and paperwork then it isn’t so difficult. You just got to stand in line or know a few people on the inside of the bureaucracy who can help you get them; suffice to say you need a little money to do that.

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20 thoughts on “Paid posts are the devil incarnate according to search engines

  1. Carsten Cumbrowski Post author

    Nice rant :)

    I had mine about this subject about two weeks ago http://www.searchenginejournal.com/paid-reviews-examples-by-matt-cutts-and-paid-links/6115/ at SEJ as response to Matts post about paid reviews, where he presented some of the bad examples of allegedly paid reviews.

    It’s all hypocritical and boils down to “Don’t make Google look stupid, period” as http://www.shoemoney.com/2007/10/06/dont-make-google-look-stupid-period as shoemoney put it nicely

    Cheers!
    Carsten

  2. robwatts Post author

    Thanks Carsten

    I agree, it’s like some mad doublespeak world whereby how you get treated is dependent upon who says what and where and how.

    Sooner or later they’ll come unstuck..

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  4. Terry Reeves

    I also have to recommend the shoemoney video on the subject. I have also felt that many of those who suffered the wrath of Google did so out of sheer ignorance.

    Unfortunately it is there Universe we are playing in. Disrespecting them and their “good thing” is apparently not very smart, especially if you are living off of their generosity.

  5. robwatts Post author

    @ Igor – It’s pretty easy for them to say that no pagerank value is conferred to sites they link out to. It is their system too, so internally at least it’s theirs to do as they see fit with. For now it’s a system we have to work with imaginatively.

    Only today through this very process a lightbulb or two has lit up in my head which will certainly make aspects of my job both easier and profitable for those weho participate, so in that regard, it’s all good.

    @ Ted – Nice response – FWIW I think you face an uphill struggle. When you launch a product that hits at the very heart of a system so publically, you kind of paint yourself into the guise of some nemesistic bogeyman. Despite everything thats been said, Matts (googles) message seems to be the same, comply or die. That said, I think your service is still a great idea, especially for all those stay at home moms or people looking to link out to a related advertiser and get a small compensation for doing so. Its just a shame that it made the mistake of mentioning pagerank as a metric. Realrank is a good idea, but you cant put the genie back into the bottle.

    I don’t doubt that your model has been a success, and fwiw you and your team are to be applauded for the continued buzz and interest you’ve managed to sustain, yet one wonders too how long it can be sustained, especially in a climate that says ‘use this mr blogger OR advertiser and we’ll kill one or both of you’.

    In some ways I blame the perception of how nofollow actually works. The bait and switch from it being an anti spam tool for bloggers to that of a revenue protection method for search engines aside, we were also told that it should be a way for site owners to say to search engines that we don’t fully trust this resource. I and Im sure others thought initially that the engines would then decide whether to convey any link pop or juice to the domain being linked to, yet the absence of backlinks from a boat load of blogs that use it, would indicate otherwise.

    So for me Nofollow obviously isnt about any of that, for if it were then the engines could just decide whether a site acquiring x amount of links was useful enough or worthy of the boost (analytics, toolbars, clickthrough data)it received in PR anchor text and SERP results and adjust according to some internally arrived at formula. A trusted resource would gain the link data benefit whereas a non trusted resource might not.

    It’s for reasons like that, that a lot of commentators choose to side with the view that it’s really about brand and advertising model protection.After all, why use adwords when a $1000 per day could buy you all the relevance injection you needed at a fraction of the cost of an adwords campaign. A service like yours, would help advertisers achieve exactly that. It’s for that very reason that insofar as paid posts and dofollow links are concerned, you guys are IMHO pretty much up against it.

  6. Igor The Troll

    Rob, it is not Google system but our system! We are the Webmasters, developers, SEO’s, and users.

    If Google cannot respect us, let’s together find an alternative.

    Also if you are using Akismet to block malicious Spam comments you are asking for problems, as what has almost happened between us, and that is very bad and dangerous.

    Please have a look at alternative anti Spam filter technologies.

    I am working as developer with SpamAssassin contributing my experience under http://www.phsdl.net to BlogSpamAssissin project to remedy this problem.

    Please take a look at PHSDL and let me know if you can recommend something.

    Again my apology for bad mouthing you earlier.

    Wow, I see you changed to captcha, which is exactly what Lorence from SEL did after he realized how bad Akismet is.

    Regards,

    Igor

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  8. robwatts Post author

    Thank you Igor – I think Akismet isn’t so bad, its a tool that assists in general. I use it in combination with a math captcha. Sometimes genuine comments do slip through. Perhaps you have upset a blogger in the past and he reported you a spam? It does happen and is a bit of a flaw in the system. Still, cheers and happy new year to you.

  9. robwatts Post author

    Igor – I’m sure I could guess ;)

    I do check akismet regulary, but will update my message acordingly, just for those who do get caught…

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  11. Big Oak SEO

    I’m over being angry or surprised by Google’s tactics anymore. My feelings have evolved into detached amazement. It seems nothing should be attempted to increase your rankings other than good content and unsolicited links. So small businesses should surrender to the giants of the internet and realize their cause is hopeless.

    Google, once what was good about the Internet, has become a dictating force and is subverting everything for profit. I really wish the other search engines were better to compete.

  12. robwatts Post author

    Big Oak – I think you echo many of the sentiments felt and expressed by the small guys.

    FWIW, I think the others wouldn’t be too much different given a similar scenario.

    At some point something will give, I think thats inevitable. M$ found themselves in a similarly unrivalled position and we all know how that story went…

    Thanks for stopping by

  13. Misha

    Rob,

    Thanks for putting it all together. It does not surprise me a bit, though. The more Google grows, the more it reminds me of Soviet Union. Utopian rhetoric on the surface and monetary interest in the heart… I bet it will finish the same way eventually…

  14. robwatts Post author

    Hi Misha – Some webmasters I suspect, would say that the Google train has already arrived at the ‘corrupt brutal killing machine drunk with power’ station.

  15. robwatts Post author

    Luke – I’m sure they look at it too and handle it in their own way, quietly.

    Fact is that Google is the biggest referrer of traffic so gets the greatest amount of attention.

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