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Google penalizes for paid links and promoting yourself

Google penalizes for paid links and promoting yourself

I was going to post this in a comment at Sphinn, but decided to blog it instead.

It related to Google and how they apply penalties to sites who talk about or do things in ways they don’t like. Some people think Google doesn’t penalise for paid links, I disagree, as the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Anyhow, this post isn’t completely about paid links, its more about the whole penalty process and the culture that allows it to happen and how it’s just very dificult to challenge or do anything about even.

Two people recently have seen some kind of negative action from Google.

AndyBeard’s visible toolbar drop and David Aireys ranking penalty.

Davids’ has been reversed, whilst Andys’ might not even be a long term thing, so might be a little early to call.

Both of these got me thinking about the whole power and responsiblity theme. Google have lots of power yet at times seem to behave in ways that aren’t the most responsible. Whether they like it or not we do hold them up to greater standards than most, the reasons behind which I couldn’t really do justice to. That said, there is no harm with at least putting a few ideas out there nd see what others think at least.

Transparency is the way forward?

I’d love to be able to read a ‘process’ document on this whole we are penalizing your arse thing. Google have a process. It’s called the reinclusion process. Basically, you check a little box and admit to being evil, they then read what you have to say and restore you if they agree or ignore you if they don’t.

This clearly sucks arse and I don’t doubt has more than pissed offor frustrated a person or two.

Anyhow, I was wondering. Do all ‘quality’ reviewers have the power to instantly penalise, or do they have to justify their position and have 3 or 4 other people agree on their interpretation. If so, is this process fair, should there be more feedback, perhaps a communication of some form? Or is it really ok to just leave people twisting in the wind?

The rules are the rules are the rules…

I know that it isn’t a legal thing, but it is a rule thing. It’s about breaking the rules ,or in the case of Google ‘the guidelines’ and of course it’s their subjective interpretation too. We all know they are a private for profit company, free to do what they like to people who in their opinion who have crossed one of their lines.

Yet it does need to be said that they do have a massive responsibility, yet seem to pay little public heed or acknowledgment of this fact, at least within the microcosm of dealing with individuals.

They might well run around in their $ fuelled PR mobiles postulating how much of a wonderful company they are, they might well be seen to be the fantastic tax generating, profit generating force for good that they are for so many people, and in lots of way there is no disputing that at all, on balance they do a hell of a lot of good things. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the little guy contributing 0.000000000001% to any bottom line shouldn’t matter or in any way count. Doesn’t he still deserve his day in court? His right to reply, his chance to dig his hole deeper even?

Respecting your roots

Whether we like it or not, thanks to many of us (talking them up in the early years) they are now the defacto gateway to the net, a massive percentage of individuals see google and search as synonymous.

Accepting the aforementioned, is it not fair to suggest that when they take action against sites for transgressions, that these actions should have some kind of universality?

Why is it that sites like Davids’ can be hit hard and quick, yet other sites using similar tactic are not? When no action is taken against the big boys for the self same thing then perhaps its no real surprise when people begin to question the integrity of the processes within.

Are they so surprised that if this perception exists that we then put their processes under a greater degree of scrutiny and question their very right to behave is this way? Some might ask, where is the natural justice!

It’s supposed to be a democratic fair world

In the bricks and mortar world of hyper reality, if you are stopped by an officer of the law and accused of breaking a law then you have an option of arguing your case in an open court of law.

2 possible outcomes – guilty, pay the cost, innocent, walk free.

If you are found guilty then whatever way you look at it you suffer, you pay a price; monetarily you suffer. You can appeal too of course, and where so you get the opportunity to hear the reasoning behind any judgement.

If we apply that analogy to Google then we see it falls down somewhat, simply because their business status allows them too. They can hide behind their ‘right’ to act like any other for profit. It’s funny because microsoft once thought they could do the same, justice caught up with them eventually too.

Think about it though, can you imagine a world where you were pulled off the street, muzzled, dismissed from your job, thrown into some padded cell where very few could hear you? How crap would that be! Yet this is the very thing that Google can do to site owners today, acting like some errant bully able to do what it likes and to whom it likes.

Don’t like what we did? Sue us…, we got more money than you and can hide behind the complexities of our proprietary systems and concepts of free enterprise.

Monoply sucks, especially when you lose

The bottom line is that in law or society there is no recognition of their almost monopolistic status on this search stuff, and no apparent will to really do anything about it either. It’s just too easy to hide behind ideas of algorithms and editorial rights and private enterprise.

Yeah yeah, I know a governmentally controlled SE would probably be as bad if not worse, but hell at least we’d be able to hold individuals up to account, examine the decisions, debate the reasons why.

I don’t think it really washes too well to say things similar to , “oh, you know, we’d love to say more and share more with webmasters when we encounter things that we aren’t too comfortable with as to do so would reveal more about our algorithm and processes than we would be happy to share..”, simply because people should be told more, people should have the right to know why some 800lb Gorilla is slamdunking them in the mush and obliterating their voice.

Hit the are you feeling lucky button

David Airey is a fortunate guy. Very few people receive similar treatment. Most are just ignored to the hinterlands. I don’t wish to appear to be mean to David when I say this, but the fact is that Davids’ good fortune is more related to the collective discussion that ensued around his penalty. A less plugged in blogger, IMO, might have struggled to achieve the same outcome.

People can get knocked out of the SERPs just like that. It happens for all sorts of reasons too you only have to be on the wrong end of a conversation before kaput, your 10 year labour of love is suddenley dying in a ditch with little hope for resuscitation, shouldn’t this all be a little more open?


Rob Watts
Kickstart your business today - Get an SEO Consultation or just talk to Rob about your online aspirations. With over 20 years experience in building traffic he's pretty much encountered most markets and scenarios

34 thoughts on “Google penalizes for paid links and promoting yourself

  1. Andy Beard

    Even though Google is a private company, I don’t think they are allowed to display a banner saying “Andy Beard’s Website Sucks” to all their readers, purely as a commercial deterrent for things like paid posts.

    If they had killed my rankings at the same time, they might have been able to justify it, but as I haven’t been doing anything wrong on the link acquisition side, they couldn’t justify it.

    Thus they may be displaying my voting power now, and not how many votes my site receives. That is different to how the toolbar green is interpreted, and how it is described.

  2. Brandon Drury

    Your views are little further to the left “utopia” than mine, but your points are valid.

    I don’t think fair has anything to do with it. Google as 40 zillion sites in their database (I made that number up). If 10 of them are a real threat to their business, they need to be dealt with. I think it is as simple as that.

    I think it’s fair for Google to remove anyone they want unless that person paid Google to be there.

    You used the word “fair”. That’s a concept I forgot about when I was 15. I’m happy to hear that your experiences, attitude, and personality have allowed you to maintain a belief in the concept of “fair”. I’m jealous.

    I’m excited just to know that Google has a reinclusion process. This was news to me. Great news!

  3. robwatts Post author

    I agree Andy, Ive had a little look around a few blogs today and see quite a few drops in visible TBPR from some vocal make money bloggers. I haven’t had too much chance to have had a good look at some of the reasons why maybe, other than there appers to be a common money keyword factor.

    A couple of posts on this blog that mention money are grey barred and one other is PR0.Not recent posts either, they go some way back.

    This is the thing, they CAN and DO hit people yet can hide behind a wall of silence, blaming it all on the machine; except of course where it’s politically expedient to say otherwise.

    It really is as if they see it all as some war against a group of people out to destroy them. I’m reminded of a scene from the film The Matrix the 3rd one I think, where zion is under attack from those long metal tentacled killing machines hellbent on getting in and killing all the humans. Perhaps that kind of bunker mentality has set in to parts of the plex too.

  4. Maurice (TheCaymanHost)

    I think for the vast majority of us ordinary bloggers, the more you read and hear about Google the more confusing it becomes. PR was their baby and they should have foreseen the almost inevitable gaming in my opinion.

    I think Andy’s post is spot on. Google are a search engine and I realize their aim is to provide the best search results for their users. However, just because a website accepts paid links, aka advertising, to offset costs, or heaven forbid turn a profit, who is to say that makes the site “poor quality”, undesirable or undeserving of being shown to searchers in the results? Quality or relevance is not determined by whether or not a webmaster has paid content of any kind and PR is not a reliable indicator.

    If I’m searching for “Country Music” for example, one of the best sites out there is CMT which receives a top rank in the SERPS and carries a PR of 7 and justifiably so. It is littered with paid content and advertising. As a consumer I expect this and don’t feel it lessens the relevance of the site in any way. If I look for SEO sites or niche marketing information, I expect relevant results and care not a jot if the site is profitable for its owners or not – if it’s relevant it should turn up in the SERPS and surely I will make a judgment for myself as to its “quality”. In other words, I don’t want or need a little green bar to tell me, as I am free and over 21 and capable of making my own choices. A search engine, for me, is just a guide to what I’m looking for. Surely the call on “quality” is down to me.

    Splogs and MFA’s and arbitrage sites etc. (ironically often found on Google’s Blogger platform) should be weeded out sure, but to punish quality sites by publicly stripping PR is almost Orwellian. Google is a good search engine, probably a great one in fact, but they are not the internet and they are not my conscience or my moral and ethical compass. The internet is a vast repository of information, opposing views, commercialism, and endeavour and there is no “Gatekeeper” up to the task of silencing or controlling such a global voice. Sorry, Google, not even you guys.

    Although not a particular fan of Mr Chow or some of his methods, the act of removing his blog from the SERPS for his own name is laughable really and all it does is demonstrate petulance on the part of a company who should know better.

    Ultimately, PR is a bust. It had its day, but I think for both Google and its customers, it has outlived its usefulness.

  5. robwatts Post author

    Brandon, (or in the eyes of Google should that be anti-christ), the day I stop believing and working with the concept of fairness in my life, in my dealings and my relationships and how I expect to be treated is the day I may as well pack up and go hop on some bus to cynicsville.I’m sorry to hear that you have lost faith in such a concept.

    Just to labour the fair point and develop on some of my utopism…;)

    I don’t think it’s fair to look at Google as this normal run of the mill business, especially ina 10 to 40 zillion to one way! They are completely different in unprecedented ways; a supercorp with an absolutely amazing influence and impact on many many peoples lives. They just do not fit in to any conventional model and I think it’s important to recognise and respect how their parastical model is changing the world. The blur between algorithms and editorial policies is continually overlapped, yet we are expected to just trust blindly in what they say and how they manage things. Would we trust in a Doctor who had a higher than average number of fatalaties, or an employer that kept dismissing its employees for reasons best know to them alone, an accountant who kept getting his sums wrong, a teacher who’s students consistantly failed? Not the strongest of analogies no, but the point is, that in all of those cases someone somewhere would have a right to look at the practices and decisions that were having a very real impact on peoples lives. Life for me at least, should be about people and the greater good, not some dark corner of massive opportunity for some elitistly priveledged few who think they can do what they like when they like and to who they like. Societies like that generally end up to be kinda shitty places in which to live.

    The fact is that an amzing number of people in developed economies use it find goods and services. Traditional methods of service acquisiton, paper directories, newspaper ads are in steep decline, evident in the downturn of advertising budgets expended on such mediums. If a small business is removed from the Google Serps, then when set against its competitors within the same space it is faced with a distinct disadvantage which forces it to work far harder to gain new leads and customers than say a competitor with a 1st or 2nd place serp position.

    Anyways, that’s a little off topic and perhaps proper to an entirely separate discussion, thanks for your comment :).

  6. robwatts Post author

    Great comment there Maurice, I couldn’t really disagree with any of that at all.

    The policy from their point of view is just dandy. They really don’t seem to have a problem with saying we can’t do anything about that aspect of our algorithm so will actively go out and hurt anybody who purposely attacks it. This would be fine and dandy if it were applied in an open transparent fair way, but it isn’t. Some companies can sell links til the cows come home and nothing is ever done about it.

    People should be able to link to what they like and when they like and not have to suffer the wrath of the machine, I remember the day when Google used to say things like, we like to work towards scalable solutions, rather than take individual action. Today that’s different, they have the market share, they can afford to be as selectively mean as they like. There are after all, a long line of others all waiting to fill the gap in any vacant serp.

  7. Brandon Drury

    Anti-Christ??? WOW! Only my girlfriend calls me that, but I’ll gladly take that compliment from anyone.

    In all seriousness, you bring up some much bigger issues about Google. Personally, I think they became WAY too big and powerful just a few years ago.

    Like Nazi party in the mid to late 30’s they’ve become too powerful to stop and we are just along for the ride. Hopefully, Google will use these powers for good, but they don’t write too many books about people who do good with their power.

    As Google tends to swallow up more and more and more companies (I’m talking about buying them out) they are strategically placing them in a position of monopolizing the digital world.

    I don’t know why more people aren’t outspoken about Google conquest of the internet.


  8. Maurice (TheCaymanHost)


    Well, as you know, I’m far from an expert on SEO (it’s why I read your blog) and I am talking with the benefit of a huge chunk of hindsight, as are we all on the subject of such a dominant internet presence.

    It’s plainly obvious that the whole Google machine is something of a first and as you rightly say in your response to Brandon, there really isn’t much you can compare it to as a business model. Nobody knew how big a part of lives the internet would become, nor how Google would become a part of international language in the way it has.

    Those who always respond to these debates with “get a life, it’s just a search engine” have a point, but a very simplistic view. It doesn’t really matter to me for example, but I recognize just how Google’s actions can often be harmful to business just as they can be hugely beneficial.

    Would any organization be ready to handle the responsibility that comes with such a meteoric rise in an area that invites abuse of such a position of influence? I’m not a Google basher, and although their responses to some issues may be wrong in my eyes, they are probably struggling with how to deal with a lot of the issues they face. They are bound to get things wrong sometimes I guess – even a huge corporation is run by human beings after all. The power they wield is undeniable in the online world but we really have no yardstick by which to measure their operation. I guess pioneering brings all these problems right along with it. Who’d want Mr Cutts’ job eh?

    Brandon picks you up on your use of the word “fair” and I am of a similar opinion when I hear people using the term “it’s not fair” because things don’t go their way. However, I also applaud your attitude, but am wandering off topic…..

  9. robwatts Post author

    Brandon, I think you lessen your point with your Nazi reference (godwins law anyone) yet that aside, yes absolutely a perception that painted a picture of an unstoppable runaway train wouldn’t be too far from accurate.

    I really don’t think that the people within it are purposely doing ‘bad’, heck they’d happily defend their actions and do so daily albeit in that ever so flowery inexact doublespeak way. They probably sleep very well at night too, maybe because they are trapped in the bubble of them vs the dirty evil seo/spammer brigade. They can’t be the company they once were so have to tread this awful line of bollox, as to do otherwise might just upset the shareprice. Justice has to be seen to be done, the index is safe, the index watchers are on full alert kinda thing.

    When you read some of the stuff out there,then its easy to draw conclusions that are a little disturbing. The thing with this stuff is that its so so very subtle and insiduous, most don’t even so what is going on, its just drip drip drip to a point where all opposition or counter positions are steadily crushed or eroded in favour of some pro system postion. They have a hoard of adorants too who refuse point blank to see any wrong in what Google does choosing instead to run around lauding google to the rooftops and bad mouthing anyone who happens to rank above them or their clients.

    Shit, I sound like I’m completely anti-google, I’m not at all, they’ve done some excellent things and I don’t doubt are full of good well meaning individuals, but – well yeah, there’s a but which the types of posts and ideas that this particular post and comments within reference that speaks for a lot and just needs to be said.

  10. robwatts Post author

    Maurice I always cringe a little when people call me an expert, but thanks all the same.

    You are right, it isn’t easy, and the issues that crop up are seldom straighforward. Google IS made up of human beings, Matts’ job can’t be easy, neither can any of those that work on similar topics, at least thats what we’d like to think, but heck too, there could also be a lot of recklessness going on too and no one would know, because its completely opaque.

    As for Matt’s job, if there are vacancies I could always do with a new role in Sunny cal 😀

  11. David Airey

    Just catching up with my feeds and emails, having been away a few days. Andy’s predicament is a strange one, and I’ve yet to read his take on it (which I will do shortly).

    As for my penalty being reversed, it’s fair to say that the publicity my ranking drop received did help me out, particularly with the advice I was then able to receive in order to diffuse the ‘google-bomb’.

    You didn’t appear mean in any way, for what it’s worth.

  12. Acopic Web Design

    Rob – again a really excellent article with some very good points. Google do have a lot of responsibility but also have to protect themselves – two things which are probably at odds with each other.

  13. Matt Keegan

    Yikes, you found out that I arrived to this page via StumbleUpon!

    Speaking about the subject at hand, the penalty phase appears to be a prelude to the next PageRank export to the toolbar, whenever THAT is supposed to take place. Seems as if Google is doing some housecleaning in advance of their next update with the directories hit first and some of the more visible SEO sites second.

  14. Chris Lodge

    Damn, can I just cut & paste your post? 😉
    I agree with every word…

    Google are way too much of an over-bearing bully right now, and I think they’re doing their reputation serious harm. Taking the example of David’s site: here you have a blog that offers nothing but quality content on a constant basis, but that has the temerity to run a contest and sell a few links just like thousands of other sites out there. Yet, just last week searching Google for David’s name didn’t show up his site until page 70? Just how relevant are those search results?

    Rather than people pandering to Google, and removing paid plinks, paid posts, anchor text requests etc. perhaps we should all stick a collective middle finger up to Google, do all of those ‘bad’ things and more, and then once we’re all excluded from Google, they will be as relevant to search as a dead woodchuck.

    Lets not forget that this current crusade is absolutely nothing to do with producing relevant search results: It’s all about protecting their advertising revenue model.

  15. Maurice (TheCaymanHost)


    There is truth in what you say but some people rely on paid links quite heavily and why should they give that up?

    Google say that if paid links were nofollowed they are not a problem. They are unhappy with paid links that transfer page rank, not paid links per se.

    Some of the people who have incurred a penalty do not appear to have done so because of paid links. Andy’s is a case in point.

    It appears David’s was for inciting people to link to him as part of a competition. Google viewed these as paid links, which I suppose they were and they were passing page rank. Having read David’s posts about his “slap” I think it was simply lack of understanding of the rules that got him into hot water. I’m glad to see he was able to reverse their decision by correcting the mistake.

  16. robwatts Post author

    @ David, I’m glad it all worked out for you, a rare public happy ending 🙂

    @ Acopi Web Design – agreed its a sometimes tenuous path

    @Matt – Its amazing isn’t it? So many people can be affected in heartbeat, by unknown faces and actions

    @Chris – Hi Chris glad you liked the post, thanks for commenting. The negatives like this tend to outweigh the positives. We tend to forget the redeeming characteristics of people who hurt us or our friends, its human nature

    @ Dan, thanks for stopping by and commenting – if only life were so simple. Whatever next? What if Google decided to only index sites that gave them a cut of their profits..ridiculous? Not really.

    @Maurice – Links fixed old timer 😉

  17. online custom tailor

    there r millions of sites selling and buying links nothing is going to happen if google penalty one or my opinion is let your site as it is one day you will get the result

  18. Dan Jensen

    @robwatts – I agree with much of what you’ve said. Like the others, however, I think the use of the word “fair” probably weakens the argument. By using the word “fair” you imply that we have no choice in the matter but to lay down and surrender… I advocate a different stance all together.

    Google is being hypocritical targeting paid links. The power has gone to their heads. They want to be able to penalise people for “buying links” (that entails killing the promoting, advertising and marketing of your site – something that you aren’t penalised for in the real world with a bricks and mortar business). However, they also want to allow the penalised site owners to buy their rankings DIRECT from Google.

    Look at TLA. They no longer rank in the top 50 for their name, however they are sitting at #1 (or #2) in the sponsored link “inorganic” section above all the other organic results for their name. Isn’t that an absurd situation? Tantamount to blackmail if you ask me.

    That, IMO, is the biggest problem with what Google is doing. NOT that they are cracking down on paid links and people “gaming” Google, BUT the fact that they are not practicing one iota of what they preach. In fact, they are stating unequivocally that they are infallible and above all the rules.

    What Google needs to start realising is that it was “the people” that made them popular (and I was one of those telling all my friends to use Google), and it is also “the people” who will engineer their inevitable demise.

    My suggestion is this. Rather than kow tow to Google’s power mandate, stand up for yourself, and encourage your fellow webmasters and peers to ditch Google – this blog post is a great start and will open others eyes to the wicked ways of the once good Google.

    Watch how quickly Google-hating catches on and how quickly their shares drop and how quickly they come up with a way to win us all back. The anti-Google blog posts are only going to grow in frequency and volatility over the coming weeks.

    The “bottom line” is all that counts to companies like Google, and whilst their share prices continue to rise, our collective opinions count for less than nothing – if we hit them in the hip pocket then we force THEM to change…

    Just a thought 😉

  19. robwatts Post author

    Hi Dan, interesting comment and well made – I’ll have to disagree with your fairness point to a degree as for me, without laying it all out for what it is (unfair, unjust, abuse of power, dictatorial, unreasonable, bullying etc ) it would somewhat lessen the point and weaken some of my more emotive points. 😉

    I also wonder whether there are too many competing constituencies within the plex and that sometimes one dept is winning out over another. The creeping corpratisation has no doubt an influence on all of this too.

    I very much agree with your hypocrisy point. I’d love to be in the meeting with the respective heads of the adwords, search quaility, webspam and adsense teams! It’s clear that there’s a bit of conflict there. It’s pretty amazing that Google would allow continued advertising from TLA, or maybe it’s just a case of to do so would give TLA a pretty good starting base for a restraint of trade legal action… who knows IANAL 😀

    It’s becoming increasingly evident that they are losing control of their core message and perhaps losing touch with where they started. There ARE better ways of handling all of this, yet the hawks seem to be in the ascendency. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely isn’t a truism for nothing perhaps.

    I’m not going to go on any hating spree, life’s too short for that 😉 But I do think its fair reasonable to call them out where its warranted, stuff like this being a case in point.

    I think your point on things like this gaining momentum and spreading out amongst the community is well made. I’m surprised that they’ve chosen to attack the blogging community as it does have a pretty central voice and has the capacity to create quite a bit of momentum. I wonder how’d they like a concerted block google from the blogosphere for a week type action, or a general ‘tell your friends to use Gigablast search’ meme.

  20. Dan Jensen


    I whole heartedly agree with Google underestimating the power of the Blogosphere. Digg has already done that, and seen how fast their own system was used against them (remember the revolt over the “HD-DVD Processing Key” censorship?)

    I don’t think it will take long for some clever peeps in the community to devise a way to hurt Google. Especially if they have already lost out. Once something like that starts, stopping it will be nigh impossible. It doesn’t need to be hating as such, it can just be as you said, a gentle nudge to a mate to tell him to use Gigablast for a week, or add a “blockgoogle” plugin to your Firefox as a peaceful protest.

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  22. Las Vegas guy

    Having been hit by a G penalty, I can say from experience that its an absolutely horrible feeling when you search for your site and find it gone. Especially when you are hit and the sites around you doing the same thing were left alone.

  23. Ted

    I think promoting yourself by purchasing links is a ridiculous idea. It may sound good at first. But even though you are going to have high PR rankings its not worth it in the end. I was noticing that a lot of these link buying deals are actually link RENTING deals. They charge you monthly. The entire thing in the end will be troublesome and Google will hate you for it from what I’m hearing.

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  25. robwatts Post author

    @ Brandon – I believe it was penalised cos they knew I would rant about it 🙂 I wrote a review and got paid for it, once.

    @Ted – you’d be surpised at how profitable some renting deals can be. They work it’s why people use them.

    @ EM – Not entirely sure as to what part of the post or comments you are addressing but generally speaking sure, it is how it is and it works. When it changes people will adapt and do the very same. The web is a commercial thing, some might say that Google profits disproportionately, others might say that it is right that money should dictate who does and who doesn’t succeed. We do live in a capitalistic system afterall. Maybe our monopolistic megalith will change algorithmic tack and embark on a reverse policy, more links equal lower ranks 😀 The web turned upside down, that could be fun 😉

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  29. Rob Hallums

    Rob – it’s clear you’re not alone, but I do agree with an earlier comment that if you know you can get penalised for doing something, then don’t do it.

    That said, the power that this one company has over the world is incredible and very dangerous. Why is it Microsoft get hit and yet Google are basically skipping merrily through a field of daisies in the sun while feeding lovely little bluebirds?

    Incidentally, does nobody think it’s a touch ironic that paid links are exactly where Google made/make their $gazillions given their stance?

    1. robwatts Post author

      Hi Rob, ah a gr8 thread 🙂 I think Goog has been a whole lot smarter, sometimes they come across all bright and fluffy – it must be working 🙂 Certainly not a quality M$ ever displayed. I actually like a lot of the googlers I encounter, it’s more a case of disliking the bs the company tries to push out, albeit with exceptional aplomb and delivery 🙂

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