6 links that look like paid ones (but really aren’t)

9 Oct

Like SugarRae pointed out a few weeks ago, it’s quite difficult for Google to find out which link is paid and which one isn’t. If you look at SugarRae’s post from the other perspective (like Google is doing with their current approach), it seems like you have to clarify which links aren’t paid in order to not receive a penalty. Some links that are editorial picks may look like paid links in some cases, right? Although I couldn’t care less about a PR penalty, I still think this is something Google should realize.

Since Google decided to reverse things by punishing webmasters for selling links and because it apparently is pretty easy to determine which links are paid, I’m writing this post as a paid link disclaimer.

So, Google, I’ll explain why these links may look a bit sponsored but really aren’t paid links, in order to avoid a penalty.

1) The Unrelated sidebar links
Check out the “Things I like” section in my blogroll. This includes links to Joox.net and 3dLiveStats. Not because I got paid, but because I a) like these sites and b) the owner is a friend. Although these websites are not 100% related contextually, they are 100% related personally.

2) The Related sidebar links
Yeah, I know, some companies are really good in buying links under the radar. This stealthy link approach usually contains buying links from really related websites. Sometimes even in homepage blogrolls of topically relevant blogs. But not in mine, Google, not in mine…

3) The Sponsored Links
When I started this blog a few months ago, I had a “sponsored links” section. Not to attract some quick bucks, but for testing purposes only. Don’t believe me? Check out the archive and verify the target URL of the link. That link was there to achieve this.

4) The Reviews
Unlike you may think, not all reviews are sponsored ones. Sometimes people feel like reviewing stuff just for fun or to share some findings with their readers. None of the reviews on this website are (or will be) paid ones.

5) The Footer Links
Ok, I admit, this one is tricky. I guess the links in my footer are paid ones, but I didn’t receive a penny for those links. Like I explained in my footer as well, those links are still present because I can’t design and used a free web template with a sponsored footer.

6) The new link in the old post
While adding a new link to an old post might trigger your Paid Link Alarm Bells, not every <a href>-addition to an obsolete page is a paid link. In some cases it’s just an editorial change, in some cases it’s just an update.

This post was written as an illustration to show how difficult it is to detect a paid link, whether it’s algorithmically or manually. Not everything is always what it seems, so I wonder what factors affect Google’s decision to penalize a website or not.

15 Responses to “6 links that look like paid ones (but really aren’t)”

  1. Steven Snell October 10, 2007 at 4:54 am #

    The new link in the old post isn’t one I would have thought of, but good point.

  2. Jack October 10, 2007 at 2:27 pm #

    It sure is gonna be tough for google to reliably detect paid links and because of that there will be a lot of collateral damage when they start trying.

  3. Wiep October 10, 2007 at 4:12 pm #

    Jack, I guess that’s why the most of the current penalties are, like Danny Sullivan mentioned, manual ones. I’m 100% certain that Google will never be able to successfully detect every paid link.

  4. lucia October 10, 2007 at 8:42 pm #

    Gosh, I never thought about the adding new links to old posts issue.

    I auto-add new links to old blog posts all the time using the aLinks WordPress plugin and so far not one of those new links is paid!

    With aLinks, I “auto” linked references to my friends (Like Heather) to their new blog addresses, autolinked bookd titles to my Amazon affiliate etc. The Amazon link is an affiliate link, but it’s not paid in the sense that V7N, PPP or PayU2Blog etc. are paid.

    Of course I realize this would be a nifty way to add paid links too– but so far, I haven’t done that.

  5. fantomaster October 10, 2007 at 10:18 pm #

    Thanks for the unpaid link to my blog, Wiep! (And yes, Matt – it IS unpaid! Maybe just because I’m broke, but unpaid is as unpaid stays. LOL)
    Maybe we should ask Google to implement a Link Commissar (the GLC) to submit to for prior approval of links. If they can promise a turnaround of appr. 24 hours that should help slow us all down to more healthy pace in life. Perhaps they could also implement some tracking codes in the links they approve – this could help push their data mining efforts to the next level.
    And: Make it free at first for maximum acceptance, then, softly softly phase in a fee structure – that should make their shareholders swoon from joy!
    For anything else, see:
    http://saloonix.stripgenerator.com/2007/10/09/not-buying-paid-links.html

  6. Luke Sample October 11, 2007 at 9:35 am #

    The real over-all picture here and what google is doing is weeding out USELESS LINKS. Yes, many useless links are paid links.

    So, what is a useless link? Well, it is a link that PROBABLY isn’t providing a quality vote for the other site. You even mentioned in your post here that the links that appear to be paid, aren’t really quality votes for the other site. I mean, linking to your buddy…that simply shouldn’t be counted as a true strong quality vote for that site. It srews up the results.

    So, good doesn’t really care if the link is paid or not. I mean, they don’t want you to buy links…but they care more if the link is a quality link. That is how they are discounting most paid links, because they are of low quality.

    I have done multiple videos on this over at my site textlinkcenter.com if you guys want to see more.

    Where google runs into issues is a link looking like a quality vote, but it is paid. This is where the paid link industry is going to have to take things. Until they do, google will be one step ahead while people uselessly try to change the words “sponsored links” to “check this out” or whatever. Ah! What a joke. C’mon guys.

  7. Wiep October 11, 2007 at 10:44 am #

    Fantomaster; yes, I forgot to mention that link was an unpaid one as well. Great comic btw ;)

    Luke; Trying to weed out useless links is something Google already tries to do algorithmically, authority wise. This paid link debate is something completely different, the fact that someone paid for a link doesn’t necessarily mean that the link isn’t a quality vote; it means that it’s an edited vote.
    Why should the link to my buddy be of lesser value? There’s a reason why I linked to him and not to several other friends who happen to have a website. That reason is quality; his website is linkworthy!<

  8. David October 11, 2007 at 8:34 pm #

    Technically I can’t see there being, even a near, definite answer to detecting paid for links. Making sure the link is direct, without affiliate text in the URL, is one way. And seeing if the site is at all related through keyword parsing is another.

    Apart from that and a few other technical details, it’s anyone’s guess!

  9. Brandon Drury October 15, 2007 at 2:15 am #

    Why would a person ever cast a real, valuable vote in the navigation of a site? It doesn’t make sense.

    I think most people are looking at their own agendas and not thinking about what is best for the search engine in terms of providing quality search results.

    A link in the body will always be held to a higher accountability than a link in the navigation. You CAN vote for your friends, but you should put it in the middle of your content so that your name is on the line. If you link to a piece of junk in the middle of your blog, I’m holding you accountable.

    If you link to some random site in your footer, I don’t really care. As a visitor of this site, I’m not going to look at your footer anyway unless I’m looking to navigate through your site somehow.

  10. Wiep October 15, 2007 at 7:25 pm #

    Brandon; you’re absolutely right: I don’t look at what’s best for the search engine in terms of providing quality search results when I build a website or when I add stuff to my blogroll. Since search engines don’t read my posts, click on my links and subscribe to my feeds, I try to design and fill my websites for real visitors.

  11. how to make money October 18, 2007 at 11:14 pm #

    Lets See wht Matt Cut and comapny has to say about it.

    You Their Matt………..

  12. Adam Stephen November 10, 2007 at 2:46 am #

    You need to be careful (as many people know) when buying links as google is slowly getting more and more touchy about this. They want their Google Results to be as pure and natural as possible and if people can just pay some money and manipulate the results it won’t do their product any good at all. I think purchasing some links is fine but done at a slow pace – maybe 20 to 30 a month. Make sure you don’t get ripped off – more and more sites are popping up that offer paid links just to cash in on the $10 to $20 people are willing to pay in the hope it increases their Google Ranking…

    Cheers
    Adam Adair
    Website Design Melbourne Australia
    http://www.globalsolutionsit.com.au

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