I’m catching up a little bit on this, but decided to make a post out of sheer frustration. I’ll preface this by saying that one of my sites has been dumped by Google, in what I suspect is a crackdown on (something). I dropped on October 16th. Came back December 14th. Dropped again today, December 18th. Merry Christmas to me! That is irrelevant to this post, and is just a disclaimer.
On Dec 1st, Matt Cutts made a post about paid links and it clearly shows that Google is absolutely clueless about the workings of the internet.
In his post, he commits a major logical error, reductio ad absurdum, in which he talks about a “brain tumor” paid blog entry that is obviously a paid link. Painfully obvious that it’s paid. He goes on to say that since google doesn’t want this site ranking for “brain tumor” that all sorts of paid blogs and links are evil. The example is ridiculous in that of course you can’t compare paying bloggers to rank a site for “cure for cancer” and “fuzzy bunny slippers” It’s a leap of logic that you simply cannot make.
And it’s besides the point, anyways – which is where my “Google being clueless” comes into play. Matt then goes on to wonder:
If you’ve just learned that you or a family member have a tumor, would you prefer that radiosurgery overview article from the Mayo Clinic, or from a site which appears to be promoting a specific manufacturer of medical equipment via paid posts? My guess is that you’d prefer the Mayo Clinic.
The point of that paid post isn’t to get this paid entry (found here) to rank. It is to get the target site to rank. The target site, in this instance isn’t even optimized for the phrase linked from the blog entry so would probably never rank anyways. Clearly, the site is designed to rank for the phrase “brain tumor treatment” – well, let’s look and see if it does. And, why, yes it does. #3, in fact, as of this post. So the paid post has had its desired effect, despite being specifically pointed out by Matt. Is Google really this clueless as to the point of these paid posts?
What I’d like to see is Matt/Google make the case that the target site should drop from the SERPs for having these inbound links. Then we’d have an interesting discussion. Google does not know, for sure, that the target site even paid for that blog entry – it is merely a supposition – a good one; but lack of proof is a big issue here, don’t you think? My site(s) get links from paid bloggers all the time that I have not paid for. Usually they want content that keeps them within the TOS of the paid blogging sites – and random sites get put onto their blog, why should any site spend time worrying “who is linking to me today?”. I’ve also had products featured on HGTV, which result in links from blogs. Should my site(s) be punished for that as well? I’ve also tested paid blogging services to see what traffic they deliver (it’s relative to PRWeb, but cheaper, so you get more visitors for less money). The paid blogger Matt references also links to many other sites in its blog roll. Are these sites to be punished as well for having links from this blogger? You see how far this could really go and the implications there-in. It’s a dangerous road Google is traveling down and I do not believe they are prepared for it.
Secondly, apparently Google came to this startling realization on December 1, 2007:
it’s troubling if someone is getting paid to review and link to a site, especially if it appears that they weren’t aware of this treatment until they were paid to write about the subject. In researching this incident, we saw lots of people doing paid posts about brain tumors who admitted that they weren’t familiar with the subject beforehand. Sometimes posts were even more inaccurate:
Google has finally realized, after over a decade online, that people online are talking out of their ass and sometimes do not have a clue as to what they are writing about? I’m overcome with the vapors! I’m shocked and stunned. This is an incredibly stunning realization. 10 years. Billions and billions of dollars. Mind boggling. Apparently, before paid blogging, everyone was an expert on whatever they chose to write about.
What’s my point? It’s that if this blog entry did not have a suspicious outbound link, Matt would not have a problem with Google attempting to rank this entry for the keyword phrase. Would they? It may not rank well or it may rank #1. But without the link, it wouldn’t raise a flag at all. So, in Google’s eyes; writing content that you are clueless about (but do it for free) is wonderful; but getting paid for it is evil.
Is Google going to start policing all content online to make sure that sites have content it deems worthy of ranking? Not in terms of relevance (the historical measure) but worthiness (in someone’s eyes). That is the end result, here and Matt’s point, isn’t it? The link is of far less concern here than the poorly written content – that’s the jist I’ve gotten from the post. It’s a reasonable point to make. The content is not in question if the link isn’t there.
I do understand Google’s need to keep the results pure and not allow paid links to manipulate the search results. That’s not the point here. The point is Google’s handling of these posts (remove them from the index and don’t let them pass juice – which would be the common sense way to handle it) which, currently, seems to be shoddy at best.
Google, lately, seems to be flailing around trying to figure out how to fight the spammers/link buyers, that they have forgotten what made them great – relevance. Google’s job as a search engine is to decide if the paid blogger is relevant to to the topic being written about and rank it on that merit. If its not relevant, the associated link, of course, should not benefit the target site. But punishing sites based upon perceived breaking of rules (that seem to change at will) is just going to cause more problems.