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Paid links, Flogging and Google

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Wednesday November 22, 2006 )

What’s Google’s view on paid links and paid blog posts (aka flogging)? I just finished watching an interesting video interview with Matt Cutts – a software engineer with Google’s quality group, that *may* have some answers for you.

Before I get into it; Matt is a very interesting guy performing a great service for the webmaster community, but it’s important to note that Mr. Cutts has a tendency to speak in riddles and be non-commital at times (for good reason). I believe that cults have started up that dedicate themselves to interpreting Mattspeak and his acolytes are known as Cuttlets :). You can read the many utterances of Matt on his blog: Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO.

Anyhoo, back to the video. WebProNews caught up with Matt at last week’s PubCon in Las Vegas. During the interview, the issue of paid links was raised and also what’s currently a very hot topic in the blogsphere – Flog Blogging. In a nutshell, Flogging is being paid to post particular blog items on behalf of a company. Just to clarify, it’s not so much being employed to blog, but being paid to write about a company on your own blog on a piece by piece basis. Read more on Flogging.

Matt’s views on these issues (which *may not* necessarily be Google’s bear in mind) can be heard about 2 minutes, 20 seconds into the video. The whole video is well worth watching, but if you don’t have time to wait for it to load, here’s what he had to say:

Matt Cutts: “Let’s say I’m not a fan of when people don’t provide clear disclosure”

On paid links specifically:

Matt Cutts: “Look, if you want to buy links for traffic; totally fine.. just don’t make it so that they affect search engines. So that’s why we say use nofollow.. or you can do it through a redirect that is robot.txt’d out”

On Flog Blogging

Matt Cutts: “So the thing with like PayPerPost and that sort of stuff is number 1, PayPerPost doesn’t even require disclosure right?. And a lot of people don’t like that. But even if somebody does say please disclose something, it would be much much better if it’s machine readable disclosure, something like a nofollow link”

The “nofollow” attribute for links has been around for a while. It was introduced to help reduce the impact on search engine rankings of link and comment spammers who were gaming the ranking system. Search engines that recognize the attribute, such as Google, view “nofollow” links as links that have not necessarily been endorsed by the site owner.

Here’s the code for an ordinary link:

<a href="">Site</a>

and the same link with a nofollow attribute:

<a href="" rel="nofollow">Site</a>

So does this mean that Google will penalize “Flogger” posts and sites with paid links that don’t use the “nofollow” attribute? I don’t know for sure, I’m not Google – read into it what you wish :).

Personally, I believe it’s down to “all things in moderation”; a few paid links on your site to related quality sites, the odd “flogging” post here and there (again, related to your site topic) – you shouldn’t have a problem. Dozens of paid links of all types on your right hand menu or perhaps if numerous blog items you post could be classified as “flogging”; or if you flog unrelated products and services – then you may run into problems.

How will Google tell? They are pretty cluey on this sort of thing, don’t underestimate their snikkiness :).

What about the very unlikely (but remotely possible) scenario of a competitor paying a low quality site to link to your site, or commissioning flog postings about your business? According to Google’s Webmaster help center:

“There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.”

So you can likely rest easy on that one ;).

These issues are also something you should bear in mind when paying for links on other sites; perhaps read between the lines a little.

Related articles and posts:

Flog blogging

Anchor text optimization


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