Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Google and Paid Links

As you've probably seen, there has been a lot of discussion lately about Google and their opposition to Paid Links. Rather than discuss this exact issue though, I'd like to share my thoughts in response to a post on seoclass.com entitled "Google Wants to Tell You How to Run Your Website."

However, first of all I think a little background is needed. This whole topic has come to the forefront after a set of posts by the well-known Matt Cutts on the topic of hidden and paid links (post 1, post 2, post 3). The thing that has really caused an uproar is that Matt has requested that the general public report sites that contain paid links, even if they only suspect the links are paid. In addition, Matt is requesting that sites using paid links actively disclose them in both a human-readable and machine-readable manner. Which is pretty much where "graywolf" (the author of the seoclass.com post) enters the fray . . .

Graywolf (aka Michael Gray) writes

So the question remains; does Google have the right to tell you how to run your website and dictate how you are allowed to make a living?
He also quotes a comment from Andy Beal on this issue
I don’t like to impose on others, my thoughts on disclosure (I personally disclose any relationships in our disclosure policy), but I think Google is going too far with this “best practice”. What business does Google have in dictating the disclosure of any business relationships on others?
I challenge Graywolf's basic premise, that Google is in any way telling us how we should run our websites.

Basically, all Google is saying is that they want to know which links are paid for so that they can discount them in its search results algorithms and that if you don't want to be penalized for them, you should disclose them. What's wrong with that?

Google has the right to use whatever algorithms and penalties it likes. No-one's forced to use Google or to submit to its demands. If Google wanted to rank pages simply according to the number of spelling errors on a page, or the number of 3-letter words on a page, it has every right to do so. Google owes site owners nothing when it comes to organic search results and is free to rank its search results however it sees fit. If people don't like it, then they should start using other search engines so that market forces come into play to effect change.

Now, that doesn't mean that I'm happy with what Google is trying to do and I also don't think it's being logical in the way it's going about this issue. However, Google is perfectly within its right to rank web pages in whatever way it sees fit and if that means penalizing pages containing undisclosed paid links, so be it.