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I’ll Get You, You Scwewy Webmaster!

August 17th, 2007 · 47 Comments

Google continue to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt around the webmaster community

Over the last couple of years there has been an increase in the amount of information coming out of Google regarding the way they operate. They’ve created numerous official blogs about their various products as well as allowing people like Matt Cutts to maintain his blog and, therefore, become the unofficial voice of Google for webmasters.

A lot of people see this as being a good thing. “Google are being more open with us“, they say. “Isn’t it great that we can talk directly to them” is something I read on the Digital Point forums once.

However this “open” approach to the information flow often appears to be nothing more than lip service to what is really happening within the walls of the Googleplex.

Michael Gray wrote an excellent article a while back about the FUD Factor (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) which Google are using to their advantage over their stance on paid links. I got shot down in flames over on Digital Point when I had the temerity to suggest that G’s stance on paid links had more to do with protecting their advertising revenue than it did with maintaining quality within their index.

An article on Digital Inspiration today talks about a PR7 site which has been banned from the Google index. The site in question is Master New Media which is a Premium AdSense Publisher and, according to DI, the site was making over $3k per month with Text Link Ads until they dropped the program like a hot potato when they saw a dramatic drop in their search rankings. Robin Good, the owner of the site, goes on to explain his reason for dropping TLA is because he sees the program as being in direct contravention of the Google rules regarding paid links.

This is a classic example of the Big G FUD Factor in full effect.

Let’s have a look at what Big G has to say on paid links. First up is the video of Matt Cutts explaining paid links at SMX Seattle.

Matt Cutts: We consider buying links to be outside of our guidelines and we might take strong actions on that in the future. If people want to ignore that, we as a search engine might take action on that because we want a high-quality index…If you’re a webmaster, it’s your site. You can do whatever you want to on your site…[Google] can do what we think is best to return a high quality index.

Matt talks more specifically about paid links in his article How to report paid links where he says that “link sellers can lose trust, such as their ability to flow PageRank/anchortext“. At no point does he says that a site will be kicked out of the SERPs for displaying paid links.

Finally why don’t we throw this little nugget into the conversation where the official Google Webmaster Help Center specifically states that “Not all paid links violate our guidelines“.

So to recap:

  1. Google want to manage an index which provides value to their customers so that when they search for a specific term, they get the most relevant result.
  2. Selling links will result in the loss of ability to pass PageRank.
  3. Not all paid links violate Googles guidelines.

Text Link Ads have been one of the success stories of online advertising over the last year. More and more web publishers are using their service because it is an excellent way to make money online. They are also a competitor to Google AdSense.

Digital Inspiration have 13,000 RSS subscribers. I have no idea how many Master New Media have but I would imagine they have a pretty big reader base. Currently those readers are under the impression that running TLA ads will get them banned from Google.

Given the fact that at no point have Google ever said that a site would get booted from the SERPs for displaying Text Link Ads, do you think they’ll be making a public statement to that effect?

Do you think, as Robin himself asks, that Google will drop him a line and say “Hey Robin, we’ve not dropped you from the rankings because you were displaying TLA but for reason X, Y or Z”?

No way!

It’s all part of the FUD Factor. Why the Hell would Google want people to think anything else? I can imagine that they would want even more coverage of this story so that more people drop Text Link Ads and replace them with AdSense. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the Googleplex was Digging the story right now.

This kind of story falls right into their hands. Forget all that no evil bullshit, Google are a multi billion dollar industry and their #1 priority is to their shareholders so allowing this kind of story to circulate and damage one of their advertising revenue competitors can only be good news for them.

Why will running Text Link Ads not see you dropped from Google?

Let’s look at some sites that use or endorse Text Link Ads, shall we? Sphinn. Graywolf. SEOmoz. Search Engine Guide. Search Engine Land. Search Engine Roundtable. SEO Book. Stuntdubl. Search Engine Journal. SEO Radio. Copyblogger. Andy Hagans. We Build Pages. DoshDosh. Pronet Advertising. Shoemoney. Yaro Starak. Blog Herald. ProBlogger. Heck, these are just some of the sites in the search or blogging industry. I haven’t even started looking at any of the other main stream sites.

Do you honestly think that Google are going to kick all of these sites out of the index because they’re running Text Link Ads on their site? C’mon. If they did then they would be seriously compromising their search index.

The fact is that something else has caused the problem for Robin. I don’t know him and until the article on Digital Inspiration I’d never heard of him (sorry Robin 😳 ) so I don’t know what other factors need to be considered but I’m prepared to stick my neck out here and say that running TLA exclusively did not see him being slapped by Google.

A number of sites have recently received a Google slap including, of course, John Chow*. There are a number of factors behind this including, I’m sure, link brokering but we’re not talking about transparent link brokering here. We’re talking about snidey ways around the system. Hidden text, i-frames, sneaky cash transactions for links, etc. In Johns case it will have been as a result of his blatant campaign to get to #1 for the search term I’m an obnoxious twat make money online.

Regular readers of this site will know that I’m a huge fan of Text Link Ads – Hey, even if this is your first visit you’ll have probably already got that impression – so I don’t want you to think that my belief in the product is clouding my judgement here. The fact is that running TLA will not get you kicked out of Google.

I’ve invited both Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, and Patrick Gavin, president of Text Link Ads, to respond on Twenty Steps to clarify the position. Let’s see what response we get.

UPDATE AUG 23: No official response from either Matt or Patrick as yet but the whole Google FUD Factor around paid links was the subject of what appears to be quite an emotional debate at the SES San Jose conference this week.

SEOmoz reports on the paid links debate where Michael Gray hits the nail on the head when he suggests that the only people that will benefit from this move is Google. The poor old searcher can’t find the commercial site he’s looking for in the search results so he is forced to click on an AdWords link and the Big G coffers go kerching. Again.

P.S. I know that Elmer Fudd has two D’s but it made me chuckle anyway 😉

* – No link from me as a result of his despicable promotion to charge people to remove the “nofollow” tag from their comments. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, look him up on Google. Oh, no. Wait. You can’t. Now that what I call being evil, John 😈

Tech Tags: , , , , ,

Tags: Search Marketing

47 responses so far ↓

  • Mike // Aug 18, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    It seems that Robin is back in the SERPs now (see his full story here) and acknowledges that TLA were not to blame.

    Sadly the damage will have already been done as Digitial Inspiration haven’t updated their article and, as a result, 13000 subscribers currently think running TLA will get you booted out of Google.

    Anyone see a Google rep jumping up and down to put people right? Didn’t think so…

  • Chris Lodge // Aug 20, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Great article, and you’re right Google=Evil well & truly.

    You can bet your rear end that if Google had entered the market for paid links before TLA then everything would be fine.

    If they were so worried about the ‘purity’ of their search engine, they wouldn’t offer the ‘sponsored links’ on top of the real ones. I don’t care how clearly they’re marked, they’re often irrelevant to the search term, but given Google’s revenues they obviously mislead enough users to click on them….

  • Henri van den Hoof // Aug 21, 2007 at 8:50 am

    Fact is that Google is tightening the nets around MFA sites and link exchanges. To bad though that regular bloggers are being punished by this. Their last call to have blogrolls and dofollow-plugins removed is ridiculous. In The Netherlands recently a large number of MFA’s and textlink driven sites were penalized and related Adsense accounts were closed.

  • Mike // Aug 22, 2007 at 12:40 am

    @Chris – It’s hypocrisy by Google, without a doubt. As you say, sponsored links are OK provided they’re the ones making the money. Thanks for the Stumble 😉

    @Henri – That’s interesting because I saw an article on one of the official Google blogs (can’t remember which one, unfortunately) which talked about entry pages or something similar being big in the Netherlands and they looked very much like MFA sites and yet Google was championing them. All very odd.

  • Mike // Aug 30, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Some more great coverage of the whole paid links debate can be found here:

    WebProNews – Video interview with Rand Fishkin and Michael Gray

    GrayWolf – The paid link presentation from SES San Jose that lit the blue touch paper

  • Cathy // Sep 10, 2007 at 3:29 am

    Very good article for sure. Your right. Google has to maintain a bottom line, and trying to figure out their movements and choices is impossible.

    I remember the classic saying from “All The President’s Men”…….follow the money.

    Follow the nofollow.


  • Mike // Sep 10, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Cathy.

    As I said in my Google Is Evil post, I’ll do what I have to in order to keep on their good side whilst they’re #1 on the block but it doesn’t mean I have to like it…

  • JTPRATT's Blogging Mistakes // Oct 1, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Personally I think that your article is inaccurate because it doesn’t present all the facts. Text Link Ads is supposed to be designed to sell ‘ads’, but they are instead selling ‘link juice’. They even advertise that on their home page when they say “Improve your traffic and search engine rankings”. Publishers that take TLA code and add ‘rel=nofollow’ have their accounts disabled. Matt Cutts has no problem with any ad service that sells ads for traffic (and not links). AdBrite is a great example, they are very successful – but their ads are placed within javascript code. TLA refuses to do this because they are selling link juice and not ads. Your examples of sites that sell text link ads don’t appear to be valid either. Sphinn doesn’t have any TLA’s, and I can’t find any on Search Engine Land Either (just sponsored ads to signup). GrayWolf has a review of Text Link Ads from Jan 2007, and a graphical affiliate link to them – but no actual text link ads at all. In fact, the only text ads I see are from AdBrite. I can’t find any at SEOMoz either (maybe that’s since they went premium pay content). Search Engine Roundtable, well they don’t have any text link ads either – and their link to TLA in ‘Sponsored Links’ is rel=nofollow’d out. I’ve looked allover Stuntdubl, I can’t find any TLA’s there either, just another affiliate graphic and Search Engine Journal, and Search Engine Radio are the exact same way. Even at CopyBlogger I can’t find anything but TLA graphic ad, and all the text links they appear to have are going through Valueclick and NOT TLA. Andy Hagans has no TLA that I can find on his site, DoshDosh doesn’t anymore, can’t find anything on WeBuildPages, ShoeMoney got rid of his TLA’s a Looooong time ago, they appear to be gone at Blog Herald too, as well as ProBlogger and ProNet. Yaro Starak’s site is one of the only ones in your list that I could still find text link ads on. Your reasoning that google states Not all paid links violate our guidelines I think is a bit slanted as well. Matt Cutt’s has stated many, many times that buying links for traffic is fine, but buying links for link juice is bad and officialy violates their quality guidelines. I wrote about it in my post Google Penalty for Using Text Link Ads?.

  • Mike // Oct 1, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    If you reread the paragraph above you’ll see that it says “use or endorse Text Link Ads”. The TLA testimonials page contains a number of others that I didn’t include in the list. With regard to a number of the others you mention, carrying an affiliate banner is an endorsement.

    I’m not disagreeing with you that Google may well penalise TLA advertisers. As you say, MC has said that buying links for juice goes against quality guidelines. Where we disagree is the penalty. On JohnTP and on your own site you say that running TLA will result in being deindexed. That’s rubbish. In the same breath that he said buying links for Google juice is bad, he also said that the only penalty they would enforce is removing the ability to pass the juice in the first place.

  • JTPRATT's Blogging Mistakes // Oct 2, 2007 at 1:15 am

    Thank you, I did miss “use or endorse” TLA. However, I will point out that many if not most of these blogs used to have TLA ads on their page(s), and now they do not. Why is that? I will have to politely disagree on the matter of penalty however. On JohnTP’s site I said:

    “Personally John, I dont know why you or others would use TLA when you could get a google penalty for using Text Link Ads. I know many use them still, but its a complete violation of googles web quality guidelines. With a google penalty you could lose all of your google traffice overnight – I wont risk that, which is why I took my text link ads down.”

    Nowhere in there did I say you would get “deindexed”. What I said was that “with a google penalty you could loose all of your google traffic…”, which is entirely true. With a -950 penalty for 90 days your site may as well not exist. That’s a google penalty. You’re in the index, but so far back that it could cost you most if not all your traffic (for some sites). If by ‘deindexed’ you mean penalty then, yes, that’s what I said. This penalty is widely discussed in forums and blogs, like this one “google penalizes text link blogs. was even penalized with a google penalty where they didn’t even come up in SERPs for their own domain name for quite awhile.

    You say missing “link juice” is the penalty, but many have attributed the -950 penalty (what Matt Cutts calls ‘the over-optimization penalty’) to having either used TLA or bought and sold text links for juice.

  • Mike // Oct 2, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Sure I understand that you didn’t use the term “deindex” but that’s what you alluded to. Or at least how I read it 😉

    I’ve not seen anyone from Big G publicly state that a -950 penalty could be applied for displaying paid links. I know it’s been discussed on many forums and blogs by webmasters but nothing official at this stage. Not that I’m expecting Big G to come out and confirm or deny – it’s not their style.

  • Mike // Oct 8, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    ShoeMoney hits the nail on the head with his latest video post Don’t Make Google Look Stupid.

  • Douglas // Nov 21, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    I don’t understand why selling links on your website should drop your page rank? If a website owner can’t make enough money to even maintain his or her website, the owner is more than likely not going to want to run it anymore. How is selling text link ads any different than having adsense on your site?

    5 Lessons Learned By a Young Webmaster

  • Mike // Nov 21, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Hi Doug. Thanks for stopping by and getting involved in the discussion.

    The reason why TLA is an issue is because the links pass PageRank because they don’t use no-follow. In essence what Big G are saying is that people are trying to game the PageRank model by buying a better score. The more inbound links to your site, the higher your PageRank.

    AdSense uses Javascript so any links don’t pass PR juice so that’s fine.

  • Abhik // Jun 14, 2008 at 5:28 am

    Its not that you will loose your position in SEPR by using TLA or TNX. But how?
    You just told about TLA, what about TNX?

  • Mike // Jun 14, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Any links which are paid and can be detected by Google are putting you at risk of being dropped down the SERPs. That’s how it is.

    Of course not all paid links leave obvious footprints 😉

  • james // Jun 18, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    great post

    I personally dont think paid links area huge problem if your careful with them
    I mean how can google really know whats paid and what isnt

  • Mike // Jun 18, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Well there’s the question, James. Big G moves in mysterious ways…

  • Jordi // Jul 2, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Great post.

    I am a mod at a forum for webmasters and am a member of a few forums related to this subject.

    The majority of webmasters buying and selling links will try to make this type of operations privately and so assume that everything is fine.

    I think that there are many webmasters being knocked out by the competition when they buy and sell links privately in certain communities. Unfortunately there is no way to know when someone deceives you 😉 ….. or maybe there is.. :)

    Did you notice the report paid links on the Google webmaster tools? What if someone decides to use it in the wrong way?

    Does G send a message to the accused webmaster to confront him with the accuser?

    You never know

  • Mike // Jul 4, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Jordi – Personally I would never report anyone for selling links but there are thousands of people who would. As you say, there’s no way of knowing who has done it or, indeed, if you’ve been penalised. It’s all a bit of a mess, isn’t it?

    It would be nice if Big G would inform a webmaster of such a penalty but, sadly, I don’t see that happening

  • added value hosting // Jul 21, 2008 at 1:18 am

    I hate how Matt Cutts is always spoken of as the unofficial voice of Google. The truth is that hes really a Google puppet and most, if not all, of what he says has been approved for public release. I’m just not sold on his altruistic benevolence yet.

  • Mike // Jul 21, 2008 at 9:57 am

    I hear you but at least we’re getting something out of Google. When was the last time you saw a video by one of the guys at Yahoo! or Microsoft?

  • Domain Man // Aug 11, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    This penalty for selling text links makes it x times harder just to get good serp rankings. The thing that sucks the most, is that the top competitors for the terms dont even feel this penalty. For some reason, their paid links still hold their value while if you run a small one man operation the links you just bought are basically worthless.

    Matt Cutts is just there to make google look more web master friendly when they really arent. Web master to them is really the man who spends the most money.

  • Mike // Aug 12, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    There certainly does appear to be a case of double standards here, you’re right. Michael Gray has highlighted a number of instances where the big guys seem to be getting away with selling links but they appear to go unpunished.

    With regards to Matt Cutts, in some ways I feel sorry for him. He has become the public face of Google and so whenever anything goes wrong or Big G make an unpopular decision, it’s always him that gets it in the neck. It’s not like he runs the whole of Google!

  • Keral Patel // Aug 23, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I think Using PHP embedding codes is a safer way to even hide the paid TLA ads. If you know php good enough you can surely play around in it.

  • Mike // Aug 24, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Care to elaborate on that, Keral?

  • Webmaster // Sep 27, 2008 at 4:16 am

    Wow this was interesting, I have never heard of something like this and I think this will make for interesting read once more.

    I need to try this out, the best part is that Google approves of it too and that means a lot.

  • network settings switcher // Sep 30, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Yes karl please elaborate

  • Daniel, The Hosting Blog // Oct 4, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    This is a really great post and I agree with most of your ideas. I think that the Google webmaster blog is just some crap they threw together to make web masters think Google is looking out for them. The tips on that blog are so newbie its not even funny.

    Sure you can get top ranks on a competitive term…by simply following the tips outlined in the G blog. HAH would a load of garbage.

    I think they are very hypocritical. EVERY site in the top 10 rankings is there because of paid text links. Why dont they care about them? They should have their links devalued just like everyone else.

  • web hosting nerd // Oct 9, 2008 at 4:25 am

    well.. it was a great post..

    i didnt knw wht the time was .. kept on reading it..

    thanks a lot..

  • Mike // Oct 9, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Daniel – Whilst I have my issues with some of the stuff Big G does, I do believe they help webmasters a lot more than the other guys. Sure a lot of the stuff on the webmaster blog is Billy Basic but, for a lot of folks, that’s all they need.

    Nerd – Thanks for sticking with it until the end!

  • Vedetta // Dec 20, 2008 at 10:12 am

    It doesn’t seem fair at all to the little guy, and I see many big sites that keep buying links.

  • Johny // Dec 23, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Google never let any solid information/advice to the open public. By that I mean daily questions that us, webmasters have.
    Matt Cuts doesnt give us direct answers, almosts all his articles are making you sit hours in front of them and try to read between the lines.

  • insideWebmaster // Jan 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    I’m interested, this post was written about a year and a half ago, so, has anything big changed in that time? Do the sites you named still use TLA? I know Sphinn, for one, has dropped them and grown by leaps and bounds in the past year – it’s now up to a pr6. Anyway, just wondering.

  • Ant-Lion // Jan 17, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I useto use Text Link Ads to buy links for some of my sites but I eventually gave up on using it due to the cost of the links for the PR juice that I was getting with them. I will monitor the sites in question and see if the PR of them improves now that I now no longer buy my links from TLA.

  • GoogleBoy // Mar 4, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Google knows TLA very well but tracking TLA’s links is not that easy… i think so though i don’t work with TLA.

  • Jonas // Apr 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm


    I enjoyed reading your post. I am also a webmaster for 5 years now, and a member of around 5 webmasters forums. I think the best way to treat your web site is like to treat your woman. Be gentle with it and it will repay you. Dont use lousy tactics as it will come back and bite you in the butt sooner or later.

    All the best,

  • Mike // Apr 1, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Well that’s certainly an interesting way of looking at it!

  • Martin // Apr 6, 2009 at 6:53 am

    Great advice. Thanks for sharing how to get a nice link juice. I have a question though,

    Should I post to forums with high index page but the actual page for putting links has no PR at all? Will google still consider this as a boost to my PR?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Mike // Apr 6, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    If the forum is a respected one and the domain has a high PR then you might see a tiny trickle of juice

  • martin // Apr 7, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for the quick reply.

    So I’m guessing that it is better to post on blog/forums with PR3 and the actual page for putting links has a PR3 also to get more link juice against a respected forum with high PR but the linking has PR0?

    Appreciate your reply. Thanks.

  • Mike // Apr 7, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    The best way to look at it is to comment or post on blogs in order to add value to the discussion rather than whether you’ll get any Google juice. By doing that, by becoming a regular contributor to blogs or forums, you’ll get something more important than a trickle of green in your toolbar.

    Personally, and I’m not trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs here, I would be focusing more on creating relationships within my niche/industry than finding blogs or forums with PR3+ link pages. Whilst there are PR benefits of a getting a link from a PR5 page, there are greater benefits in getting physical traffic to your website as a result of a mention and link within the content of an article or webpage relevant to your customers/audience regardless of how much green the page has.


  1. Matt Cutts - The Enforcer
  2. Why Paid Links Are Good
  3. An Open Letter To Patrick Gavin - President of Text Link Ads
  4. The Obligatory Round Up Post
  5. More Google Hypocrisy | Twenty Steps