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.
So to recap:
- 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.
- Selling links will result in the loss of ability to pass PageRank.
- 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”?
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.
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