If you’re a searchspotter (they’re a bit like trainspotters only more geeky) then you can’t help but have noticed the furore over the SES San Jose session about paid links. SEOmoz has a nice write up of the events, Michael Gray has posted his infamous presentation and there’s a great video interview with the pair of them over at WebProNews just in case you’ve missed out on all the fun. There’s an alternative version available at Dave N’s place too
In essence, in case you’re not a searchspotter or you’ve been on Mars for the last couple of weeks or you’re just too damn lazy to click on the links, Google are getting tougher on their stance on paid links and this has caused something of a backlash within the web publisher community.
One of the commenters over at Graywolf said
I do not like the idea of a “paid” internet
This comment got me thinking about the future of t’internet and where we’re going to be in a few years time. How is it going to be different and how can we draw parallels with current, more established media?
I’m going to stick my stake in the ground and say that the Internet as it currently exists will not be around in 5 years time. More and more publishers will move to premium content sites which are only available to subscribers. Some of these will be charge based, others will be RSS based. Examples of this are already out there with SEOmoz charging for premium content and Aaron Brazell only making certain posts available to RSS subscribers.
The availability of publishing tools means that anyone with web access can create a site within 30 minutes. Buy your domain name for $10, get some hosting for $100 (or get it free entering my competition), install WordPress and slap up a website. Voila! Instant publishing. Now that’s no different to what we’ve got now but I believe, despite what some people may say, that blogging or, more importantly, user generated websites will continue to grow at an exponential rate over the next five years.
The last Sifry report showed that 120,000 new blogs are created every day. (Incidentally, who will take this over now that Dave Sifry has left Technorati?) I’ve read in some places that most people who are going to write a blog are already doing so but that’s bullshit. Blogging or – again – user generated content is only going to get bigger for the simple reason that kids are now growing up aware of their ability/right to publish online.
There are 13 year old kids out there running successful online businesses. Now I’m going to be 38 in a few months time. When I was 13 the only thing I had on my mind was when I was going to have my next wank. In todays world, success on the Internet has become something to aspire to so the desire to make money online is not going to go away. It’s going to get bigger and more competitive.
So, how does that all fit in with the paid links debate?
Well the Internet is the new TV.
When I was a teenager, in between vigorous bouts of self abuse, the only other entertainment medium I had was half a dozen radio stations and the four TV channels available in the UK. There only used to be 3 but Channel 4 launched on my twelfth birthday giving me Carol Vorderman as further inspiration for my nocturnal activities. The problem was that almost all of the programmes available on ITV and Channel 4 were crap. Part of the reason behind this were the constant ad breaks.
Now you have to remember at the time that the British TV viewer was used to watching the BBC where there were no commercial breaks. For non UK readers, there is something called a TV licence fee over here which costs you $250 a year to fund the making of BBC programmes. In return for paying this fee you get top quality programmes without any adverts. Or at least you used to. These days you get programmes like “When Vets Go Bad” or “Single Parent Lesbians Renovate Your Home”. Still, at least there are no ads, right?
Every single programme on the BBC carries adverts. Now they might not be obvious but they’re there. It’s called product placement and it’s something that I’ve touched on before in my disclosure policy post. The fact is that the BBC are not only charging viewers to watch the crap they churn out, they’re also making money on the sly through product placement.
Product placement on TV = paid links
It’s illegal for the BBC to carry adverts on their stations due to the licence fee agreement but the fact is that they continue to do so. Sure, they’re not obvious about it but it happens.
Let’s go back to my film I mentioned in the disclosure post. Would it have got made without the use of product placement to pay for the on set catering? Yes it would. Would the quality of the film have been as good without the much needed cash injection from the company in question? No it would not for the simple reason being that feeding 200+ people per day for a 10 day shoot costs money. If that money had not come in from the product placement then other parts of the production budget would have had to be cut.
Sooooo…back to the paid links debate and the whole point that Graywolf made in his presentation.
How can Google decide algorithmically what benefits the user and what doesn’t? On the face of it, having a supermarket van in the background of a number of scenes for my film doesn’t enhance the users experience BUT it does. Without that van, corners would have been cut and the overall experience of the viewer diminished. Likewise someone selling a text link on their site might not directly improve the readers experience but if that financial contribution helps keep the writer publishing then that’s got to be good, right?
Ultimately the Internet is moving at a great pace. The point I made earlier regarding the ability to produce online content means that people will need to do more to differentiate themselves from everyone else to give a perceived value. Now that will be done by using subscription based services or by making content only available to RSS users (cable/satellite TV) or by spending money on making their sites bigger and better than everyone else by using alternative funding (product placement).
It’s called evolution and there’s nothing Google can do to stop it.