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April, 2009

Paid Links, Gifts and the Threat of Lost Pagerank

Sorry to bring this up again, but I think Google's paid link policy is anti-competitive (this Forrester post brought it up for me again). Essentially Google has made it clear that if a blogger receives anything for a post, then the link accompanying it should be "nofollow" (something else I've talked about in the past). Now I understand the reasoning behind this (Google is a database of trust and a paid link shouldn't carry the same weigh as an unpaid one), however, asking people to go through the process of adding "nofollow" feels to me like they're putting the onus on individuals to do their job (or at least a job their algorithm should be able to do). (Ted Murphy also makes this point.)

The big issue is summed up nicely over at the Forrester blog: "How do they identify what is paid and what is not? And where do they draw the line? Is it any type of sponsorship within the editorial stream? is it strictly a cash transaction? What about those who receive product samples which could range from a $2 bag of chips to a $30,000 car? What about writers who get all expense paid trips and free meals? What about a celebrity blogging about an endorsement deal? At one point can they determine compensation was exchanged or are they just guessing? And finally what is the punishment for bloggers? It seems as though this type of policy rewards those who don't disclose their compensation and those who do." Not a simple issue, certainly, but Google's approach seems especially wrong on this one.

At the end of the day it just seems like the market has spoken and they like paid links. Now that's not necessarily a good thing (as Matt points out, sometimes the results that are being rearranged are as serious as cancer), but irregardless it's a thing. Everywhere else in the Google world the answer is that the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the algorithm, not the user, so why are things different in this case? The bottom line to me is that this feels like Google trying to stifle competition to Adsense. Paid links and blogger outreach are ways for small publishers to make money without the help of their ad servers and they are trying to strangle it.

To be honest I don't think the nofollow thing is that big of a deal or a burden and in most cases wouldn't have a huge effect on the goals of the campaign, but there's a principle thing here that bugs me. It feels like the big guy, Google, threatening a bunch of little guys with loss of PageRank if they don't play by their rules. While I understand that there is none of us have to be listed in the engine, and if we weren't we would not be subject to any of these rules, however, everyone knows that's not really a viable option with one major player in the category.

I guess I'm just saying it feels a little evil.

April 29, 2009
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