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Old 01-24-2006   #1
Wail
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Are Google's Guidelines harmfully confusing? Yes.

I'm helping with a site that seems to be wrongly penalised. No help from Google on the matter, of course, however their latest standard reply got me wondering. (And let's not get dragged into a debate as to whether the site is wrongfully penalised - just wanted to indicate that I don't normally email reinclusion requests.)

Quote:
As you may know, certain actions such as buying or selling links to increase a site's PageRank value or cloaking - writing text in such a way that it can be seen by search engines but not by users - can result in penalization. Please review our quality guidelines at http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html for more information.
Sure. I know that link buying and selling can harm your Google position (there's a thread on Matt's blog where a site seems to have been removed from the index because of it) but does Joe Webmaster know this?

Is there anything in Google's guidelines which says do not buy or sell links? There's none that I could find.

I could find:
* Have other relevant sites link to yours.

I could find:
* Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.

It's a terribly fine line between submitting your site to an industry-specific expert site and paying to submit your site to an industry-specific site. Directories tend to charge. People are used to paying to have their links listed.

I think it's high time that Google amends their guidelines to warn against link buying and link selling.
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Old 01-24-2006   #2
Jill Whalen
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I rarely look at those guidelines because they're common sense, but checking the link you mentioned, they do say:

Quote:
Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank.
That's fairly clear to me. It doesn't specifically address the purchasing of links, but it doesn't really have to.
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Old 01-24-2006   #3
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Hi wail I feel your frustration. It is a tough space we are in, trying to keep up with changes made by Google and others when we know that our site is relevant and not trying any tricks. Have you ruled out possible "hidden content?" Based on their hint, that could also be the case, no?

It would definitely be unfair to many webmasters and site owners to assign penalties against link buying in general, in my opinion. But chances are this would have to be a pattern of purchased links in order for the site to have been affected, in my experience. I have worked with sites that have a small portion of purchased links as well as some with larger percentages, and have not seen any penalization yet. Perhaps this is because we have stayed away from known link farms and kept the purchases to a minimum and to direct contact with the selling sites.

It is possible that sites that clearly sell links to whomever wants them can be identified by Google, and perhaps there is a "guilt by association" factor that could be levied in the algo. In this case though I think Google would be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" if they penalized all such sites. So if there is a pattern and a certain number of paid links that trip the algo, we could possibly be considered to be seeking links purely for the purpose of affecting rankings?

I guess in the long run I think you are right: something more clearly explaining this new alleged penalty should be inserted into the guidelines, probably.

(added- I just read Jill's post and she always says things so much more succinctly than me )
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Old 01-24-2006   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jill Whalen
I rarely look at those guidelines because they're common sense, but checking the link you mentioned, they do say:



That's fairly clear to me. It doesn't specifically address the purchasing of links, but it doesn't really have to.
Jill, you've a lot of expertise. If you were a webmaster without any SEO skills would you be able to zoom in on that line, translate it in the way you have and prioritise it over the other entries which seem to suggest it is a good tactic to get other related sites to link to you and submit (pay) directories?

It's clear to you, it's clear to me (the site in question has not bought a single link) but I do not think it is clear to Webmaster Joe.

Last edited by Wail : 01-24-2006 at 10:22 AM.
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Old 01-24-2006   #5
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Originally Posted by Chris Boggs

I guess in the long run I think you are right: something more clearly explaining this new alleged penalty should be inserted into the guidelines, probably.
Thanks Chris,

I'd like to stress that I'm not a fan of link buying. I don't recommend it. I've never done it. The site which inspired me to email Google has never done it.

Although there are some hints, as Jill found, in the guidelines that Google may not like this - there are also hints to encourage webmasters to gain links. It's not clear, it's confusing and I believe harmfully so.

I do wish Google would crack down on link buying and I believe they would be in a better, stronger and more ethical position to do so by simply tweaking their guideline page a little. It's a tiny effort for them to make.
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Old 01-24-2006   #6
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enter Matt Cutts, stage left

>but does Joe Webmaster know this?

No, and apparently some of the link-selling SEM crowd isn't up on risk disclosure to their clients, either. I just had to spend an afternoon explaining to an ad-buying client about why I used the nofollow tag in my sponsored links (prior to nofollow, I used cgi redirects for years).


http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-link-follow-up/

The general consensus among my friends was that Google would not publicly execute Jeremy Zawodny but neuter his site in their engine by not allowing it to pass PR --this is sort of the "sterile fruit-fly" approach. It's a stealth nuking and the effect will be similar except the advertisers hoping for a rankings boost will be out a whole bunch of money until they realize what's happened.
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Old 01-25-2006   #7
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Wail has a point, the "Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank." warning which years ago many interpreted as meaning simply FFAs/link farms, has widened to include crosslinks, internal links, reciprocal links and now paid links.

It's now a bit like Abstract art, you need to be familiar with the artist to fully appreciate the work ;-)

As for "Make sure all the sites that should know about your pages are aware your site is online.", it sounds like an encouragement to spam....
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Old 01-25-2006   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glengara
Wail has a point, the "Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank." warning which years ago many interpreted as meaning simply FFAs/link farms, has widened to include crosslinks, internal links, reciprocal links and now paid links.
Very true. There is a lot of color-mixing room on this particular artists' palette. We could also talk about sitewides.
So it seems to be the consensus so far that Wail is supported in his desire that Google should update their guidelines, or at least more clearly explain their entire definition of "link schemes." Is Google holding out so as not to inform people that are not yet "in the know" about various still effective schemes by highlighting them? To me the very succinct nature of this guideline is very much the style of Google. It says enough to provide a possible reason for being penalized, based on thorough enough research of all linking efforts conducted by a particular site, as Jill hinted earlier.
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Old 01-25-2006   #9
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It was really a standard email reply from Google which inspired me to make this point. Google did tell me, in plain English, that buying and selling links is bad. They're prepared to be as straight forward as that - which is good.

It just strikes me that they would save themselves a lot of bother if they said so in their guidelines. If they're prepared to say so in an email then it's not much of a leap or a change in style to say so in guidelines. They would save Webmaster Joe a lot of bother too. It's a shame Google Base isn't a collective effort/wiki otherwise I would start a community inspired Guidelines page.

I'm a lot less infuriated by the situation today than I was when I posted about it. The debate here has been helpful.
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Old 01-25-2006   #10
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Matter of interest Wail, did you cast a jaundiced eye on the rest of that sites' linkage?

Just sort of surprised buying/selling links on its own would have that effect....
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Old 01-25-2006   #11
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It's a big brand. The website has just had a huge overhaul - the sort of overhaul which results Google's historical record of it (see the temporal/history patent application). There are hundreds of back links to it already, but naturally and fairly so as loads of pages across the WWW all link in.

I suspect it's a false positive, which is why I emailed Google (and why I'm annoyed I got a standard email back).

There's also a sub-issue which, hopefully, might also have some weight in that there were many extra domains before we came to help. They're all now 301'ing but Google is taking an absolute age to take heed of that fact.


spelling edit

Last edited by Wail : 01-25-2006 at 03:22 PM.
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Old 01-25-2006   #12
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Thanks for that Wail, sounds like there were a number of factors involved...
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Old 01-25-2006   #13
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How is Google to differentiate between a link that is purchased in order to enhance link popularity and a link that is purchased to bring in traffic and to build awareness?

It can get a big creepy feeling:

Google: "Publishers, make money on your site running Adsense ads (giving a cut to us). Don't sell links on your site directly (cutting us out of the deal) or we will punish both you and your advertisers in our search results."
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Old 01-26-2006   #14
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Although there are some hints, as Jill found, in the guidelines that Google may not like this - there are also hints to encourage webmasters to gain links. It's not clear, it's confusing and I believe harmfully so.
Why do they have to say anything at all?

What is so hard to understand about a search engine that would prefer sites not attempt to trick them into ranking them better than they should be ranked? Doesn't that pretty much go without saying?

They really need to spell it out further?
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Old 01-27-2006   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wail
Sure. I know that link buying and selling can harm your Google position (there's a thread on Matt's blog where a site seems to have been removed from the index because of it) but does Joe Webmaster know this?
How did Joe Webmaster find out that links are good? From Google's guidelines? It says this:
Quote:
Have other relevant sites link to yours.
Google does not tell Joe Webmaster that his ranking will improve with links. Somebody else told Joe this. If Joe Webmaster can dig up this kind of info, he should be able to also dig up the info that buying links from irrelevant sites is trouble. Bottom line, Google tells Joe to have relevant sites link to his.

If Joe Webmaster is buying links from irrelevant sites w/out a nofollow, he's not doing it for advertising purposes, targeted traffic referrals, etc.
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Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank.
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Old 01-27-2006   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jill Whalen
Why do they have to say anything at all?

What is so hard to understand about a search engine that would prefer sites not attempt to trick them into ranking them better than they should be ranked? Doesn't that pretty much go without saying?

They really need to spell it out further?
Jill. I think you're defending Google rather than the wording of their giudelines here. It's great that the search engine evokes such loyalty.

Google does not have to say anything. They don't even have to publish guidelines.

I just feel that if they're happy to say "don't buy or sell links" (and the guidelines don't mention the dangers of link selling at all) in emails that they could spend then 10minutes to edit their guidelines to mention this too.

Oh, I wouldn't go as far as saying that it's evil not to edit the guidelines, I don't feel as Google has an ethical obligation to edit their guidelines but I do feel that it would be nice of them to edit their guidelines. Clarity can only be a good thing.

Last edited by Wail : 01-27-2006 at 05:07 AM.
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Old 01-27-2006   #17
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I just feel that if they're happy to say "don't buy or sell links" (and the guidelines don't mention the dangers of link selling at all) in emails that they could spend then 10minutes to edit their guidelines to mention this too.
But they don't say not to buy or sell links, because they know that has nothing to do with them. What ads someone wants to have on their site or on someone else's site isn't something Google would presume to dictate. (Contrary to what many believe.)

The problem for Google is figuring out which are ads and which are votes. But it's their problem, not the webmaster's.
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Old 01-27-2006   #18
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I know. Google would help the webmaster if they said in their guidelines this could be an issue - but Google does not have to say anything.

It's the webmaster problem if they do something that Google doesn't like. I believe these guidelines, as they are, may be interpreted in such a way that the webmaster does something (pay for a link or charge for a link) that Google does not like.

It's not official Google dictate, far from it, but Matt Cutts suggests strongly that rel="nofollow" should be used for advertising decisions to avoid triggering Google penalties. More people would take this option if they knew about it, if it was in the guidelines and not officially mentioned for the first time in an email reply to a query.
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Old 01-27-2006   #19
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*But it's their problem, not the webmaster's.*

You may well be right, but it'll be small consolation for those that misread the Runes ;-)
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Old 01-27-2006   #20
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Goole is not the only source of traffic

Sometimes it's easy to forget when reading threads like this that Google is not the only source of web traffic.

I pay for some links because the send me real converting visitors - not to rank higher in Google (although I always thought this was an added bonus - a freebee).

However, I might think twice if I though buying some of these links would hurt me in Google (only some of them - the rest are worth more to me than my Google listings).

So would the experts reading this thread recommend asking for nofollow attributes on the links I buy? Is it more likely to hurt the linker than the linkee (or maybe both - perhaps someone could clarify)... Either way if I buy the link for real traffic, I don't want to hurt the site I buy from!

Some sites that sell me links (or even banner ad space - remember that? still works in some places) might worry about selling me links if they read this thread... is it a valid concern for those that fund their sites by sending me traffic?
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