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Old 09-02-2005   #1
PhilC
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MODERATOR NOTE: Split from O'Reilly In Off-Topic Link Selling Debate. See that thread for some related discussion on this topic.

Matt Cutts wrote about it in his blog yesterday. What he had to say got right up my nose again - so I posted a comment.

This is bit of what Matt wrote:-

Quote:
Reputable sites that sell links won’t have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized .... However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext).
There are 2 things that strike me:-

(1) What is a "reputable" site? And can sites that don't fit that description be penalised?

(2) Isn't losing the ability to pass PageRank and link text a penalty?

Last edited by dannysullivan : 09-05-2005 at 07:37 AM.
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Old 09-02-2005   #2
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Look at this:

"I'll trade you this chicken for that loaf of bread"
"I'll trade you 2 silver coins for that loaf of bread"
"I'll chop some wood for that loaf of bread"
"I'll tell people you have great bread if you give me that loaf of bread"

These are all legitimate ways to obtain a loaf of bread. They are also, mutatus mutandi, legitimate ways to obtain a link (ie trading, paying, performing services, or advertising, respectively).

Is that loaf of bread worth less because you traded for it rather than bought it?

Now, how about this:

"I'll give you this loaf of bread because you are my friend"
"I'll give you this loaf of bread because you are my family"
"I'll give you this loaf of bread because I respect/like you"
"I'll give you this loaf of bread because it's my job"
"I'll give you this loaf of bread because you are threatening me"
"I'll give you this loaf of bread because you smell and I want you to go away"

Any difference? Well, it's a one way transaction, technically. But the reasons vary quite a bit.

Are the loaves worth more? Maybe, because you didn't have to give something up in return. Of course, you could also argue that they are not worth anything at all because there was no value set, nor was there an intent to, in some cases.

This would be no problem until some explorers come to the village and start to try to figure out who the most important person in the village was by counting the loaves of bread, giving them lots of nifty trinkets and trade goods, and only wanting to do trade with the ones with the most loaves.

Of course, the villagers would figure that out quickly and start collecting loaves of bread, even hording them and not giving them away to the needy like they used to. Some would even begin to bake their own bread, and to buy bread they don't even want, just because of this. They might even consider borrowing or renting bread.

Not a good trend. But don't blame the villagers. They were perfectly happy with their bread before this all happened, and will be perfectly happy with their bread when the explorers leave. Maybe the needy will actually get fed, then.

In the meantime, anyone else notice that bread is getting kinda expensive lately?

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Old 09-02-2005   #3
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Ian, that is an absolute gem of a post.
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Old 09-02-2005   #4
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I dunno about all this brouhaha.

If someone pays for a link, they get charged a fee. If they don't get the benefits they expected, that is just the cost of any advertising. I remember years ago that an advertisers paid for a whole season of Rosanne, and when the last season tanked, couldn't get out of it, and the value of those ads was a fraction of what it previously was. Too bad, so sad, that is life in advertising. Text links are the same.

Sites have every right to sell links to whomever they want, and search engines have every right to not count whatever they like, from links to chunks of code to whole sites. That is just the way the game works, and be you buyer or seller, these are facts to face.

Issue over, move on.
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Old 09-02-2005   #5
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That's exactly right, but it doesn't seem to be the way that Google sees it. They give the strong impression of thinking that websites ought to create links that suit their ranking algorithm.

Incredibly, on Matt Cutts blog, someone asked him, "Would it be okay for a website to sell a link on their website to another website, if they deemed the other website to be both related and a good online resource? .... Or is that still evil and diluting?" It's hard to believe that someone actually thought it was necessary to ask Google if it is ok to link in a certain way, but that's the sort of mentality that Matt seems to be trying to promote both in his blog and in his O'Reilly post.
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Old 09-03-2005   #6
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I don't know that that is true. I have never seen Google hurt any site for selling links in any way except to reduce the effectiveness of the links for PageRank, and therefore eventually the value of links sold.

The "hurt" has always come when advertisers flee, or from bad PR (old skool style Public Relations). I see no reason to blame Google for that. To me, it is like having a gimic product, say, the Iraqi pack of cards, making a short term killing before the hysteria dies down.

Long term, PageRank selling isn't a great way to make a living. Much better to sell visitors, via banners and the like.
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Old 09-03-2005   #7
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Take the example you gave, limiting the ability to pass PR or droppping a sites PR altogether. You are thinking that it may affect the website by advertisers leaving. That may be true also, but you are mising another part completely. The part of the algo that takes anchor text and PR (however slightly) into consideration for ranking pages. Their own pages rankings WILL also be affected. Now when it is a mom and pop place that wasnt selling links to game anyone that takes a large hit in traffic and thus profit, it hurts.

I am not blaming google at all. I just think that the way they are talking about trying to handle their inability to programmatically solve their problems should not be passed to us as webmasters. What is broken is on googles end, not ours.
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Old 09-03-2005   #8
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I have never seen Google hurt any site for selling links in any way except to reduce the effectiveness of the links for PageRank, and therefore eventually the value of links sold.
You should read up on the SK case - Google did in fact hurt a site for selling links, and not only that - also other sites connected and hosted at the same portal but that had nothing to do with it
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Old 09-03-2005   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by projectphp
I don't know that that is true. I have never seen Google hurt any site for selling links in any way except to reduce the effectiveness of the links for PageRank, and therefore eventually the value of links sold.
You don't know that what is true? That Google seems to be promoting the idea that websites should link to suit the engines? Or did I miss something? When Matt Cutts says that Google will take action against the links on a site if they are sold, then he is promoting the idea that websites should link to suit Google's desires.

I reiterate what Mikkel said about SK.

This is the same Google that modifies our webpages without permission, that displays our webpages in their own site without permission, that was caught in the act stealing the content of books without permission with the intention of publishing them, that punishes innocent websites (e.g. SK related sites, and many many more) ,etc., and now they want webmasters to help them improve their results because there's something they can't do themselves. Yeah, right.

They chose to base their rankings on links, nobody forced them, and now they say that the web they found when they began is not the way it should be because there are some links that they can't deal with as they would like, and they want webmasters to help them? There are a couple of dozen comments on this subject in Matts blog, and I don't think that any of them agree with him - not even the whitest of whitehats.
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Old 09-03-2005   #10
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<added>Just saw Phil's post. I think we just have to agree to disagree on this. You are using connotative language that I just don't buy into, like "innocent" and "stealing". Google have every right to do what they do, fullstop. If they do break laws, someone should pull them up on it. If they don't, again, they can do what they want </added>

Domains hosted on the same IP is an infrequent but common SEO problem, and it isn't just the SK affair that this has happenned in.

Also, does that happen now? Are the sites hosted alongside text link ads or wherever broker advertises everywhere sufferring today? I don't know, but if you profer that case as proof that Google hurt sites (and i would argue that isn't hurting), there are plenty more link brokers now, and it is an hypothesis that needs current research to support.

Besides, hurt, as in do something bad to, or hurt as in take something good away are very different. Taking away a child's toy and is a different bad to hitting them upside the head.

I was not aware that internal links didn't pass PR in any case. Any proof of that? phpBB was one of the first to get the passes PR chop, and its internal pages still have PR, many of which, I am sure, only have internal links to rely upon.

In the end, Google don't like link selling and have every right, as I said, not to count whatever they like, including whole IP ranges from being indexed. Sites also have every right to claim whatever value they can from whatever resources they have for sale. When the two issues colide, the consequences are pretty self evident, with not much anyone can do to change that, IMHO.

If anyone relies upon selling text links for PageRank, and Google cuts off the supply, really, what did they expect?

Last edited by projectphp : 09-03-2005 at 10:03 AM.
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Old 09-03-2005   #11
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Nobody is saying that Google shouldn't do things internally. This whole debate is about them wanting webmasters to change what they do to suit Google, and it is accompanied by the threat of action being taken against some links on websites if they don't do what Google wants. I.e. if I sell a link on my site but I don't voluntarily devalue it with the rel-nofollow attribute, Google will devalue it if they can spot it. It means that the sale price of my links is reduced - and that "hurts". Google is perfectly free to devalue sold links, and nobody is saying any different, but there is no way they should be telling webmasters that they ought to do it themselves. That's what this discussion is about.


About your added bit...

Google has no right to steal other people's property just because nobody pulls them up about it - no right at all. And copying other people's copyrighted works without their permission is theft. Even schools can't do that, and they often have a real need to do it due to lack of money. They didn't get as far as publishing the stuff, but they were in the process of doing it before they were stopped.

As for "innocent" sites being penalised/punished - study the SK case, as was suggested. And there are many many more examples. It happens a lot.
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Old 09-03-2005   #12
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Domains hosted on the same IP is an infrequent but common SEO problem, and it isn't just the SK affair that this has happenned in.
As I said, please read up on the SK case - there are actually a lot of very interesting details and you'll find lots of writing about it around the web. It has nothing to do with the risk of being on the same IP - it was a deliberate attack on all of those sites. With the limited funds SK had to fight this case Google's algo won the right to "free speech" - in other words, the right to be tweaked any way Google like manually or automatically. This is, as far as I understand, the first time a non-human (technical mechanism) has been honored the right of US free spech - usually such lows don't cover mechanisms, animals and such - only humans. However, if SK had more money to fight the case this may have been overuled by a higher court. At this time, we don't know if what they did was actually legal or not. It takes an awful lot of money to find out

In Europe there are a lot of work going on at very high levels (EEC) questioning Googles right to "punish" sites the way they have proven to do - over here too. As it may turn out, if Google don't do whatever this "comitee" decides they have to do, they can issue laws that will make them have to. And trust me, Google will comply. European business is far more important to them than a few limitations of how they can operate. They have made similar decissions before regarding other countries limitations.
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Old 09-03-2005   #13
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projectphp, you will probably find some of the most complete background on the Searchking incedent in the old threads at cre8asite, because cre8 did not censor the discussion or sanitize the threads after the fact.
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Old 09-03-2005   #14
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SK is old news. Massa tries to sell PageRank, Google cracks down, court rules that PageRank is protected by free speach, case closed. Did I miss anything, and is there something specific somewhere specific that I should look at? We all lived throught that once, and I really don't want to go through it all again!

Quote:
With the limited funds SK had to fight this case Google's algo won the right to "free speech" - in other words, the right to be tweaked any way Google like manually or automatically....At this time, we don't know if what they did was actually legal or not. It takes an awful lot of money to find out
They "won" the right to free speech? Didn't they always have it? Yahoo apply manual filters as well, and I never thought there was anything wrong with that, morally, legally or any other way. All Google did was exercise the right to do what they like whenever they like with their website and their index.Since when was that right given up, and why should it be given up? Why can't an SE create an algorithm that includes manual filters?

IMHO it is extremely dangerous to stop manual maniopulation in SEs, because manual tweaking can be used for good things like building crawlers for specific sites to get past poor coding and other issues, for example if a site returns an incorrect HTTP header.

Quote:
In Europe there are a lot of work going on at very high levels (EEC) questioning Googles right to "punish" sites the way they have proven to do - over here too.
So, are you arguing for SE regulation Mikkel? Because lets not beat around the bush, that is what that quote leads to: regulation. Surely, if regulation came, then the other side, SE spamming, would also have to be regulated, and I beat a pretty penny no one here is arguing for that!

Daniel Brandt has argued for regulation for many moons, and I am always all ears when the topic comes up. It affects my livelihood in a very intimate manner, and I personally want to know how regulation will improve search for all vested interests, and some of the scope and specifics, before I support it, even in principle.

IMHO, the notion of "punish" is still debatable. If someone bans you from their house, is that a punishment that needs to be regulated? Is it wrong, by any definition of the word? Is it worse that Google ban sites, or refuse to speak to CNet? The two are very similar.

MHO time: It is a big internet, and no one ever advocates forcing anyone to link to anyone else except where SEs are concerned. To me, that is a dangerous precedent to start, and one I personally would fight to see stopped. I don't see why SEs should be forced to do anything, nor how regulation will be an improvement for anyonbe, searcher, webmaster or SE, although, again, I am all ears to suggestions.

Personally, I prefer the collaborative approach of things like the indexing summits at SES, and personally feel that, rather than regulation, SEs should be working with the rest of us to provide more tools, like the removal tools and Google SiteMap, that help all sides reduce costs and have more control.

I am sorry, but I really just can't support the notion that any SE has any responsibility beyond what is expected of any other web property, and that includes the right not to list any website they don't wish to.
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Old 09-03-2005   #15
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You said."I have never seen Google hurt any site for selling links in any way except to reduce the effectiveness of the links for PageRank, and therefore eventually the value of links sold." That's the only reason that SK was mentioned. It's an example of Google hurting a site in a much more radical way than you stated - for selling links. There's no need to go to great lengths to expand on it.

Nobody is suggesting that Google shouldn't devalue any kind of links that they want to devalue. What's being said is that Google shouldn't be telling webmasters how to link and how not to link. It isn't any of their business.
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Old 09-04-2005   #16
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I have never seen Google hurt any site for selling links in any way except to reduce the effectiveness of the links for PageRank, and therefore eventually the value of links sold.
You made this assertion and it is false. Forget the lawsuit that came later. Google PR0'ed not only Massa's text link selling enterprise which was a seperate domain but also Searchking and all websites hosted by Searchking but owned by other people whether they were involved or not (and most were not.) That is a fact.

We are merely correcting your false assertion about Google.

Bringing this back to O'Reilly: What O'Reilly was doing retail is no different than what others do wholesale, except, if he never mentioned PR values he's more innocent than if he had said, " Pssst, hey bub, wanna buy a link on my PR8 page?"
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Old 09-04-2005   #17
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IIRC, many/most sites on the SK servers that were hit were using a "portal" template that was an obvious "links scheme designed to....".

BM was a pioneer, and you know what happens to them ;-)

Last edited by glengara : 09-04-2005 at 07:33 PM.
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Old 09-04-2005   #18
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Brad, isn't your post exactly what I said would happen? Perhaps the only difference is that Google PR zeroed one site: SK itself.

The other sites that fell can be explained easily: if your PageRank all comes from one source, that source loses PR, you lose all yours. If a group of sites all have one common point for all their PR, like, say, the Nile delta (a series of rivers) all drawing from one, if one spot fails, they all fail.

It is like a house of cards or, for the more practically inclined, Jenga. Pull out too many blocks from the bottom in Jenga, whole thing collapses. So many people get links from only one source, or one node, and the SK thing was an extreme of that, with most every site interlinked. All that was needed was for one site to collapse and "LOOK OUT BELOW, LANDSLIDE"!

That is why many people feel they are "penalised" when their link scheme is unravelled. They aren't, it is just that when the foundation of one's PageRank is iffy, the PageRank itself can collapse, leaving the house empty.

In many ways, this mimics the dotcom crash. Inflated stock prices based upon other sector related inflated stock prices. One collapses, the whole lot collapse, sometimes taking innocent stocks with them.
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Old 09-04-2005   #19
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I had one of those portals. My knowledge is first hand and you are wrong.

I'm not going to take this thread any further off topic by discussing SK any further.
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Old 09-05-2005   #20
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Nobody is suggesting that Google shouldn't devalue any kind of links that they want to devalue. What's being said is that Google shouldn't be telling webmasters how to link and how not to link. It isn't any of their business.
With respect, I simply don't agree, sorry.

Google can't tell webmasters how to link? They do it all the time. I don't hear webmasters complain when Google suggests ways to link that may help a site do better. People lap it up.

Why does Google lose its ability to say how people should link? It's part of the internet community, right? Why should some blogger be able to say you should link this way, but not that way (some want the ability to have pro or con "votes" attached to links), but Google's not suppose to have an opinion?

Why do site owners themselves have the ability to say how they think people should or shouldn't link, but Google's supposed to say mum?

Of course it's Google's business to talk about what they'd like to have happen. Google in my book has every right to say how they think people should link.

That does NOT mean people MUST do what they say. That does NOT mean that what Google says is necessarily right according to the views of others. We've seen the debate over the "rightness" of the statements. But to suggest they can't say what they believe doesn't fly with me, sorry.

Quote:
You don't know that what is true? That Google seems to be promoting the idea that websites should link to suit the engines? Or did I miss something? When Matt Cutts says that Google will take action against the links on a site if they are sold, then he is promoting the idea that websites should link to suit Google's desires.
Of course he is. Why would this be surprising or even controversial? He works for a search engine. He'd like people to link in a way that works for his particular interests. I've seen people over the years want sites to link or organize themselves in various ways that would benefit whatever project they were working on. Of course they have self-interest.

Instead, it's WHAT he wants done that everyone needs to focus attention on. In particular, he wants nofollow used on paid links. The fact he wants it because is helps his search engine isn't that big a deal. The bigger question to me is how it fits in the overall scheme of things. Do people think it would help search results overall? Do people think it wouldn't catch everything? Do people think it might harm stuff?

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His whole post does show his, and presumably Google's, thinking - that search engines are the Web, or that they have some say in how the Web works. They aren't the Web, they don't have any say in how it works, and I found his statements to be too arrogant for words.
They are an integral part of the the web and absolutlely have a say in how it works. Within their boundaries, ie their own search results, they are also largely independent to do what they want within the scope of existing laws. Some of those laws may and do curtail the idea they may have that they can do whatever they want. Public opinion on the web may also curtail the notion that they can call all the shots, where they may have that impression. But they obviously have a say in things. The key thing is there's a difference in having a say and having absolute rule.

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Incredibly, on Matt Cutts blog, someone asked him, "Would it be okay for a website to sell a link on their website to another website, if they deemed the other website to be both related and a good online resource? .... Or is that still evil and diluting?" It's hard to believe that someone actually thought it was necessary to ask Google if it is ok to link in a certain way, but that's the sort of mentality that Matt seems to be trying to promote both in his blog and in his O'Reilly post.
Yes, I agree with you here. It is incredible that we have new "rules" put into place after linking has been going on for some time and that when you start splitting hairs, you might find an argument that a "good" web site might take payment from another "good" web site to give a link boost. I could see a place like NPR, for example, listing supporting sponsors who paid for an on-air mention with a link, effectively a paid link (I don't know that they do this, but you could see the possibility).

Quote:
(1) What is a "reputable" site? And can sites that don't fit that description be penalised?
I would take this to mean any site that Google considers essential that people to find. So if you're some affiliate site that no one tries to find by name, they'd probably not worry about dropping you. Amazon.com? You ain't getting dropped, not if people are looking for you by name. But sandboxed so you don't rank well for other stuff? Yeah, I could see that happening to even the reputable ones.

Quote:
(2) Isn't losing the ability to pass PageRank and link text a penalty?
I'm sure some would consider it so. But I've always taken penalty to mean something that hurt a particular site in the rankings.

Overall, Phil, I well understand the concern that Google in particular seems to be dictating how they think people should link. And I think a healthy debate on that is in order, because they aren't the "boss of us" in all aspects of life. They do have, obviously, great power over their search results. But neither do I think they lose the ability to say how they think things should go.
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