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Old 12-13-2005   #1
dannysullivan
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Yahoo's Zawodny In Paid Links & Nofollow Debate

Google Fights Paid Links & Yahoo Defends Paid Links from Barry is a good recap on the debate that's come up on Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny carrying paid links without using nofollow. I've also posted on it with lots of background info in Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny Caught In Link Selling Debate on the SEW Blog. What do you think about the whole thing?

Last edited by dannysullivan : 12-13-2005 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 12-13-2005   #2
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The simple answer is that if Jeremy has "editorially" looked at those sites and would recommend them, and he wants to make a few bucks by linking to them on the site, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

The link structure of the web cannot be removed from the financial and commercial aspect of the web. Nobody profits more from this than the search engines - their models are, indeed, based on paid links (AdSense & Overture). It would therefore be highly hypocritical to remove valuation of commercial aspects to the web. If Matt and Google find specific links they want to devalue because they think it will produce better SERPs - go for it! But, don't throw every paid link into a category together - that's not the smart way to go.
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Old 12-13-2005   #3
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Reminds me of a quote Greg Boser made at SES San Jose something to the effect that "Google started this whole link popularity game but now they want to take their ball and go home."

PageRank was the reason all this link building started in the first place and sure it has been exploited over time. But to want to have everyone put on a "link condom" (I like that term) just because a link is "sponsored" is ridiculous.

I have a directory where I charge for inclusion and also sell featured ads. I only allow sites in there that are completely relevant to the general topic of my site, links which are also useful to my users because that is what they come looking for. So just because I accept money for these links, I should put a link condom on them (the nofollow attribute)? Gimme a break!
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Old 12-13-2005   #4
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I agree completely with RandFish. It's entirely up to search engines which links they want to count in their ranking algorithm, and it's entirely up to webmasters which links they choose to put on their sites, and whether or not they want to use a condom.

I'd like to read Danny's blog on it, but the page just won't come down.
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Old 12-13-2005   #5
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Exclamation I'm with Jeremy in this one.

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Reminds me of a quote Greg Boser made at SES San Jose something to the effect that "Google started this whole link popularity game but now they want to take their ball and go home."
I agree.

They should have kept Web linkage models as discovery mechanisms and for crawling the Web. Once they started to incorporate these into models for scoring relevancy they opened the door to manipulation. This is why long ago I mentioned that using link models in this way is a miserable failure.

It transpires from conversations with IR colleagues that they just brought this onto themselve and now they may need to come up with a better solution because evidently "nofollow", proposed as a noble idea to fight spam, is not the best one. Do I have a better solution? I'm not sure if they are The Solution or the best one, but I have several ideas I'm not afraid to test if you ask me.

In my view, trying now to assign relevancy weights to some links but not others because third parties are monetizing the link structure of the Web or using it to pass noisy weights is just hypocritical thinking.

If others want to monetize links, let them do it. Just come up with better models for scoring relevancy.


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Last edited by orion : 12-13-2005 at 05:26 PM. Reason: fixing lines
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Old 12-13-2005   #6
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my 2 cents

I'll go ahead and welcome myself to the forums posting (insert: Hi..welcome aboard..glad to have you ) hehe.

I had to post on this one. Usually I just keep to myself but this topic gets under my skin. So let me continue...

The idea of search engines telling webmasters how and how not to financially supplement their own websites is beyond me. Now I realize they're not saying "Don't sell links" directly, but indirectly theire telling webmasters, "if you sell links, you'll be penalized". I also understand the idea that their search results might be "taint"ed due to the selling of links and forced link popularity (I'll touch on this point in a minute). What I don't understand is why a company that has 95% of its weight (guess of course) supported on the selling of text links would tell other sites that have zero competitive edge against them that what their doing is wrong! It's pure hypocracy in my opinion and I think the web community should join together and start peppering the net with more paid links.

Now I want to 'touch the taint'ed (sorry..it's too easy!) results issue. Google Cutt's is telling us that by someone paying for text links and building their own link popularity, they are degrading the search results. Ok, understandable. But aren't these text ads that might be helping the positioning of their website all relevant? I mean, from everything I see, the "carpet matches the rug" every time I click a sponsored link. It's not like people are causing a 'miserable failure' all over the place. If someone is promoting "SEO" and helps their rankings with paid links, then the user finds their way to that website due to high rankings and it's a site about SEO, just what they wanted, what exactly is the problem?

I think the problem is within the realm of "power trip". Lets take an example of a Grandfather, a Father and two grandchildren. There is a level of authority here in order of listing. The grandfather is the chief of the father and the grandchildren, in a sense. So the grandfather becomes set in his ways and if the grandchildren try to do something their own way to better themselves, it doesn't matter what they do or say, they are wrong in the grandfather's eye's. Grandpa can't necessarily end their lives (legally), but grandpa can definitely do things to hurt them, like take them out of the will or give their trust fund to someone else. I think you get my point. Google is mad because people are saying "your listings are good, but they would be just as good with my listing up there too."

Ok, I think I've said enough. It's ridiculous that someone can't pay for a text link to help their traffic, their name recognition AND THEIR RANKINGS!! if it's completely relevant.

I'll hang up and listen to your comments....
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Old 12-14-2005   #7
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Google isn't saying what people can and can't do concerning links. They can't do that because they have no authority, and they don't try to do it. All they say is that, if they spot bought links, presumably those that are bought for ranking purposes, they won't count them. It's not a penalty. The links just won't be of any ranking benefit.

Many people agree with you that it's a bit hypocritical to criticise people for doing what they do themselves - sell links. Google's argument would be that the links they sell don't have any ranking benefits at all, and they don't, so I would side with them on that score, although I may have posted the other way in the past. Also, they would probably say that they aren't out to discount all paid links, but those that they assess as having been bought for their ranking benefits.

They have to attack links that are acquired for ranking purposes, or the quality of their results will continue to slide. They don't have any choice until they come up with a radically new way of ranking pages. The moment Google became popular, people started to acquire links for rankings in Google, and people started to stop linking out of sites, for the same reason, and especially when it became known that linking to bad neighborhoods could cause a site to be penalised. Google's launch was the date when their citation-based concept started to go wrong. They actually screwed up the natural linking of the web that they rely on so much.
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Old 12-14-2005   #8
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Showdown at the "OK Link" Corral

What I'm concerned about is the conflict between a reasonable penalty on paid links (e.g. that link is devalued or valued at zero) VS slapping a penalty on Jeremy's site, which seems to fly in the face of quality rankings. If Google nails Jeremy's blog with a penalty simply for paid linking or for being within two clicks of objectionable content, Google has re-ranked the web in a way that might serve corporate interest in chilling attempts at link manipulations but does not serve the user's interest in finding the best sites.
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Old 12-14-2005   #9
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I don't think anyone seriously thinks Jeremy will be penalized, in terms of being banned or not ranking well himself. Google's approach really seems to have been a penalty preventing sites selling links to pass along benefits to sites they link to.

In other words, Jeremy keeps ranking fine, but if he links to someone else, that link no longer carries any link juice to help the other site.

In yet other words, think about it like this. Google would prefer that paid links carry nofollow so that people can't just buy link love. However, if a site is unwilling to do this to paid links -- and Google becomes aware of the site -- then it effectively slaps nofollow down on ALL the links in the site, not just the paid ones.

Having said that, it's my understand that if Google wants to, they can segment parts of a page to count or not count in terms of what link benefits are being passed on.
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Old 12-14-2005   #10
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Did anyone else notice that the recent links from Matt Cutts blog (from Matt's blog posts - not readers comments) to Jeremy's blog all have 'no follows' on them - whereas Matt's other outbound links are clean?

And Matt's old posts that linked to Jeremy USED to be clean links..

New ones to Jeremy are 'no follow'... www.mattcutts.com/blog/he-broke-my-hort/
Old ones to jeremy are clean... www.mattcutts.com/blog/one-month/

Don't want to get caught linking to a bad neighbourhood, do we!!

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Old 12-14-2005   #11
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not much time right now, but a good post in Greg Boser aka WebGuerilla's blog. I will be back to give my two cents on this issue...
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Old 12-14-2005   #12
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The simple answer is that if Jeremy has "editorially" looked at those sites and would recommend them, and he wants to make a few bucks by linking to them on the site, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
"Wrong" is not really a relevant word here. There is nothing "wrong" with it, nor is there anything "right" with it. It just is. The SEs view shouldn't really matter, and certainly isn't intended to judge the behaviour.

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It would therefore be highly hypocritical to remove valuation of commercial aspects to the web.
I don't think so. If links are commercial, why does a Google issue matter? The commmercial arrangement happens between site A and Advertiser B. Google has no part in that relationship, therefore their opinion shouldn't matter.

Same with AdSense. Google put ads on site X, and no one expects Yahoo to count those links. Personally, I dont find it hypocritical at all.

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But, don't throw every paid link into a category together - that's not the smart way to go.
Why? Seriously, that statement needs some backing up. PageRank was the original attempt to measure the relative value of a link. This is just another way to value a link. I personally see no problem with throwing out huge wads of links, for whatever reason. Paid, spam, comments, forum sigs, links from directories, I can see no reason why they all shouldn't be disregarded if that is a good way forward, but I am happpy to hear dissenting voices on this, with valid arguments as to why paid links shouldn't be disregarded en masse.

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"Google started this whole link popularity game but now they want to take their ball and go home."
That I disagree with 100%. Go back pre Alta Vista, and the number one currency on the web fullstop was links. There was no other source of traffic, and people begged, borrowed and stole to get links, especailly on sites that had traffic. There was a whole link buying industry back then. So really, what has changed? For a brief period before PageRank and after the launch of Search as a popular past time and the number one source of thrid party traffic online, links weren't all that important. That isa pretty small window, and IMHO but a blip in the overiding constant online that links in are vital. I think we all somtimes forget that, and the fact that, if all SEs packed up shop tomorrow, links would be the number one currency online, even more so than today.

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They should have kept Web linkage models as discovery mechanisms and for crawling the Web. Once they started to incorporate these into models for scoring relevancy they opened the door to manipulation.
More disagreement

I would personally argue that the moment the web was crawled and SERPs published the SEs openned themselves to manipulation. Commercial / vested interest == manipulation. Halliburton, Monica Lewinsky, Nepotism, it isn't just SEs that suffer from manipulation.

Really, links are the hardest factor so far thought of to spam.

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If others want to monetize links, let them do it. Just come up with better models for scoring relevancy.
What is wrong with ignoring some links as a solution? Block analysis attempts to ignore certain elemnents of a page, why not apply that same logical concept (animal farmish some XYZ are more equal than others) to links? If there is a way to do that trivially, or programatically, seems a nice fit!

IMHO, it is like tax: if everyone paid their taxes, there would be no need for tax men, for complicated laws or Accountants. But once the game starts, no longer are we looking for a win on either side, just a happy equilibrium. With links, I think that equilibrium is pretty good, especially as you can easily spot those that stand out, and disregard large chunks of whatever.

My $0.02.
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Old 12-14-2005   #13
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Danny. I haven't understood that all of a site's OBLs are discounted when there are some paid links on it. Are you sure about that? My understanding has been that only the paid link are not counted.
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Old 12-14-2005   #14
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I think Danny was saying that Google could do this, not that they always do. However history has shown that Google can single out a site and not allow it to pass any link reputation whatsoever, paid or non-paid.
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Old 12-14-2005   #15
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Not only are the links nofollow, he has taken him off the blogroll under "people."

http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache%...utts.com/blog/

I don't know about you guys but I'm terrified.
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Old 12-14-2005   #16
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Exclamation

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I would personally argue that the moment the web was crawled and SERPs published the SEs openned themselves to manipulation.
True. Injecting linkage to the scoring of relevancy compounded the problem.

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Nepotism, it isn't just SEs that suffer from manipulation.
Agreed. Even forums suffer from manipulations.

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Really, links are the hardest factor so far thought of to spam.
Disagree. Ask this to link bombers and link spammers disguised as "link builders".


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Block analysis attempts to ignore certain elemnents of a page, why not apply that same logical concept (animal farmish some XYZ are more equal than others) to links?
Disagree. Block analysis is not aimed at ignoring anything. It is a segmentation approach to score blocks of related information.

On and all, there are many reasons for coming with a better solution for scoring relevancy. The commercial aspect is only part of a larger problem.


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Old 12-14-2005   #17
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I don't follow why paid links are to be regarded as inherently bad.

Are we talking about very low quality websites being the prime benefactors of links?

Are we talking about sites being targeted with unrelated keywords?

Are we talking about links being in anyway misleading as to how they are being used?

If not, then why does Google have such a strong emphasis on wanting to devalue links? If you devalue paid links, do you really see an improvement in quality of the SERPs?

Google makes it harder and harder for less-established sites to make a mark on Google - yet easier for pages on old established domains, even if they're less relevant for the search terms being searched for. Is this really helping the user experience?

2c.
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Old 12-14-2005   #18
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PhilC said:
Quote:
Google isn't saying what people can and can't do concerning links. They can't do that because they have no authority, and they don't try to do it. All they say is that, if they spot bought links, presumably those that are bought for ranking purposes, they won't count them. It's not a penalty. The links just won't be of any ranking benefit.
Actually, based on a post on Matt Clutt's blog,

Quote:
Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.
There are sites that sell links that seem to moderate and ensure relevancy of the process. Maybe they should alter their ranking system, but maybe they should also deem certain link selling services as "OK", and other's "NOT OK".

I'll re-touch my point on relevancy. Search results are good if, and only if, the user who is searching finds what they're looking for. So lets say someone searches for "Coldplay Tickets" (my fav band). The first 5 results all have coldplay tickets available for sell. Listings 1, 3 & 5 are natural listings and listings 2 & 4 are there because they have paid for links. The user reviews all 5 sites and finds that listing 2 has the best tickets at the best prices he could imagine, purchases and is happy and grateful that the search engine produced that result to him. What exactly is wrong with this? I know there are some spammy sites, but from everything I see, most paid links are to legitimate sites that offer legitimate products.

I guess, who is Google to say their results are perfect? Because I'm here to tell you that a lot of obvious natural results aren't so great buddy.

With all this being said, I understand other points being made, but I think there are bigger battle's to tackle than someone paying for a link.
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Old 12-14-2005   #19
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Extremism in the defense of Google Algorithm - is it a vice?

Danny - I'm not so sure about Jeremy getting no penalty which is why I'm concerned about this from a "who is in charge here, anyway" viewpoint.

Jeremy and I were talking at WMW Las Vegas about how publishers are now *changing what they write* to conform to Google's Algorithm and thus rank better. This has a lot of implications and most of them are negative for the web.

Matt seems to feel that since Jeremy has linked within 2 clicks from objectionable content the infraction warrants more than just a "no pass PR" filter. We may never know the standard policy since Matt's feeling the heat for even suggesting Jeremy has crossed over the paid link line in the sand.

Seems to me that the algorithm is protected by "no pass pr" if it applies to links, but damaged if it applies to an entire site. But even no pass PR penalty is not at all a "neutral/site specific" act with respect to ranking the entire web due to the butterfly effect links have, esp with Google.

Google, through it's massive search market share, is changing the way most of us write for the web, manage our links, and decide on topics. I wish people would wake up to this fact and think more about it's implications for the future of the medium.

Who's in charge here anyway?
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Old 12-14-2005   #20
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Quote:
Quote:
Really, links are the hardest factor so far thought of to spam.
Disagree. Ask this to link bombers and link spammers disguised as "link builders".
Are these the same people that used to build 2 billion doorway pages using a similar, but less difficult to write, script

I stand by that statement. "Harder" is relative, and if anyone can name a harder to manipulate, not absolutely impossible just more difficult, ranking factor than links, I will willingly conceed the point

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Block analysis is not aimed at ignoring anything. It is a segmentation approach to score blocks of related information.
Which is an animal farm "all text is equal but some is more equal than others"

Why not apply that to links, and why is such an approach less effective than something else? All links are worth something, but some are worth more than others seems a good approach. If we accept that premise, and people may not, then all we need do is decide which links are "more equal" and which are "less equal". If Google put paid into the latter category, I don't have an issue with that.

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I don't follow why paid links are to be regarded as inherently bad.
I don't "bad" is the right word. Not as good is probably a bit more acccurate. It is like a financial advisor, if they get paid a commission to recommend a stock, I would like to know. Not because it si "bad", but because that is information I should have.

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If not, then why does Google have such a strong emphasis on wanting to devalue links?
IMHO, Google place "a strong emphasis" not on devaluing links, but correctly valuing links. That may seem a trivial distinction, but it is important. Finding the right value may mean devaluing, it may even mean increasing the value. Whichever way it goes, an attempt to find the true worth of anything is, in the end, the goal of any SE or tool for measuring relevance.

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If you devalue paid links, do you really see an improvement in quality of the SERPs?
That you will have to ask Google, or someone who did an effective study on the issue.

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