Yesterday there was a panel for the ages. The title was something like “Are Paid Links Evil?” and it was STANDING ROOM ONLY.

The panel consisted of Matt Cutts, Michael Gray, Todd Malicoat, Greg Boser, Todd Freisen and this other guy.

I am sure if you search around the web you can find some good write ups on the panel.

Michael Gray gave a very passionate presentation that got a very large reaction from the standing room only crowd. I hope he puts it online because it was really good.

Hopefully someone can get a video of this panel online sometime because no writeup could possible do it justice.

By Jeremy Schoemaker

Jeremy "ShoeMoney" Schoemaker is the founder & CEO of ShoeMoney Media Group, and to date has sold 6 companies and done over 10 million in affiliate revenue. In 2013 Jeremy released his #1 International Best selling Autobiography titled "Nothing's Changed But My Change" - The ShoeMoney Story. You can read more about Jeremy on his wikipedia page here.

101 thoughts on “Are Paid Links Evil?”
  1. man, i really hope that comes available. we all know what matt cutts thinks. was there any debating?

  2. Buying/Selling links is about as evil as cotton candy.

    The people at Google aren’t the only ones who have to put food on the table.

  3. I can imagine it was standing room only… Google have created quite the stir of late, especially basically outlawing link exchanges a few weeks ago.

  4. Buying/selling links only for pagerank is evil. Buy/selling link for true advertising purposes (hopefully get clickthroughs, sales, etc) is good.

  5. Matt Cuts seems to think that any link that is paid for that passes PR is evil. Thus, if you are going to make money from buying/selling links, then it better be like AdWords/AdSense, or some derivative of that kind of system.

    Of course, I think that Google for the first time in a while is picking a fight that they really can’t win. If they go after all paid link buyers/sellers, their results are going to get real junky in a hurry. Like, 5 wikipedia entries, 2 youtube entries, and 3 digg entries per top 10 in the SERPS.

    What Google should be saying is if you’re going to do paid linking, make them relevant. That’s all. Relevant text links SHOULD COUNT as EDITORIAL VOTES. If someone wants to buy a SEO/SEM/PPC link on my blog, that’s cool with me. If I approve it editorially, then it is my vote for the quality of the link. That’s no different than if I found the site on my own and linked to it other than the fact that getting paid is influencing my vote, which is my decision.

    Bottom line, Google is picking a fight using old-school Microsoftian tactics: FUD FUD FUD. For a long time Microsoft tried to kill linux and open source software using FUD, now Google is playing the game with paid links. Of course, both companies do it for the same reason, they want control and they fear what each could do to their bottom line. Paid links could have a negative effect on AdWords spend in the long term just like linux could hurt Windows sales.

    Google, don’t be Microsoft 2.0. You’re already looking like you’re in beta to be Microsoft 2.0. Stop now before it’s too late.

  6. If two like-minded and responsible sites want to engage in a link exchange for monetary compensation…shouldn’t they be allowed to without fear of persecution? Isn’t that what capitalism is all about? I wish Google would focus more of their attention on thwarting blackhat scraper sites and adsense fraud.

  7. First off, Buying and selling links is not evil since its not even a moral issue. And I think the question should be changed to is other people buying and selling links good or bad for google’s link selling business.

  8. From Rand’s write up:

    “Michael Gray was next to the stage. His presentation titled, “A Tale of Propaganda and Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt,” was confrontational, political and emotional to a degree that I have not preivously seen at an SES conference. Michael is certainly an exceptionally effective speaker – he pulled the audience with him throughout the course of his arguments and was frequently interrupted by applause as he played to the emotions of the crowd and launched a rhetorically powerful indictment of Google’s motivations.”

  9. Uhh dude, they can do that. Google isn’t God. They say webmasters can do whatever the heck they want to on their own sites. People have got to stop it with the whole “anything Google says I must do” attitude. Plus Google isn’t going to punish you for doing so, all they will do is make the link worthless from a SEO standpoint.

  10. I’m sure Matt will be watching this thread and tell Google to flag everyones site that appears with the commenters name here who were in favor of paid links.

  11. Buying links is not evil. Google tells us in the Webmaster guidelines to get similar sites to link us and they will find us. Then they blast us when we buy links. It is no different than advertising, and so what if it creates a Google bomb. Even without paid links it’s not hard to Google bomb. Google’s attack against bought links is just another example of what happens when one entity gets too much power. I still like Google, but this one point ticks me off and scares me.

  12. What the hell is the difference? If a paid link brings you higher PR, that usually means more traffic as a result of being placed higher in the SERPS. A higher ranking site naturally gets more traffic and probably pretty likely, more sales, than a lower ranking site. Trying to make money by having a higher ranking site, what’s the problem with that, unless you’re saying that you can only make money from visitors that you physically beat over the head and force to visit your site, or visitors from PPC traffic, that you shouldn’t be making money off natural SERPS?

    I kind of get the feeling that that’s kind of what Google is saying, in a very evasive way, that people shouldn’t be making money off results from their free listing in their search.

  13. If buying links for whatever reason is evil, I can say buying google adwords to get traffic is also evil. everything is evil.

  14. I think it’s just incredible to be a part of such an influential time – in online marketing and the world – who knows… maybe buying a link will be an urban legend for our aspiring grandkid webmasters?!

  15. […] If you are wondering these two posts were in response to comments on one of Shoemoney’s posts. […]

  16. “Plus Google isn’t going to punish you for doing so, all they will do is make the link worthless from a SEO standpoint.”

    Talk about a paradox.

  17. Too bad shoe doesn’t use a thumbs up/down system like SEOmoz. Blackbeard, what you said was spot on. Especially with the SERP ratios.

    Big thumbs up dude!

  18. Agreed that if buying links from another webmaster can be just as evil. The only difference, I dont think that Google counts your link in a adwords/adsense campaign and includes it in counting it towards the PR for your site.

    To me it appears the webmasters have more control than Google has. So they slap your hand and do not indexed your site in their SE. There are other SE’s that pick your site up as quick.

  19. I don’t think its that evil to be fair – if you are in the position to be able to sell links on your website, then fair enough – it’s your decision. I’m not sure how valuable these link positions are though anymore, according to Google at least.

  20. Quality post, top stuff. I’m not too sure I agree with Google for penalising people that buy text link spaces, I too agree that it should be okay if the content is relevant to the original website that is selling the links.

  21. In answer to your question:

    > Are Buying/Selling Links Evil?

    Not any more evil than selling advertising that shows up next to search results.

    Less evil than adding unwanted links to people’s website through a toolbar, or taking books still protected by copyright laws and making online copies of them without the author’s permission.

    In the big scheme of things, just another way to make money. I guess it’s evil if making money is evil.

  22. Making money is not evil. But it often causes us to consider paths that have moral factors involved.

    If you’re buying a link for the traffic (this is the Adwords model), then Cutts is arguing not to try to use that link to manipulate your SERPs ranking. He’s arguing that this skews the results, if they track it, they will penalize you for it. It can obviously be argued that unless they are spying on you, they can’t do so.

    And the flip side is legit as well. Google’s algorithm is not all-seeing and all-knowing when it comes to the quality of a site. It does make mistakes and highly rank sites with zero added value. And, as Lee said above: “The people at Google aren’t the only ones who have to put food on the table.”

    I think it’s a fair argument for Google to argue for quality search reporting. I think it’s also a fair argument for the webmaster/SEO folks to say “when your algo works perfectly otherwise, and we can trust that the results will not be subject to manipulation…we’ll be happy to stop buying and selling links”. As near as I can see, that day is not yet nigh.

    And, in the interest of full dislosure…I have purchased and sold links. But Matt Cutts makes me want to be a better man…as soon as Google stops ranking garbage sites near the top of the heap. I think we all want that.

  23. “as soon as Google stops ranking garbage sites near the top of the heap”

    90% of which are blogger blogs 😉

  24. I don’t think it’s evil because it’s the most basic form of advertising.

    If lynx were the only browser, then text links would be just like banners or adsense.

    Now, for SEO purposes, just don’t give PR to links in footer, in divs called sponsor, or divs next to other divs with the text sponsored links, etc…

    That’s google problem, not OUR problem.

  25. man wish i could have been a fly on that wall. I read the recap seems like and intense conversation.

  26. I think its kind of shady that yahoo allows directory listings for $300 a year when they are supposed to be arbitrary. but for site owners I think its a good thing because some people will get left out if they don’t at least ask to trade.

  27. I don’t know… I took the change to mean something else. Before, many thought link exchanges were entirely bad, now they changed it to ‘excessive link exchange’.

  28. So why not just make the links javascript? Since it will do basically the same thing. Sure, people with javascript turned off won’t see it, but the majority of the people have it on.

  29. this is a classos battle of blackhat and white but while both sides are fighting, google adwords is running away with all the money;).

  30. I know yahoo used to rely heavily on their directory to run their search feature, I dont know if they still do or are just keeping it around to bring in some money.

  31. But the issue at hand is google is trying to call selling links, a technique that no one considers black hat, wrong.

  32. or else we’ll all have to drop adsense/adwords and resort to buying and selling text links to make a living;)

  33. Punishment would be actually penalizing your SERPS. Not counting a link isn’t really penalizing you – it isn’t making you worse off than you would be without the link at all.

  34. Google are so full of crap. They say build your site as if Google didn’t exist and you will be ok, then turn around and give you a bunch of “guidelines” to comply with for Google. So which is it Google?! Here’s a newflash – if Google didn’t exist I wouldn’t be adding nofollow to links.

    More and more backlash against Google everywhere I look. That company is evil and becoming a monopoly the size of which we’ve never seen before. Famous monopolies of the past did not have the ability to turn on and off the flow of the public to other businesses, without explanation or recourse, on a whim.

  35. What about buying or selling pages?

    I’m picking that to be the next big movement 😀

  36. I think google will find a way to monetize this whole selling text links biz. they must, they are probably just trying to figure out how to not look like hypocrites.

  37. Ah, such a teaser! I really do hope this become available here on your site Shoe; sounds like it could be very informative for all of us.

  38. Once you accept that made for Adsense scraper sites, Wikipedia and blogger blogs will always be the top “organic” results you will be at peace.

    You can’t beat those unless you’re Google news or Google images…in which case you may top them.

    In other words, 90% of the top Google results are owned by Google- but you can’t conduct your business as you see fit for monetary gain. At least Google says so.

  39. I really want to know what they are going to decide at the end, are they going to brake the bubble?

  40. Blackbeard really said it best I think. If it’s relevant and has had editorial review and approval by a related site then it should actually ADD relevance to search. However, if it’s largely offtopic…well…duh.

  41. Kind of sucks, doesn’t it? I try to look at it as a challenge, and I’ve actually been seeing some good improvements in my rankings. I now consistently outrank blogspot sites.

    p.s. – e-death karma to scraper sites

  42. When links are a big factor when it comes to serps yes it’s a punishment when google decides not to count them because they “think” you paid for them.

    When google tries to game the game it’s time to rethink the way they rank things. Trying to pull this reverse psychology on paid links being bad is BS.

    Paid links is a form of advertising. Had been before google was on top. They know the money that’s being made via paid links and they would rather have you spend your money on their services then spend them on links from other sites.

    Google “oh it’s bad, but it’s okay and you don’t have to stop but if you have ethics you will but I’m not telling you to it’s your choice so while you’re thinking about it take a look at adwords for advertising!”

  43. A case study between to similar sites where one only relies on google for traffic and the other that only relies on yahoo & msn traffic would be interesting.

    And yes the mainstream web site owners do revolve around google. How many times have you heard someone scream “A GRAP did MSN/YAHOO do an algo update?! I lost all my rankings and I’m not making XXXX$ per day anymore!”

  44. Railroad companies did. Oil Companies Did. pretty much every major monopoly has the ability to cut you off from some important resource. Thats why you shouldnt just depend on google for traffic. their are 3 other huge search engines.

  45. After reading the SEOMoz writeup, it would’ve been classic to see Matt Cutts reactions when the other speakers spoke.

  46. Great, great panel… one of the most entertaining I’ve ever been at. IMO, even though I agree with Michael Gray on a number of points and thought he had some pretty funny jokes, he came across as a total a*shole by basically ambushing Matt Cutts who comes across the exact opposite way.

    I thought the best argument/question was made by Greg when he asked why coming up with an irrelevant link bait should be rewarded while purchasing a relevant ad on a quality site in a niche violates Google’s guidelines.

    The question wasn’t really answered…

  47. The reason it wasn’t answered was because there IS no answer… that was definitely an excellent point though and you do see a lot of irrelevant linkbait because links = votes, even if it’s a different election (so to speak).

  48. And, even beyond that, you should look to acquire links for the traditional reasons – traffic. If you can get enough targeted traffic driving links, you can give the ol’ FU to google.

  49. It’s just a matter of Google wanting to be the entity doing the selling, i.e. Adwords. If they could take a piece of the action from you for private sales, they totally would.

  50. I do use a bit of paid links but it looks more like exchange so I cannot imagine how would gooogle find out.

  51. I am not sure where did i read this exactly, but someone said that after Michael Grey’s speech he got a standing ovation, tho, no one mentioned it was a standing hall.

  52. Its interesting how fast a company can go from being hailed as good to being called evil.

  53. If Google don’t like paid links, then why do they bother using inbound links to measure site quality at all?

    Whatever system they seem to come up with to improve the quality of the internet, people soon seem to find a way to get round it anyway.

    I don’t think Google want quality Internet anymore – they just want to make a heap of money at the expense of everyone else.

    Lets face it, their main source of revenue is Adwords, so the only way they’re going to give shareholders what they want is by making us spend even more on them.

  54. If rigged elections are good enough for our government, then they should be good enough for the big g as well =)

  55. If rigged elections are good enough for our government, they should be good enough for the big G imo~

  56. Why bother using inbound links? Do you remember back when it was meta tags? Clearly not 😛

  57. Paid links are good since in the final I found out that it is like 3 way link exchange where the middle man (TLA) gets the most aut of it:) I am selling links and also buying links so in the final I spend nothing but TLA earns.
    So lets say you do normal free link exchange and there is no difference.

  58. I don’t think they’re evil. It’s a great way to help provide an extra revenue stream on your website(s).

  59. As long as they are relevant I dont think that they are evil.!

    This other guy was Darrin Kurmler or am I wrong?

  60. i don’t think you have to bother using paied links. there are many ways going to rome.

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