As Google has made abundantly clear in recent weeks, it is harshly penalizing companies that engage in buying links from link networks. Google has long ago announced that this black hat SEO practice will no longer assist websites in raising their search engine rankings, and could potentially lead to much stiffer penalties. Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, announced recently what he considers is a paid link to help webmasters determine if their own efforts coincide with Google’s standards.
Cutts began by discussing the most obvious types of paid links. These include links which are based on PageRank and which are easily spotted by Google’s search algorithm. He then delved into links which may be paid for but are less obvious. These are usually identified by other types of behavior.
The first type of behavior is transactional. In many cases, an organization’s representative may be offered a gift of some substantial value which would engender the creation of link. Google closely analyzes the transaction of gifts which can include pricey swag, gift cards or other monetary substitutes.
The second standard regards loans. In certain situations, a company seeking some type of preference may try to loan a highly valuable item to another. If this loan is in the form of a benign “try it out” type, Google generally passes it off as a harmless loan. However, if the loan becomes a permanent gift then Google is more likely to consider this as a monetary transaction designed to purchase an inorganic link, and could inspire some type of penalty.
The audience is often a telltale sign that a link has been paid for instead of organically produced. If someone approaches a website and offers to create a positive review in exchange for some type of gift, then Cutts says, this type of exchange is likely to draw the censure of Google administrators. On the other hand, if the gift is merely intended to inspire a positive review—rather than purchase one—Google is likely to ignore such a transaction.
The fourth element that Cutts examined was the surprise component. If a perk like trying out a car is a natural part of the relationship, then there is no surprise element. However, if a party requests that they keep the car in return for a positive recommendation, that would be outside the scope of the relationship and constitutes a surprise.
Google states that business relationships must fall within Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Any abusive or illicit behavior may warrant an investigation from Google as well as other policing agencies.
In his statement, Matt Cutts contends that Google is highly sensitive to these types of illegitimate transactions and is relatively adept at spying them out. There is still some question about how they can discern the difference between legitimate and paid links when there is no digital evidence of a transaction. Although the search engine algorithm may be able to pick out some of the more obvious offenders, more sophisticated organization may be escaping notice.