“If You’re Gonna Dance, You Gotta Pay the Band”

Danny Sullivan reports that Google is lowering PageRank for sites that sell links:

So I pinged Google, and they confirmed that PageRank scores are being lowered for some sites that sell links.

In addition, Google said that some sites that are selling links may indeed end up being dropped from its search engine or have penalties attached, to prevent them from ranking well.

How far does this action by Google extend? Are they also going after bloggers (I use that term loosely) who sell authority as well as links?

Bloggers and SEO’ers such as Andy Beard have been quick to criticize Google for taking action against the selling of links and authority through paid article platforms such as (the detestable, in my opinion) PayPerPost or ReviewMe:

The Google PageRank currently being displayed to my visitors is a deliberate manufactured lie to my visitors.

It is also a lie to potential advertisers – I don’t sell links, but I do sell my authority, and my hopefully increasing PageRank was a positive signal of quality relative to my increasing status withing Internet marketing and Search Engine Marketing.

The fact is that Google is a corporation that acts with the best interests of their stockholders and a bottom line. They are not a charitable organization that acts for the best interests of all humanity. Expecting Google to turn a blind eye to deliberate gaming of a system they created, sustain and monetize and then whine when Google slaps down gamers seems more than naive.

When you play the Google game, you have to play by their rules, arbitrary or not… fair or not. You’re in their sandbox after all.

There’s a great Willie Nelson lyric that I’m constantly reminded of when playing the Google game:

“It really ain’t that hard to understand, if you’re gonna dance, you gotta pay the band.”

About Sam Harrelson

Former ReveNews and CostPerNews Publisher, Former Affiliate Marketer, Current Middle School Science Teacher, Current Publisher of AffiliateHack

Twitter: sbharrelson22

32 Responses to “If You’re Gonna Dance, You Gotta Pay the Band”

  1. Andy Beard says:

    Hmm Sam, you might have ethical problems with paid posts, but this penalty was for paid links, that affect search engines.

    I believe I don't sell PageRank, because I perform quite an in depth review service.

    You are effectively saying my reviews are detestable.

    Many of your favorite bloggers "thanking their advertisers" is actually worse than what I do as far as Google's algorithms.

    Then of course most of those companies are using javascript to display all their advertising.

    "love" isn't necessarily a good thing
    http://www.love.costpernews.com/

  2. This is interesting.

    But how unfortunate for sites with paid links. They just wanna earn a little income off their sites and make a decent living. I hope Google reconsiders…

    -Aurelius

  3. Giede says:

    You know it's crap like this that causes revenews to backslide more and more over time. Revenews has a sidebar full of completely irrelevant and non-value links pointing your readers to sites like nike shoe buying, bargain shops, coupons, halloween costumes for "Revenews Bloggers" who squeak a post in maybe once a year, and yet here we are reading some chest thumping on detestable paid posting.

    If you use the term "bloggers" loosely, Sam, for those who sell authority or pagerank–what term do you use for what's going on in the sidebar over there to the left

  4. Hi Giede-

    Those are the bloggers here. I have no problem linking to their other sites or businesses since they provide us with their insights and time.

  5. Jim Kukral says:

    Andy, why not make all your paid review links nofollow then? Or are you doing that already?

  6. Manoj says:

    Sam,
    There's quite a bit of grey here—and your response to one of the comments just reinforces that. One is compensating another party for some perceived value [the bloggers give their insight & time and in return you are offering them a link to their websites, with "link juice/link love" (i detest both of those terms; sounds kind of cheap, but will use those most popular terms anyway– the gurus also love them)]. Likewise, when you announced new sponsors for Revenews, they got links without "no follow" to their websites— and they are obviously paying for visibility here.

    Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong there: but I raise the precisely to highlight the shades of grey in the "paid for links" debate.

    What is the line separating an editorial citation, somebody's magnanimity, return of a favor, or as a core benefit that is being bought?

    I'm no mathematician, but the more I think about it, the more I sense the limitations of the "citation"-based concept used in giving weightages to pages & determining relevance of web pages.

  7. @Manoj: Having a list of bloggers that contribute to a site or a blogroll on a site (as I do on my personal site) is one thing as are having sponsors.Selling a text link on a site for the express purpose is another.

    The difference here (as Google points to) is intentions… I'm not intentionally trying to pump up someone's PR or "google juice" when I place them on my blogroll or if they are a blogger here and I link to their site. I either enjoy reading their stuff (ie blogroll) or I'm letting people know who specific bloggers are in the sidebar (as do other major blogs such as boingboing.net).

    There's no intention to game and I could care less about whether or not the right amount of "google juice" is being spread. It's just not something that I'm fanatical about, but I understand why some people are if they are hardcore SEO types. More power to them, but the spirit of my post is that if you play that game and your intentions are more than just sharing sites or linking to friends or colleagues then you have to play by the rules that Google sets.

  8. Andy Beard says:

    Jim I look on the link I give in a review as editorial, I insist on this before I write a review. I choose the links I give, and the anchor text.

    If I used nofollow, that could give a signal to my readers that I don't trust the site I am linking to.

    I don't make a claim that selling links in the sidebar or at the end of posts on a blog is detestable, which is what I believe Sam does on CPN, but Google certainly might.

    I know people have purchased links on CPN partially for the SEO benefit.

    Sam, just because you don't particularly like SEO discussions doesn't make you exempt from Google PageRank penalties if they determine that links are being sold to benefit in search queries.

  9. Jim Kukral says:

    "If I used nofollow, that could give a signal to my readers that I don't trust the site I am linking to."

    Andy, two points.

    1. Would any reader ever really know if you had a nofollow in, no.
    2. If you look at it from Google's perspective, isn't that really what they're trying to control?

    I hear what you're saying Andy, I'm just not sure there's any point in arguing it? They're going to do what they want/need to do. We either play or don't?

    I think, step back, and really think about this from their perspective, and try to do it without thinking they are evil.

    Sure, they are running a business, but I do believe, at the end of the day, they are successful, and will continue to be, only because they care about relevance first.

  10. My point exactly, Jim…

    "I hear what you're saying Andy, I'm just not sure there's any point in arguing it? They're going to do what they want/need to do. We either play or don't?"

    My feelings behind the post were that we spend a lot of time second guessing and questioning Google's motives, etc in these types of decisions and complaining about being slapped when we break one of their rules. Instead, we should vote with our feet (or pocketbooks) if there is something they do as a company that threatens our business, etc. Otherwise, if you're going to dance, you've got to pay the band at the end of the night.

    Reminds me a lot of the Apple / iPhone debacle over 3rd party apps. I didn't like the closed nature of the iPhone after I purchased mine, so I took it back. In other words, let the free market do its job.

  11. BTW, Andy… look at the people in the sidebar who have contributed to CPN. None of those are doing it for the SEO improvement or gaming of a search engine. All of them are actually close friends who like the content there and wanted to keep it going. That's a lot different than a TextLinkAds setup and definitely different than a paid reviews type system.

  12. Andy Beard says:

    Well, maybe I am taking a step further back than you are 😉

    My readers certainly would see a nofollow link, such a high portion use the Search Status plugin for Firefox.

    Adam Lasnik is stating that it is Google's intention to make a level playing field, but so far I haven't seen anyone penalized for selling links that pass PageRank other than the Stanford Daily.

    They have penalized a whole load of posties, plus as is widely reported John Chow, and a few other notable bloggers who write paid reviews.

    Davis Airey was kicked out of the SERPs totally, yet all he was effectively specifying in his competition was a list of terms he would like to possibly be linked with.

    Article marketing, you normally specify exactly what anchor text must be used. The same with press releases. Does that mean people will be banned for those soon too?

    Is my level of editorial control really worse than the Yahoo Directory and the other paid directories that Google approve of?

    This is a specific attack, but I can only speculate on the motivation, and I don't think it is purely based upon search.

  13. Jim Kukral says:

    It's all about intent. Not your definition. Google's.

    Right?

  14. Jonathan (Trust) says:

    "BTW, Andy… look at the people in the sidebar who have contributed to CPN. None of those are doing it for the SEO improvement or gaming of a search engine."

    Well that's not true. When you have people linking to their own sites with keywords they want to rank for, not hard to see, it's exactly what they're doing. Be it in the bio, or posts they make here. And people do buy advertising, love, for the link. Could be for the traffic, could be for the SE benefit. It is what it is. And sometimes it's hard to tell. You could have a blog and links out but who knows if you're linking to a site because you think it's of value or because someone paid you. Some of it is pretty blatant and isn't hard to tell if you take a good look so it doesn't suprise me for those to get zapped.

  15. Regarding the Blogger Links here at RN and the Sponsorships at CPN. They appear on virtually every page at the same spot. This makes them so called "boiler plates" and even less advanced search engines like MSN are able to detect those and diminish there value from an SEO perspective to almost nothing.

    I am not a big fan of the blogger list here at RN for reasons that were already mentioned. They are not relevant to most readers and take space for something that could be more useful, e.g. the RN twitter plug-in or related posts in the individual posts and "sticky" posts in the categories and home page.

    The CPN sponsorship I offered Sam was for advertising and if he would make the links no follow, I would understand, but not like it for a different reason, which has to do with my general opinion about Google's abuse of the nofollow attribute. For example did I not like very much when the sponsorships were pushed down on the site, at one time (in one of his designs) even below the posts actual content, which made them useless to get some eyeballs. The eyeballs were actually also the reason for me to get a sponsorship that got me an image on the site and not a text link.

    Regarding what Google is doing, do I not have anything more to say than I already did repeatedly over the past 12+ months. I posted more than once at SearchEngineJournal.com and here at RN about the issue that Jonathan can't see them anymore :). Since a convenient link to the posts would be considered bad and only placed for "SEO" reasons, have fun to find the posts yourself :). They would be topically highly relevant and benefit the user, but hey, they also help with SEO so don't do it.

  16. Btw. I got the sponsorship at CPN to help Sam out, to support what he is doing. I he drops my sponsorship in favor for another that is also relevant, but pays more, fine.

    I did the same with Fraser Edwards blog and podcast, which helped him to attracted UK advertisers. He struggled with that and with paying the bills at the beginning, because it takes a lot of time to do what he does, which you can't do forever (at least not right), if you don't get any compensation for the time and energy spent doing it (the same is the case in Sam's case). So I offered him at Affiliate Summit West that I would support him with money and he can put me up as sponsor, which hopefully attracts other, local advertisers, if they see that the damn Yankees have to step in, because they don't get it.

    Well, it worked and I faded out as sponsor eventually, because there was not enough room.

  17. Some Guy says:

    It doesn't look like the WashingtonPost has been lowerd to much, still PR 7. Here are some of their paid links:

    Featured Advertiser Links
    – Mesothelioma, Accutane, ReNu, Avandia, Attorney Loans
    – Homeequity loans at great rates from Citibank.
    – The world is on sale, fly abroad on United!
    – Earn 4.30% APY at ING DIRECT. No Fees and No Minimums

    That ReNu link earns their advertiser the number 2 listing under Bausch & Lomb, not to shabby!!!

    http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&i

  18. Vlad says:

    After reading this thread I am not that surprised anymore that Jason Calacanis was invited to speak at Affiliate Summit.

    Is it a sign of the direction affiliate marketing is going?

    I get paid to have links pointing to my merchants, it's my bread. I find it hypocritical that affiliate marketers defend Google on this one.

  19. Hi Vlad, I am sure that you did not direct that one at me 🙂

    Okay, now I do add a link. Very SEO un-friendly with crappy anchor tag. Click here. No, no no-follow attribute and the content, where this link points to, explains the "why".

  20. Vlad says:

    Carsten,

    Sorry if it looked that way, but after reading first five or six comments I went straight to commenting…. without actually reading your comments.

    I advertised in the past on CPN and while I supported Sam in his work, but the idea of having an incoming link from a PR5 blog sounded good as well, if you know what I mean.

  21. Vlad says:

    Carsten,

    Just was reading you article….. but stopped where you were sending me to read Marxists propaganda… are you serious?

    With all due respect to well known German guy, his writings had caused many bad things in Europe, eastern Europe to be specific. You lost me there, Carsten. 😉

  22. Jonathan (Trust) says:

    "I get paid to have links pointing to my merchants, it's my bread."

    No you don't. You get paid if somebody buys something, fills out a form etc. from your links to a merchant. If you're talking about the links to your merchants being affiliate links.

    Not what Google is talking about with paid links. They're not talking about affiliate links, they're talking about buying links in hope of getting some kind of SE benefit from them.

  23. Vlad says:

    Johnathan,

    I disagree. I have naked affiliate links were my merchants are getting SEO benefits. Yes I do get paid only if a sale is produced, but I do get paid and the merchant is getting SEO benefits at the same time.

  24. Jonathan (Trust) says:

    Google is talking about this:

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-links-and-page

    Not affiliate links. I understand that some merchants are setup that way (getting SE benefit via affiliate links) but you're still getting paid for actual conversions. So what I quoted you as saying is wrong. You're not getting paid for merely putting up a link to a merchant. Merchants aren't paying you a set amount to put up links. Read that whole page to get a better understanding of what Google is talking about. We've actually had discussions about merchants and networks and straight links, probably not a good idea because it's merchants using the affiliate program to game Google:

    http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread.php?t=92873&…

  25. Jonathan, exactly the links Vlad is talking about are the ones where Google is not clear, the links that do pass link juice, unless the SE discounts them.

    I approached Matt at SES San Jose in August and guess what, he did not answer my question about affiliate links that pass link juice and if they are considered paid or not.

    He just smiled at me. So is that a yes or a no? I dunno and I guess that "it depends". The definition of "it depends" is unfortunately not clear. Matt is not a "big fan" of affiliates 🙂

    Vlad, the link at CPN will not bring you very much. More than nothing? Probably, but by far not as much as a single text link on a one PR5 page on a trusted domain.

  26. Speaking of affiliate links that pass link-juice … and speaking of Google's "reasons".

    And while we are at it, lso see this one and this one. Of course does Google give a damn about CJ links which pass nada, nichts, nitschwo, nothing. I would be so sure about those.

    If it would be a no brainer for Google, they would not avoid answering the question and answer it, especially after being asked directly more than once (so the argument that they did not see the it is out of the question).

  27. androo says:

    nerd fight… it's like i stumbled into a fight between SEO nerds over he said she said stuff… LOL Love it!!

  28. Nerd says:

    Reality check:

    "If i'm not online I'm playing xBox Live with my friends."

    Blog full of game cheats, and personal XBOX scoring milestones. Doesn't get much nerdy. Get out of the house and get some fresh air or stop playing so many games and then you too might be able to make some money.

  29. androo says:

    awwwww…. too scared to actually leave a name for some contacting..? you see i have enough free time to enjoy myself and actually let my stuff run for itself… so just subscribe to my RSS feed and you might learn something thanx for your time…

  30. Is SEO nerd a bad thing? I take that as a compliment 🙂

    I'm working my way up to be a digital dork

    http://forum.abestweb.com/showpost.php?p=486322&p

  31. androo says:

    LOL… ok i'm busted… i too am a nerd / geek / dork… so i like a little video games now and then and i like to have conversations about seo, internet marketing, and link building.. who doesn't..?

    but the truth of the matter is… the whole thing with Google lowering the PageRank for sites that sell links in my opinion it's a good thing… and my reasoning for thinking it's a good thing is that a site shouldn't be based off of the fact that it's a PR6 or even a PR2 when it comes to selling link space / links it should be rank on the quality of the content. Because pretty anyone could easily buy a PR5 domain off of ebay and strap it down with content just to sell a spot on that page because its' a PR6.

  32. Jonathan (Trust) says:

    "but the truth of the matter is… the whole thing with Google lowering the PageRank for sites that sell links in my opinion it's a good thing…"

    I agree. I've even told people that I thought they were stupid for advertising that they sell links on their site or that it was very obvious that they did. It's just waving the flag at Google, so it shouldn't come as a suprise if they got tagged.