Paid Links are Not SPAM if They Pay Per Click

In an SES panel yesterday Matt Cutts claims paid links pollute the web ,while he advocates off topic link bait as a useful search marketing strategy. Michael Gray and Greg Boser are a bit more honest:

Link Baiting, what Google’s suggest as link building strategy, is as egregious if not worse for relevancy than paid links - viral content of such an off-topic nature should not help your rankings and is more “polluting” than relevant paid links.

Linkbaiting is Expensive, Time Consuming, and Unpredictable

The reasons search engineers advocate link baiting are:

  • it is expensive

  • it is time consuming
  • the results are hard to predict
  • it requires social connections
  • it provides off topic low value traffic
  • it typically creates content of limited commercial value (other than the ability to pull in links to rank other pages for stuff they did not have enough relevancy or authority to merit ranking for)
  • the valuable results can take a while to show
  • it often undermines the credibility of the source doing it (by allowing people to think of information from certain sources as link bait, which is a derogatory classification term)
  • many companies have restrictions that prevent them from doing it

Because of the above reasons, the technique of link baiting is outside the reach of most webmasters. Since few people can do it, it is highly unpredictable, time consuming, and expensive OF COURSE that is the only way search engineers recommend you build links. They might even like you to believe that almost all links are acquired that way. The more brutally tough it is to build your SEO strategy the more appealing AdWords ads look.

Shopping Search? Try AdWords!!!

If you can't buy links to rank, then some irrelevant old sites and marginably relevant articles on authoritative domains (that typically gained their link based authority before Google polluted the link graph with AdSense and NoFollow) gets to clog up the organic search results, and the only way people can find commercially relevant results is if they look at Google's AdWords ads.

May I Lend You a Hand?

It gets worse when you think about the uneven policing of the search results, where engineers hand edit small webmaster sites out of the search results (even ones that get free unrequested links from the US Coast Guard and US embassy), and look the other way while large corporations (which have large AdWords budgets) OWN the entire Google search result page for some keywords.

The Death of Organic Links

A mainstream media magazine did a spread on one of my friend's websites, where my friend gave them virtually all the content for the article, and they refused to link to my friend's site in the article because they felt it would be too promotional. Sorry, you already sent out 100,000 magazines with the article in it. You already were too promotional. Sadly, that is just one more example of the death of organic links caused by Google's fearmongering.

Optimize Your Account: Pay Us More

I tried Google's AdWords Campaign Optimizer yesterday. It kept telling me to increase my budget for link buying.

If I have a blind bid that is too high would it tell me to lower that bid? Nope. A search marketing campaign is only properly optimized if it sends more money to Google, which is the problem with the field of SEO. Google doesn't get a cut of the action. The organic results have yet to be properly optimized.

Why Waste a Breathe Scaring People Unless the Intent is to Lie or Deceive?

From Rand's blog post about the links SES session:

Matt also says that it's very difficult to buy paid links effectively as a business or as a search marketer because Google does such a good job detecting and eliminating the value of those links.

How often do you hear Matt Cutts droning on about duplicate page titles or stuffing your meta keywords tag? You don't, because they are no longer effective.

Google would not be trying to brainwash webmasters about links so often if paid links didn't work. The problem with paid links is they work too well.

Who is Getting Paid?

To properly understand search marketing you have to understand that the fight over search spam has NOTHING to do with result relevancy. The label of spam is only applied if the wrong company gets paid.

If it is Google getting paid, feel free to sell high yield investment scams, or preteen sex ads. They have no problem syndicating those messages all over the web, as long as they are getting paid.

Google even recommends you go out and buy text links. As an SEO, I trust the SERP more than the engineer. When Google engineers lie publicly to push their business model it doesn't bode well for the future of that company or the future of the web.

Published: August 23, 2007 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


August 23, 2007 - 2:15pm

Spammers :(

August 23, 2007 - 3:18pm

Very interesting post. I think that linkbaiting as a strategy is also not a very good one. It is just one weapon in an entire arsenal.

Google needs to "man up" and stop crying over paid links. It's no different than Adwords. The only difference is that they aren't getting a cut.

Ashish Roy
August 23, 2007 - 3:31pm

Aaron, I agree that this fear mongering/moral policing is not what Google should do. But what about the following scenario:

a) Google stops displaying toolbar PR
b) Algorithmically undervalue any effort o purchase links
c) Use more usage data or site actions by visitors to re-rank from a set of results.

Won't all these measures, when combined, stop the pollution of SERPS?

August 23, 2007 - 3:57pm

I am the guy that created the SES video linkbait that Greg said is "polluting" the web right now. (I am guessing you didn't like the imitation of you in the video or you might have linked to it). :)

The way I think about it is each site has a unique link signature, I work hard at getting good relevant links (see my mash-up tool for property managers) but it doesn't hurt to have some very authoritative links as part of that signature even if they do not relate - and lets face it SEOBook has a ton of authority that is why I put you on the panel.

I am a small guy in my industry - I only work part time on my site. My main competitor is a publicly traded company with 100's of people and they can afford paying bloggers $11 to $14 per post as they did a few weeks ago (I have a post on that).

I have to say I like Google (Matt Cutts) take on this because it evens the playing field for us small guys that can't afford to buy links or can't afford SEO services that cost $50K. I have to do it all myself.

Josh Spickler
August 23, 2007 - 4:00pm

"Linkbaiting is Expensive, Time Consuming, and Unpredictable
The reasons search engineers advocate link baiting are:

* it is expensive
* it is time consuming
* the results are hard to predict "

No offense, but I just found this hilarious.

August 23, 2007 - 4:16pm

If I am "buying links" with my link bait video of the SES session - than it costs me $6 in foam board and several hours of my time.

I guess it didn't work that well if Aaron didn't link to me. :)

August 23, 2007 - 4:22pm

I agree. It seems the reason google is so upset about paid links is because:

a) Their algorithm is obviously weighting links far to highly


b) they aren't receiving any revenue from said paid links (unless they are paid adwords links, which, based on the latest adwords update, has been tweaked to ensure greater revenue for google)

I think the "don't be evil" slogan is becoming a farce.

August 23, 2007 - 4:49pm

Warning: rant follows.

I think it is a bit naive to believe in the "don't be evil" story. After all, Google is just another corporation that put a different spin on their money making scheme. (equally, Apple is after your money, too, so why are people happily paying for overpriced mp3 players?). Remember the Cola Wars? Innocently and a bit naively, people bought into the my-cola-is-better-than-yours cause. And the Cola companies raked the cash in. Which is very clever on their part and has to be emulated.

Of course what Aaron pointed out makes sense for Google. They need the cash flow, so why allow successful search engine optimization? Google owns the search market, and they are going to squeeze every little profit out of it. They do enjoy the benefits of an almost monopoly on search (and a great user-friendly advertising platform) and they are not going to be ashamed of making everyone pay through their nose. Have you ever wondered why cell phones cost more in the US than in Europe?

I, for one, will not buy into "don't be evil," GOOG vs MSFT wars, APPL vs MSFT, MSFT is evil. Let's take the emotion out of the business decisions and do only what makes sense economically. If that means paying Google as opposed to Yahoo, so be it (for now). But tomorrow I will gladly pay Microsoft or if it makes more sense to me.

August 23, 2007 - 5:10pm

Well said! The best quote: "How often do you hear Matt Cutts droning on about duplicate page titles or stuffing your meta keywords tag? You don't, because they are no longer effective."
I've always argued with everyone saying this exact point. If they knew their algorithm caught paid links, there wouldn't be a single word from Matt. In fact, it would probably be quite the opposite!

August 23, 2007 - 5:17pm

@ Ashish

How do paid links pollute SERP's any more than google's sponsored links?

August 23, 2007 - 7:50pm


This might be the last straw. Your site might be just hand removed from Google search results, so please be careful what you say next.

On a serious note, I must agree with everything you said. To me, if Google came out and flat out said that they do not like paid links because it competes with them, I can accept that. The bottom line is that PPC is nothing more than paid links as well isn't it? Trying to get into an argument about editorial review qualities around PPC when Google's own editorial review does not work well in the first place is a waste of time.

Now, I don't think Google employees are lying publicly to push their business. I think Matt firmly believes in what he says. I do not think the engineers are thinking of paid links as something that competes with their business. They are sincere in thinking that paid links pollute search results. Mistaken but sincere!

August 23, 2007 - 10:23pm


August 24, 2007 - 1:10am

Oh yeah - that was a GREAT post... thanks for this Aaron - you light up my night here :-)


August 24, 2007 - 4:00am

Tama! :)

August 24, 2007 - 5:22am

are you saying that matt cutts is being dishonest?

Dana Wallert
August 24, 2007 - 5:27am

So Carl Rove has found fear-mongering work in the corporate sector? I knew there was another reason he was leaving!

Seriously, I've been reading your blog for awhile, but finally my fear of commenting was overwhelmed by the brilliance of your post!

Has there been any talk about the "report paid links" option in Google now? Just wondering if anyone's really narking on anyone else or if that's just another invitation to take out the competition.

August 24, 2007 - 5:33am

Hi Mike
He might be trying to be honest, but the complexity of his job might force him to warp reality to make sense of it all.

I don't think doing his job in and of itself is dishonest, but certainly trying to scaremonger people is a disservice to the web as a whole.

August 24, 2007 - 7:52am


Great post. Very well said. I think people forget that Google is just another business and tip the scales in their favor. For some reason people seem to hold them to some some higher moral standard. As they grow, the true values of the business, as most large corporations do, become secondary to the greedy shareholders.

Yahoo isn't much better. When they launched their new Panama platform, I learned the hard way that their campaign level budgets weren't as they appeared. Apparently if one campaign under utilized its budget, the remaining amount would be allocated to your other campaigns to ensure that you met your overall account level budget. In some circumstances that might be beneficial (I didn't think so), but I didn't see this information disclosed anywhere. Who does this benefit? Yahoo. The system intentionally makes sure you can spend as much as you possibly can. To maximize traffic or to maximize Yahoo's revenue?

I give you credit for calling Google out. I think there will always be a degree of hypocrisy in this situation, the question is how far can they push it without pissing off too many people.

August 24, 2007 - 9:45am

I just can't see how Google could police the policy at all. There are obvious sites which openly sell links sure but how many other people have private arrangement? I'm sure Google see themselves as all present, but that level needs Jedi skills!

Nathan Libbey
August 24, 2007 - 7:40pm

This is a valuable post. I've been curious about why Google thinks they can decide all the SEO rules.

Kyle M. Brown
August 24, 2007 - 8:47pm

Interesting post. It does look as if Google is only concerned about paid links because its lost revenue for adwords. I mean, don't see how it could be anything else. If the paid links are relevant, what difference should it make to Google. If the links are irrelevant and the site does'nt promote that the links are paid, then how would Google now anyway?

Seems like it would to be very difficult to stop paid text links completely.

Could not agree more with the Google optimizer piece. We tested this on some accounts and found that the optimizer used keywords words that we had previously paused because they weren't performing well and the conversions dropped almost 100% though the budget was still expired. Got some good keywords out of it though.

August 25, 2007 - 6:00am

It sounds like the big G is doing everything they can to get people scared. They only want people using adwords. Those are the only type of paid links that are ok" in their book.

August 25, 2007 - 1:04pm

I think that Google always fail to realize the responsability required from their part. In other words, they are irresponsible. Not allowing paid links is absurd. They practically say: "hey, paid link are bad, unless you use our service". It's like BMW would say: hey, driving a car is very bad, unless it's a BMW. Do you realize the absurdity of this? Anyway, I think some regulations should be made to control these giant corporations which think they are gods and don't care about the end user anymore, just hit right and left without even the slightest consideration. And one more thing: Google doesn't have a good search relevancy anymore, they are too obsessed about the money. Ironically, this is exactly what will probably cost them the most.

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