Rel=nofollow to the Rescue
Years ago Google introduced rel=nofollow, claiming it as a cure-all for comment spam. Once in place, it was quickly promoted as a tool to use on any paid link. Google scared webmasters about selling links so much that many webmasters simply became afraid to link out to anyone for fear of falling out of favor with Google.
If You Don't Disclose You Are a Spammer
As the pool of links dried up due to the launch & spread of nofollow any ad network which used direct links was supposed to adopt nofollow or feel the wrath. Just ask Pay Per Post what Google can do to you if you sell links (to/through someone other than Google).
Google demanded that any form of paid link contain a machine readable and user readable disclaimer that it is paid for (even though in Google's marketing they highlight how some of their users are unaware the search results contain paid links).
What it came down to is if there was a monetary relationship associated with a link and you didn't disclose it then you were operating outside of Google's guidelines and may be considered a "spammer."
Selective Search Guideline Enforcement
I am one of many who have highlighted how by-and-large Google was responsible for killing off the link graph through their paranoia about "paid links," and their willingness to fund companies operating outside their guidelines that syndicate Google ads.
Our affiliate program on this site stopped passing link juice after a fellow SEO blogger outed it quite publicly. Other affiliate programs continue to pass PageRank. Highlighting Google's double standards invites more scrutiny and more selective arbitrary enforcement. Whereas promoting Google products earns free links. ;)
No Disclosure Required: WOOT!
Reading the news today I found out that VigLink bought out DrivingTraffic. Both are networks to help publishers monetize their outbound links. The claim about VigLink is the one of no-effort money:
"Quite simply, if you're a Web publisher who hasn't recognized the value of your outbound traffic, you are leaving money on the table," said Raymond Lyle, CEO and Co-Founder of Driving Revenue. "Dozens of our publishers make six figure incomes for a one-time investment of one minute of work. Who isn't interested in that?"
The page loads fast. And your site looks exactly the same. Even your links look and behave the same way. The only difference is that now when your visitors buy products or services you'll earn a commission. ... Once you have set up viglink you can sign in to view reports about your site. You can see how much money you are making every day and compare that with last week. You can see which merchants are the most profitable, and make decisions on who to link to in the future.
So basically Viglink is suggesting controlling who you link to based on whatever makes you the most money, and not providing any disclosure of the financial relationship.
AKA: paid links.
Here is where it really gets screwed up: Google is an investor in VigLink.
Selectively allowing some links to pass link juice while arbitrarily blocking others indeed controls the shape of the web graph. It gives anyone who works with Google a strong competitive advantage in the organic search results over those who are not using Google endorsed technology.
Google also has a patent on automatically adding inline links inside content. Since they can't legally do it without permission of the webmaster, one presumes any implementation would be as part of a distributed ad network.
Makes you wonder about how evil undisclosed paid links are, no?
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