Don't Buy Link Rich Advertorials (Unless You're Google)

Feb 23rd

I understand Google's desire to have a clean editorial signal & not wanting people to manipulate the web graph.

But Google once again isn't following the best practices they dish out for others.

Both of the following are not one-off articles, but are part of a "series" of advertorials for various Google products with direct followed links to AdWords, Google Analytics, Chromebook, & Hangouts.

Check the date on this next one: February 19th, the same day Interflora was penalized by Google. This is something that is an ongoing practice for Google, while they penalize others for doing the same thing.

Is using payment to influence search results unethical unless the check has Google on it?

None of those links in the content use nofollow, in spite of many of them having Google Analytics tracking URLs on them.

And I literally spent less than 10 minutes finding the above examples & writing this article. Surely Google insiders know more about Google's internal marketing campaigns than I do. Which leads one to ask the obvious (but uncomfortable) question: why doesn't Google police themselves when they are policing others? If their algorithmic ideals are true, shouldn't they apply to Google as well?

Clearly Google takes paid links that pass pagerank seriously, as acknowledged by their repeated use of them.

Published: February 23, 2013

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Comments

February 24, 2013 - 12:50am

I would say those are unnatural links. I wonder if their algorithm sends them automatic messages but they just keep manually adjusting it so it doesn't affect Google.com? ;)

February 24, 2013 - 4:44am

... in terms of comparing the current situation to the past incident of link buying by flower sites is that the last time Google claimed no corrective action was needed due to automatically detecting things. Though perhaps Interflora was a bit more aggressive than the other companies were.

February 24, 2013 - 2:50am

Excellent article; you should forward this to our wussy US Justice Dept. that corwardly backed down on their anti-trust investigatin of the Imperial Dark Side (Google) - or else was corruptly lobbied out (bought out) of their pursuit of the biggest corporate anti-trust scam in history. I hope the EU investigation has more balls. Google is going to kill every Mom & Pop (small) business and lie all the way to Fort Knox about it. Keep throwing rock at Goliath. You guys may be the few left with cojones. The anti-trust stuff Microsoft was investigated for years ago pales in comparison to what Google is doing to free market business today. We all need you to keep fighting them before we all all human batteries in "The Matrix". Props.

February 24, 2013 - 4:40am

...to overstate the impact of some things just because they are things we experience directly. (We see the world through the lens of our own experiences).

A small software firm that was crushed by Microsoft or a book publisher fearing for their survival based on Amazon's increasing leverage in their vertical view those companies the same way some small online publishers might view Google. I am a fan of Amazon & Microsoft (as I have experienced it) hasn't been bad either. But then I don't have the experience sets those other groups do.

I think Google initially did amazing things to flatten the market & allow smaller companies to compete with larger ones. Certainly they have been moving in the opposite direction ever since the mortgage fraud bubble collapsed & "brand" has been the answer for just about everything.

I'll admit that I was a bit surprised that they went after advertorials involving the mainstream media in the UK while the European anti-trust stuff is still ongoing. That in and of itself shows that Google is still willing to push back against powerful sources. I just think that they probably shouldn't have been buying advertorials when they decided to torch them.

If you look at any of the most competitive online verticals where the leaders are online-only, many of the leading brands of today were aggressive link buyers of years gone by (that had largely abandoned the technique after they became category default leaders). The issue with the hard & fast stuff is that almost every site has some crappy links & such as part of its profile. It's a hard game to balance...Google's utility goes down if everything is a free for all, but excessive FUD is likely just as destructive to many entities in the market (and thus to the market as a whole).

Another issue here is that Google has only scratched the surface with this advertorial stuff. There are thousands and thousands of other news sites doing the same stuff, though perhaps in a more tightly integrated & less overt way. If Google pushes too hard on the media they may create enough of a backlash that they ultimately create a market opening for Bing. I am sure if this story spreads out of the SEO bubble Microsoft will be looking on with interest, however this story has mostly been something of/for/by the SEO industry ... there has been very little coverage outside of our little bubble. Other newspapers may not want to cover the advertorial issue for fear of shining the bring light on the advertorials in their own back yards.

February 24, 2013 - 5:45am

...that ever since the web became a commercial marketplace, "natural links" have all but disappeared from the web.

Sure, maybe there are a few government agencies and academic institutions out there that link to other websites solely based on merit, but most commercial websites recognize that links carry an inherent economic value, and act accordingly (except for those completely ignorant about SEO, an increasing minority).

Although Google may be able to identify blatant cases of link buying such as this, there are far many more "paid" links out there than Google can possibly recognize. As long as links have economic value, people will continue to spend money to acquire them. Google needs to accept this reality, and let the market play itself out.

February 24, 2013 - 12:40pm

> Google needs to accept this reality, and let the market play itself out.

I believe Google has already accepted a much starker reality: the whole search business is heading down a cul-de-sac, and all they can do is skim it off as much as possible before it implodes; and then move on to being a major industrial/technological company (cue Google Glass and self-driven cars).

Google's original success was down to a fluke. They found the ONLY already existing large-scale social space in capitalist history not (or at least not much) tainted by self-interest and manipulation, i.e. 1990s internet. You'll never gonna see an opportunity like that again.

That internet was a "sterile" playground for their equations and algorithms to do their magic, and establish Google as a powerful, phenomenally rich and almost universally admired company.

Then the world cottoned on to what a huge profit potential is at stake. Self-interest, greed and manipulation began its work in earnest, so, to quote you, "natural links" have all but disappeared from the web.

Ever since then, for all its boastful claims, Google is waging a losing war in terms of SERP quality. They stay popular mostly thanks to user inertia and self-perpetuating market power (aided by the incompetence of the competition), and not so much thanks to amazing engineering.

Their focus on brands might be construed as a purely money-grabbing turn, but it's at least as much an implicit admission of defeat. By living up to their originally touted "democratic" ideals they could no longer keep up with those outside players who were trying to extract the value from the search ecosystem they created (for simplicity's sake, one might call them spammers).

No matter how many smart engineers they employ, the world's overall creativity in finding the loopholes is, and will always be, too much for any single company to fend off.

Now they could have let the market play itself out like you suggest, but in all probability, that would not have been a pleasant prospect for mom-and-pops, either. They simply decided (like you and I would also decide in their place) that if this cannot be kept a clean playground any more, at least they should be the bullies profiting from it, and not someone else.

What we see in recent years is this playing out.

On the surface, Google's never had it so good, with profits and share price through the roof. But they know all too well that resentment is growing on multiple fronts, and sooner or later too many forces will turn against them. The problem for Google, and possibly for all who have a stake in a functional and reasonably fair search ecosystem, is that there is no way out of this downward spiral (see earlier paragraph starting with "No matter...").

So I think what we're gonna experience in the next couple of years is increasingly aggressive, cynical and unscrupulous behavior from Google within the search space, as they know the beginning of the end is already here and they must grab what they can while they can (that is, before toughening regulation and anti-Google sentiment reaching a critical mass drags them down too much).

Where most companies think ahead one or two steps, they have always been one to think ten steps ahead, and I feel that even by the end of this decade they see themselves mostly out of search and predominantly into cutting-edge everyday technology. (Of course, they might maintain their involvement in search for the lack of real competition, as a relatively easy additional source of profit, but definitely not as a priority.)

All in all, I'm afraid we're heading towards the dark ages following the fall of the Roman empire in terms of search. In such times the weak lose out, which is in this case small business.

February 24, 2013 - 2:44pm

This double standard Google, and their 'do no evil' motto has does not surprise me.

They are a public company, their only job is to keep shareholders happy and show profits every quarter or ELSE.

With that; eventually doing no evil becomes impossible, and corporate greed sets in. Which leads to things like double standards they keep getting caught up in.

February 26, 2013 - 2:51am

I have personally boringly blogged about it before but the reality is that the "Do no evil mantra" of Google died when they became a publicly listed company. Legally! they have to do all in their power to drive the share price up. Some very smart psychologists have studied the actions of "publicly listed companies" and quite frankly if they were human they would be "socio-paths".
Once companies reach a certain size and get listed all they are interested in is survival and to survive in the reality that is the modern share market they have to keep driving share price up. If the share price stays stable, then the company is considered dead in the water and its shares are not traded as much.
Remember when you buy shares you generally want the price to go up, so you can sell them for a profit. Of course there are other factors like derivatives etc. However generally a stock must increase its value, ethically if possible. However, if that gets hard going then as any self respecting socio-path will, the company must go into to self preservation mode. Remembering that self preservation for a socio-path is not like self preservation for you and me. For a socio-path to feel like they are surviving they must be winning!
It is not only Google that behaves like this, all listed companies act like this. Legally they have to, if they do not they will get into big trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
In Google's case, what is really funny is that they still have a fair share of professionals (SEO's included) who should know better that tout that Google is still doing no evil. I have often watched Danny Sullivan's of this world pretend to berate Google, yet almost always in the context of attacking all search engine's in general. However in this latest round Google has struck pretty close to home. Search Engine Land and many other SEO blogs rely on guest blogging and quite often those guest posts are offered only because they get a link back. As Danny himself recently blogged Search Engine Land might end up getting caught out in this way as Google should get caught out in the above example by Aaron.
I once had an argument with Danny, he was spouting the old SEO cliché "that for every loser in an update there is a winner". I was trying to point out that with every update more and more, the winner appears to be Google or more to the point Google properties like YouTube. My final comment to Danny in that argument was something to the effect "you only say those things because Google is not competing in your space! wait until they decide to enter the SEO business". Of course I was being a bit tongue in cheek with that. however you can see with his last post that he is a little worried because although Google is not fighting in his market they are certainly affecting the way Search Engine Land will have to do business in the future. They will have to nofollow all links in their advertorials... oops sorry "guest posts" and risk that no one will bother offering them content for "free", or risk a penalty from google!

February 27, 2013 - 2:52am

I have personally boringly blogged about it before but the reality is that the "Do no evil mantra" of Google died when they became a publicly listed company. Legally! they have to do all in their power to drive the share price up.

Google's early research admonished ad-driven search engines, so the bait-n-switch stuff started long before going public did.

Some very smart psychologists have studied the actions of "publicly listed companies" and quite frankly if they were human they would be "socio-paths".

Robert Hare wrote Psychopathy Checklist, Revised (PCL-R). He also stated “I should have never done all my research in prisons. I should have spent my time inside the Stock Exchange as well. Serial killers ruin families. Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.” then went on to co-author Snakes in Suits.

Once companies reach a certain size and get listed all they are interested in is survival and to survive in the reality that is the modern share market they have to keep driving share price up. If the share price stays stable, then the company is considered dead in the water and its shares are not traded as much.

Remember when you buy shares you generally want the price to go up, so you can sell them for a profit. Of course there are other factors like derivatives etc. However generally a stock must increase its value, ethically if possible. However, if that gets hard going then as any self respecting socio-path will, the company must go into to self preservation mode. Remembering that self preservation for a socio-path is not like self preservation for you and me. For a socio-path to feel like they are surviving they must be winning!

Growth creates a glow, a halo effect in terms of press coverage & retaining employees. Think of all the "is dead" coverage Microsoft has received over the past 13 years while performing roughly inline with the Nasdaq AND returned $194 billion to shareholders via dividends and stock buyback since Ballmer has become CEO.

in this latest round Google has struck pretty close to home. Search Engine Land and many other SEO blogs rely on guest blogging and quite often those guest posts are offered only because they get a link back. As Danny himself recently blogged Search Engine Land might end up getting caught out in this way as Google should get caught out in the above example by Aaron.

I disagree with Danny being worried about this issue impacting him adversely, as he was the one who brought up his own site's issues.

with every update more and more, the winner appears to be Google or more to the point Google properties like YouTube.

Did you catch the comment from Jason Calacanis about how they are a funded YouTube partner now (just like Demand Media)?

According to Google, these sites directly deserve to be penalized for shallow low-quality content, but then Google pre-funds those same companies uploading videos to YouTube. :D

My final comment to Danny in that argument was something to the effect "you only say those things because Google is not competing in your space! wait until they decide to enter the SEO business". Of course I was being a bit tongue in cheek with that. however you can see with his last post that he is a little worried because although Google is not fighting in his market they are certainly affecting the way Search Engine Land will have to do business in the future. They will have to nofollow all links in their advertorials... oops sorry "guest posts" and risk that no one will bother offering them content for "free", or risk a penalty from google!

Again, I don't think it helps to focus on that issue with Danny, as he was the one who brought up the direct links to advertisers. And I think you are sort of merging 2 different things ... guest columnists vs the advertisers offering whitepapers on Digital Marketing Depot. I believe the accidental paid links he brought up were on Digital Marketing Depot. Columnists will not have credit stripped for writing, as there is nothing wrong with giving them credit for what they create.

February 27, 2013 - 11:16pm

Robert Hare wrote Psychopathy Checklist, Revised (PCL-R). He also stated “I should have never done all my research in prisons. I should have spent my time inside the Stock Exchange as well. Serial killers ruin families. Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.” then went on to co-author Snakes in Suits.

Most of the so-called "webmaster editorial community" is partnered with google in their psychopathy. Psychopaths like to blame the victim for the mayhem the psychopath created, how many Matt Cutts parrots are out there rolling out the bad webmaster, spammer schtick,? Too many.

February 26, 2013 - 8:17pm

Aaron, thank you for keeping us honest. You help keep the web going the way it should.

1. You know that we no no problems penalizing our properties because our sites never rank in the first place. You see, we're never "keyword targeting" like all those spammers (a.k.a. SEO's). Seriously, do you think we are ranking for words like "search engines" and "online advertising?" Of course not, and even after a penalty, we are going to usually rank for our brand name, which is something we often do to small webmasters. For larger brands, we generally like to just discount those links, because they are a brand, and we know they are honest most of the time. And its not like we are going to penalize Amazon product pages that carry Chromebooks.

2. Our teams that bought the links are in direct contact with the reinclusion team, getting out of penalties is easy I must say. I do feel bad that we penalize other sites for years at a time, without really giving them details on specifics.

3. In other cases like BeatThatQuote, it is true that we penalized the site only for a week or so, and then when no one was looking, reincluded when Aaron Wall spotted it ranking a second time http://www.seobook.com/beatthatquote-buythoselinks. True it ranked for a lot of keywords, but it was sort of a brand because think about it, we paid about $60 million for it, it had a lot of users, and bought a lot of advertising from us.

4. [Rest of it can be read here on my blog:
http://ericschmidtgoogle.blogspot.com/2013/02/googles-paid-link-advertor...
]

February 27, 2013 - 1:54am

...create a parody blog of a Google executive that is hosted by a Google-owned service? It's not like they would... oops.

February 27, 2013 - 8:08am

Talking about my arguments with Danny doesn't help.

I guess what I was trying to say is that Advertorials are really only one step away from guest posts. Basically any post that does not have a rel=nofollow attributed to its link will eventually viewed with suspicion. An example : Even though this is technically not a guest post you can see that the link anchored by "reptilian brain" in this post http://searchengineland.com/3-neuromarketing-considerations-for-landing-... could be misconstrued as an attempt to game Google.

I am not trying out SEL , Danny has pointed to much worse on SEL himself as a way to say that no one is perfect in this link creation game of ours.

However I think Google in the not to distant future will basically lay down the law that these types of links will also need to be nofollowed.

I have often wondered what will happen when in the dim distant future, Google finally wins the nofollow war and EVERY link is a nofollow? I guess they better hope they have their social rank sorted out by then.

March 6, 2013 - 4:49am

I agree with Aaron Wall. If Google updates their algorithm and penalize others for carrying out spamming, then why does Google allow the same thing for their internal link structure. Why Google doesn't make their standard policy for themselves when they are policing of others?

March 6, 2013 - 11:16am

The Interflora bombshell has undeniably sent shock-waves through the industry and is exactly what Google wanted to do. It is disgusting that Google don't practice what they preach, but that doesn't change the fact that when they say jump, SEO's say how high or suffer the ranking consequences.

As such, it's essential we all stay one step ahead of the game when it comes to links. It's time (and probably has been for quite some time) that we pursue more creative ways to obtain quality, natural backlinks. I recently wrote a blog post on the subject which scratches the surface: koozai.com/blog/search-marketing/creative-link-building-techniques-for-a-sustainable-link-building-strategy/

It's not enough to rely on old methods of building links any more. We should all have already said goodbye to directories and blogroll links, now advertorials are dead too.

April 3, 2013 - 11:07pm

... creative in that post?

Almost all of that stuff is rehashed stuff from about a decade ago. And then here you guys are talking about don't ruin the industry with email outreach
koozai.com/blog/search-marketing/how-one-bad-email-can-take-down-an-entire-industry/
marginally relevant comment drops aren't particularly inspiring. It is that same sort of stuff you guys are warning against.

March 7, 2013 - 4:50pm

Wonderful analysis of how Google doesn't applies the things it teaches to others.
I think they have designed their algorithm in such a way that it doesn't affect Google.com but others around.

With all the recent updates, the winner appears to be Google and only Google.

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