How does Google Determine What a Paid Link Is?

Have you been wondering how Google determines what qualifies as a paid link? So have we. This week Matt Cutts released a video providing some of the guidelines as to how they determine what is and is not a paid link. These examples range from the very obvious paid links to questions over what is the value or a link and what is or is not money?

Explicit Link Sales

These types of links are by far the most common, according to Cutts. This is when one webmaster exchanges money for a link on the others site. The intent of these links is very obvious.

Is trade Close to the Value of Money?

Google uses an evaluation to determine how close something is to the value of money. For example, a gift card is close to money in that it can be exchanged for money. However, a $1 promotional item is not worth much and will probably not influence a user to provide a link in return. If you were to receive a free trial of a software that would less than the price of the gift card but more than that of the $1 promotional item.

Loan vs Gift

If you are a blogger who receives a piece of electronic equipment to review, Google notes a difference between a trial period for the electronics and if you are given the electronics outright. If you receive an item indefinitely, that is closer to a paid link.

Intent of the Audience

Should you attend a marketing event where you are given a free subscription to an online product, the intent is not for a free link in return. The free subscriptions are not provided for a link back to their product but rather as an opportunity to try their latest product. If the conference gave out free iPads in exchange for a link, that is much close to a paid link. While intent is very hard to define, Google tries its best.

Surprise or Not

If you  blog/review for theater events on Broadway, it might be expected that you receive free tickets to the event. If a link is provided in that review, Google does not see this as a paid link as it is expected that this person would receive free tickets to the show. However, if you were given something of great monitory value in exchange for the review, that is a different story.

Its great that Google is trying to provide us with guidelines on what is and is not a paid link but the question is really how does Google know? If I pay someone for a link and no one is there to see the money exchange hands, how does Google know? Cutts uses an example of Spam he got through email about the type of people offering paid links, but if that company had not sent that to Cutts, how would Google know what they were doing? While Google likes to think they are the supreme ruler of the internet, it is impossible for them to see what goes on behind close doors. This holds true especially when you are talking about things that happen off the internet.

While I applaud Google for their attempt to show their cards, what they actually have done is provide a nice set of guidelines as to what different types of payment are. I wish Google had given live examples as to the types of different paid vs non-paid links. That video from Cutts would have been much more useful.


By Matthew Wilkos


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