Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Google And Text Links: An Open Letter To Matt Cutts

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What to do with Google and text links?


My bottom conclusions have not changed: when you use text links you are either cheating Google or the advertisers paying for them. Why doesn't anyone say this openly? Am I missing some pieces? Are there "good" text links that while respecting Google needs serve also a purpose to advertisers? Please show me were so that I can make a Good use of them myself too.

After my yet officially unexplained Google penalization of one week (was really an active penalization is the question of the day) I have gathered two growing factions following the story - on one side those writing "poor Robin lost its earnings... watch out guys..." - on the other those writing - "how stupid of Robin to be all his eggs in one basket...". But very little commenting has gone on about to what I thought was a key issue that emerged in this whole story.

The text links issue.

Maybe too few of those reading my site really understand what text links are all about, but, as far as I am concerned, this is a topic that still deserves some extra clarifications before moving on.

This is why I have decided to write this open letter to Matt Cutts, the gentleman from Google who I think may best understand and respond publicly to this issue. Let's see:

Open Letter to Matt Cutts

"Dear Matt,

we don't know each other personally, but I have come to appreciate and respect your work thanks to the many valuable articles you have written on your blog and the good efforts you have made to help us, small and large independent publishers who depend in one way or another to be in good terms with Google search results.

I am writing to you because I feel that the issue of Google and text links remains at best ambiguous to this day, nonetheless your good and honest efforts at clarifying it as best as possible.

It is my belief that many small independent publishers are at best unclear and at worst completely unaware of the true text links issue. In their natural search for ways to sustain their web publishing needs they may not really find a clear statement from Google, which not only defines the technical guidelines to be respected but says the whole story, front and back, for them to be able to make a proper, informed choice.

Leaving the text links issue as is, places everyone in murky grounds as while one can be good with Google and her own conscience, it may be simultaneously cheating her own customers without even realizing it.

After the nightmare my small company went through last week, anyone doing text links on her site would be relieved to read your post milestone post of two years ago which stated: "Reputable sites that sell links won't have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized-a search for [daily cal] would still return However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext)."

And that is fine with me too, as long as publishers are informed of Google's intention to penalize them and given the opportunity to fix this issue.

Then, in your other posts referring to text links you have clearly stated that Google does not have a problem at all with text links as long as, a) they are clearly labeled, b) they don't let PageRank flow through by utilizing no-follow tags. That is, you - Google - actively discourage the use of text links as a form of Google Bombing, as this is generally done to increase a site ranking for specific keywords (the ones in the text link) inside search engine result pages.

I fully agree with you that such use of text links is a way to cheat the search engine system.

My personal opinion is that publishers using such text links should not only be discouraged but simply and unequivocally banned from SERPs until such links are dropped.

But here is the issue I have a problem with. You write:

"Okay, I can only do things for users, I can never do things for search engines. Therefore I can buy text links, but not in a way that doesn't affect search engines." That same philosophy would mean that you wouldn't create a robots.txt file (users don't check those), never make any meta tags (users don't see meta tags), never create an XML sitemap file (users wouldn't know about them), and wouldn't create web pages that validate (users wouldn't notice). Yet these are all great practices to do.

So if you want to buy links, I'd buy them for users/traffic, not for PageRank/search engines."

Buy them for user traffic?

Unless you have a million visitors a day, who will ever click on a small text link on a site that is placed generally in a not prominent area?

If you really think that there is such an alternative good use of text links, why can't we see some examples of this at work?

How and where are then the examples of text paid links that are good to Google and good to the advertisers as well?

Is this real or just wishful thinking?

Would it not be better to educate and evangelize on smart and innovative uses of text link ads utilized as traditional ads and not as PR boosters?

Unless we can get some clear answers to these questions I fear that small publishers will remain very confused. And when small independent publishers will act out ignorance or fear, they will tend not to make their best choices, nor the ones that would help your best partners e.g.: Google).

The text links business has grown and become a little industry by itself on the very premise of building a links marketplace designed to increase site's ranking and/or PageRank. The evidence of this is in how the text links ads systems are implemented by the very companies who sell them. Labels are all graphic elements so that they can't be easily detected, you cannot place a no-follow tag on them or their system will knock you out of their marketplace, and when I talk to those in charge at these companies, they are all relaxed and fine to tell me that yes, they do not want their text link ads to be detected by Google and that I need NOT worry because Google will NEVER penalize me for having these. Their systems ARE in place to get your site ranking up. No more, no less.

It appears to me that by stating that "compliant" text links (those fitting the two requirements above) are OK, Google is not helping publishers better understand the issue nor helping the text links industry grow up and beyond their present low-credibility status (there must be some reason why if you go to none of the sites that have contributed a testimonial to Text-Link-Ads - a popular text link broker - seem to carry any text link ads on their web pages. I, at least could not find any. That's odd.)

That's why in the end I remain of this same opinion: With text links you either cheat Google or you cheat your own advertisers.

There is no way out, but dropping text links or risking of being exposed to both criticism, and at least some form of Google penalization.

But then again, why do we see tons of text link ads appearing prominently in your very own Google ads in your SERPs? What's the benefit of letting this text link industry grow at the expense of your strategically important high-quality search engine results?

I look forward to hear some feedback from you Matt. Either on your blog or in the Comments section at the end of this post. There thousands of new small independent publishers just about to start their blog sites who want to know better and more about what is right and wrong with text links and Google.

N.B.: As you may have had no time to notice, due to the belief that using them is unethical and that it may have been the cause of my "supposed" Google penalization I have taken down all my paid-for text links, made a public statement about their scope in gaming the system and have basically given up nearly 3,000 €/month for trying to be a nice guy and to make a strong point that we do not need to to cheat the system to survive with it.


Robin Good

Rome August 22nd 2007

Readers' Comments    
2007-08-27 13:37:41

Robin Good

@st - you wrote: "Guess what? IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT!!! Except that you were relying too much on big G for your income.

It was probably some engineer playing with the software updates at bG. And your troubles were just a small collateral damage."

I think you are probably right, thoguh I have no way of checking, but I am less and less inclined to think that it was the text links as these were all editorially selected and relevant to our content. No online casinos or the like.

Your link pointers have also been great instructional tools. Thank you so much st for sharing them.

You make also a great point about the Yahoo directory. That remains truly an open question.

2007-08-27 13:36:30

Robin Good

@Robert - great comments - thank you for providing such valuable insight.

On your point: "Google is supposed to work out how to rank websites based on trends and actions on the internet - the webmasters are supposed to concentrate on making their site - not assisting Google to work out who should be ranked highly and who shouldn't."

I think webmasters have a responsibility in not engaging in activities that may litter the quality of the search results that serve them so well from other viewpoints.

Do you disagree?

2007-08-26 08:48:17


I try to understand quite a lot aspects from the advertising to the links .. but still remains many doubts ... Your reason is corrected but I have doubts that the answer won't be so clarifying ... perhaps :)

.:. hermansji

2007-08-25 07:58:22


Matt Cutts has been throwing out misleading messages purposely to scare webmasters away from Text Links - so that they jump to conclusions like you did that Text Link Ads cause bad rankings or penalizations - you only need look around the web to see how many sites now state that MasterNewMedia was penalized for text links when their is no solid proof.

If an advertiser approaches a webmaster and asks to rent a text link on their site.

The webmaster looks at the opportunity, reviews the site and believes it will be a good advertiser to have on board and subsequently allows the deal to go ahead they have done nothing wrong.

This is just standard advertising.

Yes it affects Google's algorithm but does the webmaster know this? Maybe - maybe not.

Some really big big websites are run by people that care little for SEO and just make content for their users.

Google is supposed to work out how to rank websites based on trends and actions on the internet - the webmasters are supposed to concentrate on making their site - not assisting Google to work out who should be ranked highly and who shouldn't.

2007-08-23 20:45:58


I got to your site during your troubles with G rankings and it was quite an educational reading.

But it looks like you are still drinking big G's cool aid and looking where you were at fault, even after THEY almost ruined your business.

Guess what? IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT!!! Except that you were relying too much on big G for your income.

It was probably some engineer playing with the software updates at bG. And your troubles were just a small collateral damage.

Regarding the paid links, current Google stand on them is the biggest pile of BS on the net. The only reason that they are against the paid links is because it works, does not bring any cash to their bottom line and takes away money from their AdWords program. Just check out this presentation:

Or this post and follow the links on it to better understand the background:

Or ask yourself a question:

Why the link on Yahoo Business Directory that get's reviewed and (maybe) included for $299 a year is OK to bigG and is one of the best things to get your site ranked, and the same link on your site that YOU review, decide that it fits the topic, accept, get paid for it and include on your site, is not?

2007-08-22 13:59:41

Robin Good

@Wordpress - I apologize for not being sufficiently clear about this. I am NOT saying at all that text links were the cause of my supposed penalization. To the contrary I think they were not.

What I am saying is that it is difficult for me to imagine a situation where text links do serve a useful advertising purpose for the advertiser without breaking Google rules. If there are some good instances of this I would like to see them. That's all.

@Guy - I am not saying it should have. I am only asking Google and Matt not to hide behind a finger and to show which can be ethical and proper uses of text links can be done, if any.

Now That Techcrunch has text links is interesting, we need to see whether they comply with Google requirements. Also it is true that for a site like Techcrunch with such a large following even having a text link with a no-follow tag would mean something to advertiser (as long as that text link is clearly visible)

2007-08-22 13:12:04

WordPress Helper

I feel that you are barking up the wrong tree with thinking that text link sales are what caused your site to lose its rankings.

Matt has stated that they may diminish the Page Rank Juice passed on by sites who are known to sell links, but there is no benefit to Google to penalize your site for this practice.

I had one of my sites get the

2007-08-22 11:15:50


Well, Google didn't penalize TECHCRUNCH for selling links. If you check out their website, it's PR8 and openly state that they are selling links.

I suppose Google don't know how to deal with this issue :)

See here:

2007-08-22 06:30:06

Erno Hannink

Story is now on Digg

posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, August 22 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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