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
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 dailycal.org. 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.
Rome August 22nd 2007