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April 25, 2007

Green with Envy in the Google Game

Beginning on April 14th, 2007, a firestorm blew through the Internet community with the search engine optimization (SEO) community burning the hottest. The embers were warm and waiting for a strong wind to blow and kick up the flames, but it took Matt Cutts, the Google engineer extraordinaire to fire the flames with an off-the-cuff comment about “paid links.”

The flames raged and in most forums, the wind quickly shifted moving the firestorm back towards Cutts and Google. Thread Watch offered the most biting rebuttal to Cutts’ comments: Google Wants Reports of Paid Links… What a Joke and The Real Reason Google Doesn’t Like Paid Links.
Aaron Wall at Thread Watch is a respectable fellow, and he tore into Google with a ferociousness that I had not anticipated. Matt Cutts tried to answer some of Aaron’s questions, but it seemed that Cutts’ rebuttals only added more fuel to the fire.
I would not have wanted to be in Matt Cutts’ shoes that week. Oh my, it was brutal!
Even on Cutts’ own blog where the “paid link” comment originally surfaced (Hidden Links), Danny Sullivan posted a question that went unanswered, so Sullivan commented about it on his site: Time For Google To Give Up The Fight Against Paid Links?
Search Engine Watch even mentioned this issue and linked to additional forums where the debate was raging: Google Goes to War on Paid Text Links
What Most Readers Took From Cutts’ Comments
There were only a few readers who took Matt Cutts’ comments to be brotherly-advice.
The vast majority of people were screaming that Google intended to exercise their “monopoly control” over the Internet to run all of their competitors out of business.
Generally, I am not a “reactionary” type person. But for about an hour, even I had a ball in the pit of my stomach.
The ball passed from the pit of my stomach when I read a post that mirrored an opinion I have openly written about numerous times before: How does Google determine the “intent” of a person making a link? They can’t!
Understanding The Nuances Of Similar Items
Some people suggest that I should be ashamed of myself for speculating about the future of Google’s algorithms. There is even one clown, who has suggested that I should fear mentioning Matt Cutts’ name in an article, because I am bound to draw Cutts’ ire against me and my businesses. But, I am not worried.
I am simply laying out my “speculative” opinion about what Cutts’ comments might mean to my business and yours. You are free to use your own brain to judge the value of my words.
Am I playing a double standard when I say that Google cannot determine the intent of the person placing a link, and then I comment on how I interpret the future of the Google search algorithms? I don’t think so, and let me tell you why.
Google uses algorithms (software programs) to make distinctions about what a web page is about, how they value that page, and to judge the nature of a link.
I use my intellect (or as some would suggest, my lack thereof) to make a judgment about what Google has told us we should expect from them in the future.
I trust software to a certain extent, but software cannot always read the nuance that separates two very similar items. So, how can the Google algorithm be expected to determine the intent of a person who placed a link?
It has always been my contention that humans are “required” in any process that must make an interpretation of nuance. In my businesses, we refuse to trust computers to make judgments of nuance, because they can’t. That is the reason we employ human beings to process orders.
What Is Google’s Intent Behind The Paid Links Issue?
The whole of Cutts’ argument seems to hinge on nixing “paid links” that are designed to manipulate or “game Google’s PageRank” and to a lesser extent, their organic search results. Google seems to be really agitated that webmasters are “selling links based on the PageRank value of a page.”
The problem is that webmasters are selling an intangible asset that is wholly owned by Google and maintained for “Google’s benefit.” Webmasters are selling this Google asset, but Google will not receive any of the proceeds from that sale.
As a result, Cutts suggested that webmasters should use some method that Google’s spider can use to recognize and distinguish “paid links” from “given links.” Since Google’s algorithm is based on the theory that links are given to websites that deserve those links, the paid links on high PageRank pages can really skew Google’s PageRank values and its organic search results.
Here Is Where It Gets Ugly
Both honest and dishonest people inhabit this Internet.
Google wants webmasters who are selling links to distinguish paid links from given links, so that Google can ignore “links purchased to influence PageRank.”
If honest people distinguish paid links in a way that Google can recognize, then the market demand for those links will dry up. Once the PageRank value of a link is taken away from the buyer, the buyer will be forced to purchase links based only on the traffic that the specific web page receives. If all paid link decisions were based only on a web page’s traffic, then the market value of a link would be decimated.
Once a webmaster tells his link-buying customers that his or her links will no longer carry PageRank value to the buyer’s website, then the value of that link will drop in most cases by 80% or more. Why would a webmaster want to reduce the market value of his links by 80%?
Although Google’s links do not pass PageRank to the websites that are in their index or paid listings, we have to ask ourselves one thing. Would Google be willing to take a step that would reduce the market value of their own links by 80%? They certainly would not do anything that would cut their own bottom line that deeply, yet they are asking webmasters to do just that.
This is the reason people are teed off at Google. At least 80% of the market value of a link is driven by the PageRank value of the web page where the link will be placed.
Dishonest people don’t care to play by the rules; they will continue to sell their PageRank value, as long as they continue to have buyers. Only the honest will suffer.
Link Buyers Are Green With Envy
Link Buyers are envious of the PageRank value given to other web pages, and they want a bit of that value passed over to their own websites.
Link buyers are green with envy, because they can see that little green bar in the top of their browser that tells them how much value Google gives a web page in its algorithms.
If Google were to keep PageRank as a private value, known only to them, then “paid links” would not be an issue for them to manage.
If the public cannot see what a page’s PageRank value is, then link buyers would not be able to use PageRank to influence their link buying decisions, and webmasters would not be able to market their PageRank value to other websites.
How Simple Is That?
All Google has to do to solve this problem of theirs, is to take away the indicator people use to buy and sell PageRank.
Someone suggested to me that Google would never do away with the PageRank indicator in their toolbar, because Google feels that it is the only thing that ensures that people will keep the Google toolbar in their browser. Personally, I will continue to use the Google toolbar for my searches, even if the PageRank indicator was not there, because I like the search results Google gives to me. But that is just my opinion, and I am only one person out of millions of Google toolbar users.
What it boils down to is this. If Google is serious about nixing schemes to buy and sell PageRank, then they would simply take their PageRank indicator away from us. But will they take it away? Only time will tell.
Author:  Bill Platt offers article ghost writing and article distribution services through He also offers a guaranteedlink building service, utilizing article marketing as its foundation, through If you have any questions about Bill’s services, you can reach him by phone from 9am-6pm, Monday through Friday at 405-780-7745.