Paid Links, one of Blogging’s Dirty Secrets

paid links

A few weeks ago I was reading a few successful and highly trafficked blogs.  I was quickly looking through what I thought was a well written article when all of a sudden the article flow came to a halt and I noticed something interesting but not unusual… paid links in the article.

Was I surprised?  No, not really since paid links are one of the dirty little secrets in blogging and the SEO (search engine optimization) industry that nobody really likes to talk about.  However, I will since I am not afraid of touching on taboo internet marketing topics I will.

What are Paid Links?

Paid Links are pretty self-explanatory and sound exactly like what you think they are.  It's when a site owner or blogger agrees to place a link on their website in exchange for cash.  The link is mostly always a DoFollow link which passes pagerank onto the other site.  Sometimes the SEO company gives you the article content and other times they'd rather a blogger work the link into an article so it makes sense.

The amount of money a company has to pay is usually determined by a site's pagerank, age of the domain, authority of the site, amount of traffic, and the authority of the blogger.  I've seen some people charge as much as $1,500+ per year for a link.  Sounds like a lot but when you hear what some SEO agencies charge, some bloggers should be asking for more.

In case of of the big time blogger I was reading she probably charged a lot for the link since it was for freezing women's eggs (embryos).  More importantly her demographic seems to be women 22-40 years old.  The medical company was aiming for wealthy women 20-30 years old probably.  (Although the article and blog is not entirely aimed at women.)  Most people know that health (and fitness) is a very profitable internet vertical.  If you are in fertility and cord blood and can manage to get paid for a link for it, that's some serious money.

What does Google think of Paid Links?

Google frowns upon companies and people paying for links and it is against their Webmaster guidelines.  (It would be good to read them if you haven't by the way.)  However, few people that engage in paid link schemes get caught.

Since Google is not on the side of bloggers making any real money honestly… fuck them.  They are many ways to monetize a blog but few that pay well enough so you can make a living.  Paid links are one of the best and most profitable solutions if you are someone with an authority blog.  (Of course creating an authority blog nowadays is no easy task.)

The blogger in question will probably never get caught and will not face any Google penalties.  I don't like she was using paid links and misleading her readers, but quite honestly it's not like I don't understand why she was doing it and haven't seen it before.

Keep in mind Google employs engineers that can't read for shit.  Just look at search results for competitive topics like domain names, web hosting, medicine, etc.  Low quality spammy sites still rank 1st or 2nd in a lot of cases.

How Did You Know the article had Paid Links?

It wasn't like the blogger explicitly said, “Hey these are paid links.” but I knew immediately since;

  1. The article lost it's flow at that point.
  2. They were medical related sites for freezing women's eggs.  Which in turn made me say, “WTF is this?”
  3. The keywords used were highly competitive.
  4. It was deep linked URL.

When you add it all up it was clear this blogger's article on, “6 Things to do in your 20s to make your 30s good” had paid links placed in it.  At least that is my “expert” opinion.

Paid Links Conclusion

Next time you are reading one of the millions of blogs out on the internet I encourage my readers to be aware of paid links.  It's good to be aware of how other bloggers monetization and content strategies.  This is why I try to read a wide variety of authors and bloggers.  You get an idea of how they target their content and who they is reading them, especially when you notice paid links.

On this blog I've had plenty of link requests but since it is a personal blog, I do not accept any of them.  I haven't been offered money for this blog yet but if a person or company did, I wouldn't accept it.

What do you think of paid links?  Is it ok for a blogger to use them to cover the costs and time they need to put into a blog?  Should they be upfront with readers?  Have you been offered money for a link on your site?

Matt Cutts encourages you to Link to Your Sources

link to your sources

In a recent Google Webmaster Help video Matt Cutts encouraged people to “Link to Your Sources.”  The video also had an interesting question about where linking should be in a post or article.

I have a blog and I post original articles but I also like to link to the original website. So I link the website in a word in the first paragraph. Is this the right way or I should give a link separately at bottom.
nayanseth, India

It was a good and interesting question as it is something I have wondered about.  Whether I should link to a source in the text of the article or at the bottom.  Since Matt Cutts said either way Google will give credit to the original source and flow pagerank.   So as long as you have the link somewhere in the post or article, you are doing the right thing in Google's eyes.

I will sometimes link to article, news, graphic, etc. sources at the bottom of a post if I took them from many different places.  Including too many hyperlinks in an article can make it look cluttered and disorganized in my opinion and make it harder for someone to read the article.

Matt Cutts does point out in the video it is more convenient for a user when the source link is in the text.  His personal preference is to find the article source easily but that is not something that Google cares about.  Again, he also encourages publications and bloggers to “Link to Your Sources!” as he constantly notices when they don't.  I don't think you want to make Matt Cutts unhappy with your website.  Who knows what secret Google power he yields.

How do you link to article sources?  In a post text or at the bottom?

Does site Downtime hurt Search Engine Rankings?

search engine rankings

Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings? ”

This is a question that is hotly debated by webmasters, search engine optimization specialists, bloggers, hosting companies, etc.  A lot of people say that a little bit of downtime, say 20 minutes, in a day, can hurt SERPS (search engine results page) for your website.  Others say that you can have a little bit of downtime here and there and it will not matter much.

Well this question was touched on in one of a Google Webmaster Help videos with Matt Cutts recently. Check it out and the question that was asked.

I got a “Googlebot can't access your site” message in Webmaster Tools from my host being down for a day. Does it affect my rankings when this happens?
Sally

Matt Cutts initial response to this question was,

“Well if it is just for a 1 day you should be in pretty good shape. If your host is down for 2 weeks then there is a better indicator that the website is down and we don't want to send users to a website that is actually down but we do try to compensate for websites that are transiently or sporadically down.  We make a few allowances and we try to comeback 24 hours later… So it is just a short period of downtime I wouldn't really worry about that.”

While I mostly agree with what he said in the video, and after explaining that the Googlebot was having trouble crawling sites a few weeks ago, Matt Cutts commented, “If it is just 24 hours I really wouldn't stress about that very much.”

Well… a friend of mine recently had his websites on a JustHost dedicated server and it went down for 1 day.  He told me hasn't been able to get back his SERP rankings since the downtime.  Despite what was said you should realize downtime can hurt your search engine rankings in Google.  I've heard this from a number of experienced webmasters.

However, I want people to think about how the Googlebot spider works when indexing pages.  I will not go into everything as it would take too long to explain but just do a quick overview.

When you do a Google search you are not actually searching the web instantly, like a lot of people assume, but you are actually searching Google's stored version of the web.  For instance when this article was first posted it DID NOT immediately get indexed by Google and was searchable. Why?  While this blog gets ok traffic my current pagerank is 3, which is decent but not too high.  Sites that post content more frequently and that have a higher pagerank are going to get crawled before mine.  Websites like FoxNews and NY Times will get crawled first since they have a higher pagerank, more content, and are in Google News.

So if my website was down for say 1 hour it is actually pretty possible that Google will not even see my website is down since the Googlebot may not crawl it.  While Google is really good about crawling new webpages very fast these days they can't get to every new piece of content posted simultaneously.  If you were running FoxNews and had downtime 24 hours that would be a much bigger deal since they get millions of visitors a day and the Googlebot expects there to be content frequently.

So my answers to the question “Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings?” would generally be the same as Cutts.  I caution anyone asking this question to consider the type of website you are running, how much traffic you get, and your user's expectations which will influence Google's.  Choosing a reliable web hosting company is very important if you want good uptime and don't want to have to worry about websites going down.  I prefer Site5 and you can read my Site5 review to get a better idea about their web hosting services.

So that is my professional opinion on this topic of site downtime and search engine rankings.  By the way if you want to monitor website downtime and uptime I highly recommend a service called Uptime Robot.  It will ping your website every 5 minutes to see if it is up and if it isn't you can get a text message, email, or RSS feed notification.  Best part about Uptime Robot is that it is completely free website monitoring service.

Has website downtime ever hurt or affected your search engine rankings?  Have you ever had your website hosted with a hosting company that had frequent downtime?  Share your experiences below as I am sure a lot of people have something to say about this.

Penguin 2.0 part of Google Algorithm Updates in 2013

Google has released some details via it's GoogleWebmasterHelp Youtube channel about some major Google Algorithm Updates that will be taking place in 2013.  The big news that Matt Cutts revealed is that Google is releasing Penguin 2.0 in an effort to continue to cut-out Blackhat and spammy link building tactics from search engine results.

What should we expect in the next few months in terms of SEO for Google?
Matt Cutts, Mountain View

From what I can tell that was said in the video Penguin 2.0 will most likely go deeper than the original Penguin update Google made to it's search algorithm last April.  That means if you using duplicate content without linking to the original source, using automated link building software, basically any BlackHat link building tactics or whatever your websites will likely get harder hit this time around.  “This one is a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0” commented Cutts in the video. “We expect it to go a little deeper and have a little bit more of an impact than the original version of Penguin.”

penguin 2.0

The other change that webmasters and sites owners should be aware if is that Google doesn't want sponsored posts or paid advertisements passing on PageRank to sites that have paid for links.  This violates Google's quality guidelines and I have a feeling that the Penguin 2.0 and the next set of Google Algorithm updates might make sponsored posts harder to rank.  It is possible i fewer companies will want to pay for links if there is no PageRank or traffic benefit for doing so.  You could always keep it secret though.

Google will also be providing more tools to webmasters that have hacked sites.  “We hope in the next few months to roll out a next generation of hack sites detection that is even more comprehensive.”  Cutts also said that Google will be working on communicating to webmasters so they know when their sites have been hacked sooner.  It seems they will accomplish this by having more comprehensive info in Google's Webmaster Tools and a “One stop shop” as Cutts puts it, so when someone realizes they have been hacked they can go get the resources they need to clean it their site.

It also seems authority sites with great content will be getting a boost from Penguin 2.0 and the next Google Algorithm updates happening in 2013.  Google wants to serve up sites with content, “According to the algorithms, might be a little more appropriate for users.”  So authority sites in certain areas, like medical or travel, could be seeing a spike in traffic for certain keywords in the coming months.

Some websites that might have gotten unfairly hit by the Google Panda update back in February and April 2011 might get a reconsideration.  Since Google Panda affected roughly 12% of search engine rankings, there are probably a lot of sites that were unfairly hit.  Most were not hit unfairly however.

A possibly change will be that Google will have less site clustering on search engine result pages.  “Once you've seen a cluster of results one site, you'd be less likely to see the more results from that site as you go deeper into the next page of Google search results.”  said Cutts.  It sounds like this change is not definite but will likely be something that Google will roll-out.

Matt Cutts explicitly states in the video people should take what is said, “With a grain of salt.”  Google could move resources around and decide to make different updates to it's search engine if the need arises.  It sounds like for the most part a lot of these plans will be rolling out over next few months in 2013.

What was most surprising in the video was actually nothing that was said by Matt Cutts, but he is wearing a Firefox T-shirt! 🙂  I noticed it immediately and I assume the Google execs and Chrome team probably were not too happy about it.  Most likely they didn't know until the video went up.  Google is a pretty cool place to work if they allow employees to wear T-shirts that represent competitors products.  (I am writing this blog post using Firefox by the way.)

Anyway, bottom line is if you were affected by Penguin or Panda and still do BlackHat link building techniques, Google is coming for you.  If you just have a simple blog or website and are not engaging in shady practices you should be fine as long as you have a good SEO gameplan with great content for users.

Matt Cutts did announce on his personal blog that Penguin 2.0 officially rolled out on May 22, 2013.  About 2.3% of English language and US based queries have been affected at this point.

What are your thoughts about the Penguin 2.0 and Google Algorithm Updates for 2013?  Please leave a comment below and let me know how you interrupted the video if you are a webmaster, Search Engine Optimizer, or just think I am plain wrong.  Hopefully that isn't the case though.

Catch me on Twitter @AdamYamada … if you can!