Those not-so-mad scientists at the Google Skunk Works are at it again … fermenting a steaming brew of shoes, ships, sealing way, puppy dog tails, and poultry entrails into a yet another new recipe for reliably ranking web pages.
Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Strike the shoes, ships, entrails and all the rest of that slop. Probably the only things currently stirring in the pot are the usual suspects — endless chains of equations and mathematical abstractions. But there is one ingredient waiting in the kitchen that is fairly unique in the Google pantry: Outside human interaction.
The problem under the microscope is the buying and selling of links in an attempt to artificially boost Google page rank and return position, which Google has long considered an attempt to spam its service.
As Google software guru Matt Cutts put it in a September 2005 blog post “SEO geeks may remember the SearchKing lawsuit regarding link selling that was filed in 2002 and dismissed in 2003. Or they may have read through our quality guidelines, especially the part that says ‘Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank.’ Those people can probably guess that Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines.”
As is frequently the case with any kind of spam, defining the “crime” is the easy part, identifying the perpetrators is the hard one. So difficult, that Google is now considering merging human intelligence (as in spy reports) with statistical analysis to ferret out paid-link scofflaws.
The idea, according Matt Cutts, is to possibly set up a system for people to report suspected spam links in the same way they are now able to report other types of search-engine spam attempts by using Google’s spam report form.
As Matt Cutts describes it in a blog discussion, “Google is looking at some new ways to approach paid links that affect search engines … Google wants to hear about paid links that pass PageRank or potentially affect search engines in the same way that we want to hear about things like hidden text or keyword stuffing.”
Matt makes it plain that this “system” is only under consideration and that there are no current plans to implement an official paid-link report form. He’s also quick to point out that “there’s absolutely no problem with selling links for traffic (as opposed to PageRank)” and notes that the only thing he’s looking for now is “a few paid link reports … because I’m excited about trying some ideas here at Google to augment our existing algorithms.”
To say that the concept of one webmaster ratting out another for buying links raises a bunch of interesting questions is a high-order understatement. Since a lot of those questions are already being discussed on Matt’s blog we won’t get into them here.
However, as a major advocate and facilitator of adding free, end-user oriented, relevant reciprocal links to websites, Matt’s post contains a few items of particular interest to us.
One of them is the actual tone of the initial post and some of Matt’s responses to reader comments. This ambiance, in our opinion, can hardly be heartening to those who engage in the slave-link trade. (A slave link being one that exists only to be bought and sold as search-engine fodder.)
Though Matt goes out of his way to reassure readers that all Google is doing at this point is “testing out some new techniques ” his choice of words — what might be considered his body language if this were a face-to-face conversation instead of a blog post — hints at something more than that.
For example, in asking people to informally submit paid-link reports for Google’s tests, Matt says this: As far as the details, it (the report) can be pretty short. Something like “Example.com is selling links; here’s a page on example.com that demonstrates that” or “www.shadyseo.com is buying links.”
Shadyseo.com is buying links … hhhmmmm. For someone as careful in his word choices and as cognizant of his position as Google’s public persona (despite his blog being officially unofficial) as Mutt Cutts is, the use of “Shadyseo” as the name of his fictitious link buyer is …. ah …. interesting.
Equally interesting is his seemingly offhand equation of some paid linking schemes with such Google nyets as hidden text and keyword stuffing.
Finally, last, but probably not least significant in this post and its responses, were three hot links to Matt’s 2005 post on the subject.
There’s an old belief that if you want people to pay attention to what you’re saying, you should repeat it three times. Which is exactly what Matt Cutts did with his trio of friendly reminders “that Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines.”