For Rent

By Catherine Potts | Jun 26, 2007
More Articles by Catherine

So we’ve heard of paid, reciprocal and free links. What about rented links? Certainly not a new topic, by any means but one worth addressing again, all the same.


What are rented links?

A company/or individual owns a high page rank website and they place your link on their site for a certain amount of time (and fee), thus increasing your visibility and hopefully your page rank within Google. Isn’t that the same as a paid link? There is no difference and earlier this month, Google tried to make their job easier by instituting a form where people can tattle on each other.

This announcement drew reactions questioning other webmaster’s integrity and potential for false reporting and wondering how Google can dictate how millions of websites do business. One commenter mentions anti-trust laws and restrain of trade issues.

Google announced on it’s Official Google Blog:

Vanessa Fox writes, “Today, in response to your request, we’re providing a paid links reporting form within Webmaster Tools. To use the form, simply log in and provide information on the sites buying and selling links for purposes of search engine manipulation. We’ll review each report we get and use this feedback to improve our algorithms and improve our search results. in some cases we may also take individual action on sites.

If you are selling links for advertising purposes, there are many ways you can designate this, including:
# Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the href tag
# Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file”

My question is:

How is it any different from paying for advertising on someone’s site in other ways?

A forum commenter from Webmaster World said:

…It seems to me that any method a webmaster uses to help increase their exposure is a no-no in the Google book, according to some people. Obviously, everyone wants to get to the top of Google and other search engines. Some people use honest methods and some don’t. The bottom line to me is, if a site is using honest methods to increase their presence they need to be left alone. If I am an author and I rent a link on a bookstore’s homepage, should that really count against me? I think not. This link would have additional value other than the link popularity benefit.

The internet is valuable real estate. Why is it so frowned upon to rent some of that real estate on legitimate sites? Sure, I can more than understand why linking to spammy sites isn’t the best idea and it mucks up search engine results, so says Google and other search engines (Yahoo!, MSN).

If the host site is a respected and trusted site, why can’t they have the freedom to sell ad space and use of their link popularity if they want to do that? Isn’t that transaction between the owner of said real estate and the customer? It speaks of micromanagement and unless it sticks out like a sore thumb, how is Google going to know what is going on? Why am I asking so many questions? Why as why?

As long as the link looks natural enough, I can’t see how Google could really tell. I guess that’s where the tattling comes in.

The Problem:

The results aren’t as “organic” if they’re purchased and/or linked to unrelated sites. The key is to have related sites linking together and thus passing on page rank benefit or “link juice”. If high page rank sites such as Yahoo! employee Jeremy Zawodny’s site rent space for a fee, that throws results off. So then what are the search engines to do?

said awhile back:

Sponsored text links on trusted sites like Jeremy’s causes all kinds of problems for search engines because they don’t believe a paid link should count as an algorithmic vote. Penalizing trusted sites for selling links isn’t really an option because so many people search for them by name. Removing them from SERPS would leave users wondering why they can’t find their favorite sites. Trusted sites also pass on an incredible amount of link juice so throttling them (preventing them from passing their juice to other sites) isn’t a great option either because it has a negative impact on all the non-paid links as well.

Google’s suggests using this code: rel=nofollow if you are to put paid links on a site so that the target of the paid link receives no page rank benefit. The no follow HTML attribute was created to reduce spamdexing (or rigged relevancy).

A very good point was made by “Joe” on Matt Cutt’s blog from 2005 (long time ago, I know… still relevant!). “Joe”, a commenter to Matt’s blog entry brought up what I consider to be a great point related to an advertiser’s methods.

The example given was of the 18-26 demographic. The product for advertising was education and the site was The Gap. Google isnt’ going to see the relevancy of these two sites. So what happens to advertiser or website owner trying to focus in on a certain demographic in this way? Does Google’s algorithm rationalize this connection?

“Joe” goes on to say:

…Professional advertiser[sic] know (and have known for a long long time) about “market segments” – their psychology, their demographics, etc. It’s a HUGE, HUGE part of advertising (save for Adsense), and always will be… Let’s say I had a site directed at helping college students. I know my visitors are normally between the ages of 18 and 26. Smart me, I also know that people between the ages of 18 and 26 like Gap clothes. In a googlebot’s mind, education and Gap clothes have nothing to do with one another… if I were to link to a site that was demographically about as on-target as you could get (Gap), but wasn’t the exact same type of content as my own, it would seem that Gap wouldn’t get any credit as being a good match for my site’s visitors (which, of course, is completely wrong)… there’s no way to get every relevant demographic connection.

So what do we do? Our actions for site ranking is pretty much determined on what Google decides. I’ve witnessed a lot of frustration over the black and white (good link/bad link) topic with SEs. It seems the additional frustration is that Google is the one running the show and holding all the cards, at the expense to many. So how do we begin to get the point across that it’s OK for people to sell portions of their OWN online real estate on their own websites?

Google does want an awful lot of help achieving their goals and they want us to begin tattling on each other to reach those goals. Are you OK with that and is paid linking wrong just because it frustrates the search sngines (SE)? So many questions! Matt’s old blog posting about such links obviously received a lot of feedback at that time regarding how SEs judge sites’ relevance to each other and it wasn’t positive feedback either.

Funny enough, blog postings from 2005 are relevant to the current frustration with SEs. We all know Google is trying to make a better internet. Is it possible that the tail (Google) can’t wag the dog (the rest of the internet) in this situation? I guess we’ll see.

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