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Google preparing to crack down on paid search links

Google is beginning to crack down on the use of paid links to pad search engine results, according to a series of blog posts by Google engineer Matt Cutts. Cutts, head of the Google Webspam team, has been making waves in the blogosphere over the weekend by talking on his personal blog about the motives behind hidden and paid links, and what users can do to report them Google. 苏州美睫美甲

In Cutts' first post made on Saturday, he discussed how some web sites are making efforts to hide paid links by using CSS to embed them surreptitiously into web pages. In the example presented, the hidden link was not relevant to the word or article it was being linked from, and pointed to a porn site. "Someone went to a fair amount of trouble to hide the porn site link," Cutts wrote. "In my opinion, this is a good example of a link that crosses over into deceptiveness and violates our quality guidelines."

But what about paid links that aren't deceptively hidden? That's a perfectly acceptable method of marketing, according to Cutts, but webmasters who make use of paid links on their sites should do so in a manner that discloses the paid link to both human and machine readers (in Google's case, they are most concerned with the machine-readable side of the disclosure). Cutts provides a couple of examples for doing this, such as including a "nofollow" attribute in the link or forcing the paid link to go through a redirect that is specified in the site's robots.txt file as not followable. Cutts warned that this has always been the guideline to follow and indicated that compliance would become very important in the near future: "I've said as much many times before, but I wanted to give a heads-up because Google is going to be looking at paid links more closely in the future."

This phenomenon is amplified by the use of "sponsored" WordPress themes, according to Cutts, who points to another blog post made by Matt Mullenweg. In it, he discusses how some companies pay for the creation of various WordPress themes for use on people's personal blogs that automatically link certain words to their company's interests. This again diminishes the value of Google searches by increasing the number of links to a particular site, says Mullenweg, and the blogging community should decide whether or not they want to continue to allow the creators of these themes to use them for what essentially amounts to free advertising. In a way, it's somewhat like wearing t-shirts with giant company logos on them, except the more people that wear the t-shirts, the better the company's standing with Google.

Finally, Cutts outlines what readers can do to report the use of paid links, supposedly so that Google can improve their existing algorithms for filtering paid links. However, the encouragement to report on such a nebulous activity seems to have been the last straw for some webmasters and bloggers—how are many of us supposed to know what constitutes a paid link versus a regular link if it is not openly disclosed in the first place? And how is Google supposed to determine the same based off of so little information?

Just as with Googlebombing, Google has some level of interest in ensuring that their search results are as accurate as possible and not "gamed" by large groups of individuals—or in this case, companies who pay to have large numbers of links point to their web sites. However, some have questioned why Google suddenly gets to be the gatekeeper on what constitutes a legitimate link or not, and worry that these "guidelines" could indicate Google's future willingness to further tweak search results based on the company's own interests.

The disclaimer on Cutts' blog states clearly, "This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer." However, he does give advice there about search engine optimization and how to better manage a web presence, and writes regularly for the Official Google Blog. Google itself has not made any official comments or announcements regarding plans to alter the paid link algorithm.