Google is asking people to submit sites that are selling or buying links. This is an interesting move. It sounds like their goal is to test some new algorithms that will automatically discount the value of links if it appears they have been purchased. My guess is that they aren’t going to manually go through and penalize sites, they are just going to try to set the algorithms to discount any PR that comes from paid links. At least that is what I hope they do. It is possible that they may penalize sites for selling links or penalize sites for buying them.
This seems unlikely. Google tends to favor algorithms over manual penalties. It appears that their mindset is to make the Google results reflect what is popular on the web. Since paid links are now part of the game, they will adjust their algorithms accordingly.
Here are some of the side effects I think this will have:
- Lists of links will lose a lot of value. Blogrolls and the like will probably stop passing as much PR because they tend to be formatted and placed in ways that is similar to paid links.
- Editorial links will probably become more valuable. People will probably sell incontent links instead of just links on the side of the page to help make the links keep their value.
- Some pay-per-post type sites may stop requiring “Paid Review” disclosures. It seems that if Google wants to discount paid posts, they are going to have to look for the terms “Paid Review” or “Sponsored Post” or a PayPerPost badge.
So how can Google detect paid links using an algorithm? Here are a couple thoughts:
- Look for the keywords. Things like “Sponsored”, “Advertisers”, “Paid Review”, “Sponsors”, etc. and discount the page rank passed by links near those terms.
- Look at the location. Links grouped together in a list to the side of the content may increase their paid-link score. I think Google already does this with blog comments. Links in comments seem to be weighted less than links in the actual story.
- Look at context. Lists of links that go to sites that seem out of character. For example, if Google knows that 50% of the personal finance blogs link to Yahoo’s online quote system, that link might not look out of character to find in the sidebar of a personal finance blog. However a list of links that doesn’t appear on any similar sites may look out of character.
- Look at how the links change. Links that remain static for a year may have a lower paid-link score than links that are swapped out with new links every month.