I’m a huge Google fan boy; I have been for years. I start using most of their products the day they’re launched. I’ve come to regard their search relevancy as the absolute best and refuse to use any other search engine in most circumstances. Heck, I’m well known for declaring that I’ll be at the head of the line the day Google starts indexing brains. People don’t get much more pro-Google than me.
You’d think, then, that I’d have a problem with paid links. After all, Google does. Matt Cutts went on a paid link tangent recently that has the whole SEO community buzzing. In reality, though, I endorse the use of paid links, both as an SEO expert and a publisher. They’re a viable means of improving your rankings as well as monetizing your website. More to the point, though, I don’t think Google’s smart enough to stop paid linking.
It’s pretty clear why Google wants paid links out of the equation. If paid links count, then someone can simply pay their way to the top of the SERPs. No doubt this is happening in a lot of niches. By telling webmasters to clearly designate their paid links as such, Google wants to eliminate the efficacy of the practice and maintain an index of naturally valuable results.
Now, I don’t have a problem with great results, and I think Google is entirely within its rights to hunt down and devalue paid links wherever they find them. However, I recognize something that Google doesn’t…
Popularity is always for sale.
This is true in any context, including online. If someone wants to be popular (in this case, have more/better links), and they’re willing to pay, they will be. Heck, that’s why presidential campaigns cost so much. Google may find ways of detecting the more obvious links, but link buyers and sellers will simply make them less conspicuous, taking the money-changing signals behind the scenes where no algorithm can reach. They’ll blend the paid links seamlessly with the real ones until no spider or human can tell the difference.
Recognizing that reality, I believe paid links are here to stay. Google will try its best to devalue what they find, which will only serve to make them less visible. In the end, website owners will still be able to pay for algorithmically advantageous links and gain rankings illegitimately. Google will never be the wiser.
I, for one, will be doing exactly as Google says by tagging my paid links as “Sponsored Links,” at least until my link broker tells me to start hiding them. Sure, I like to play by Google’s rules, but until AdSense starts paying more than my text links, I’ll do what I have to in order to protect my revenue.