Interesting post over at Vertical Leap on the apparent plan of local newspapers to sell links, revealed at an SEO conference in Brighton:
“Apparently a very large network of hundreds, if not thousands of local and national newspaper websites across the US and UK have apparently signed up to begin selling of links. The plan is for them to identify pages that have little to no traffic, and sell links in context on these pages in large quantities to manipulate Google’s search engine rankings in the favour of those sites that are linked to as a result.”
Clever as this idea may sound, the newspapers may want to research what happened when other publications tried the same approach. The Irish Independent, the Economist and The Times are among publications whose PageRank has been penalised by Google.
It’s called “linkspam” and it works like this:
- Google’s PageRank system works by assuming when you link to someone else you are recommending someone read it, in good faith.
- If people link for purely commercial reasons – i.e. because someone paid them for that link – then the quality and relevance of the content at the end of the link are unreliable.
- Therefore, Google’s search results become stuffed with companies who have paid to artificially inflate their ranking on Google.
- For the consumer, the results are next to useless – like spam. And Google itself becomes irrelevant.
So Google watches for these attempts to ‘game’ its system, and penalises sites that appear to practise it (sometimes innocent websites get caught in the sweep – read John Battelle’s The Search for more on that).
In many ways it’s akin to the separation of advertising from genuine editorial.
If a local newspaper starts selling links, and Google finds out (as it has, often, before), then the site’s PageRank will drop like a stone. Their webpages will be unlikely to appear in relevant search results and indeed, the value of those sold links will drop even more, based as they are almost entirely upon the news website’s PageRank.
So, newspapers who sign up to this will be risking PageRank penalisation, fewer visitors, and a reduction in the value of the links themselves. Smart.
The standard practice for sponsored links is to use the ‘nofollow’ tag. This prevents search engines from counting the link in their calculations, but still allows humans to follow them.