Are newspapers selling linkspam? (Again?)

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.

More about linkspam in my Delicious bookmarks.

(h/t Chris Moran via Martin Belam)

10 thoughts on “Are newspapers selling linkspam? (Again?)

  1. IntelligentHanson

    With many newspapers opting out of search engines because they’re charging users for content I’m not really sure this is going to scare them?

  2. Stuart

    A timely and good warning. I know a web developer who had his website busted from a page rank 8/10 to a 4/10, simply because he was lured in to selling links at the bottom of page.

  3. Paul Bradshaw

    @Intelligenthanson Opting out of search engines is irrelevant. The links are sold on the basis of the site’s PageRank. So a link on a site with a PageRank of 8 is worth a lot more than one on a site with a PageRank of 2. And if the site doesn’t allow search engines to crawl their site at all, then the links are worthless and unsellable anyway.

  4. James

    We’ve been approached on this – it’s hard times for newspapers and the additional revenue seems seductive.
    Luckily we were able to explain to the ad reps that the long term damage wasn’t worth the cash.
    More worrying in this case was that the firm that wanted to buy the links was a high-street firm that really should have known better. It clearly wasn’t getting good advice from its advertising agency.

  5. Pingback: Linkspam latest: Guardian to make text ads ‘nofollow’ | Online Journalism Blog

  6. Paul Bradshaw

    Thanks James – I think a few have been approached. As you point out, there needs to be better understanding of this from all ends. I recall BMW being blacklisted by Google many years ago for its site using ‘black hat’ SEO practices (in this case, keyword stuffing).

  7. Pingback: Linkspam latest: Guardian to make text ads ‘nofollow’ | Bizzmodels

  8. Jennifer Hayden

    I found some fast pagerank tools, may be seo friends would like them……..

    one is bulk page rank checker that can check 1000 of pages PR with single click and another is internal PR checker to check pagerank of all internal pages on a website.

  9. Pingback: Does Google think your product review is linkspam? | Online Journalism Blog

  10. Pingback: Linking ethically (and for SEO): canonical and nofollow | Online Journalism Blog

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