October 10, 2007  8:25 pmWord of Link Marketing: Link forward!

While both Justilien and the SEM INC blog already covered the eMarketer research about the Word of Mouth Marketing effects worldwide excellently, there’s still one point I’d like to mention about this subject.
What if the top SERPs for “Your Company” look a bit like this:

If you spot a positive consumer opinion, a review that praises one of your products or a great critic on a trusted website, don’t hesitate to link to it! This is not only a way to serve positive feedback about Your Company to your existing website visitors and to encourage consumers to give you (positive) feedback, but also may change the future SERPs for a “Your Company” search query into something more like this:

This is like using Google, Yahoo! and MSN as giant mouths in your Word of Mouth Marketing Strategy.

Like SugarRae pointed out a few weeks ago, it’s quite difficult for Google to find out which link is paid and which one isn’t. If you look at SugarRae’s post from the other perspective (like Google is doing with their current approach), it seems like you have to clarify which links aren’t paid in order to not receive a penalty. Some links that are editorial picks may look like paid links in some cases, right? Although I couldn’t care less about a PR penalty, I still think this is something Google should realize.

Since Google decided to reverse things by punishing webmasters for selling links and because it apparently is pretty easy to determine which links are paid, I’m writing this post as a paid link disclaimer.

So, Google, I’ll explain why these links may look a bit sponsored but really aren’t paid links, in order to avoid a penalty.

1) The Unrelated sidebar links
Check out the “Things I like” section in my blogroll. This includes links to Joox.net and 3dLiveStats. Not because I got paid, but because I a) like these sites and b) the owner is a friend. Although these websites are not 100% related contextually, they are 100% related personally.

2) The Related sidebar links
Yeah, I know, some companies are really good in buying links under the radar. This stealthy link approach usually contains buying links from really related websites. Sometimes even in homepage blogrolls of topically relevant blogs. But not in mine, Google, not in mine…

3) The Sponsored Links
When I started this blog a few months ago, I had a “sponsored links” section. Not to attract some quick bucks, but for testing purposes only. Don’t believe me? Check out the archive and verify the target URL of the link. That link was there to achieve this.

4) The Reviews
Unlike you may think, not all reviews are sponsored ones. Sometimes people feel like reviewing stuff just for fun or to share some findings with their readers. None of the reviews on this website are (or will be) paid ones.

5) The Footer Links
Ok, I admit, this one is tricky. I guess the links in my footer are paid ones, but I didn’t receive a penny for those links. Like I explained in my footer as well, those links are still present because I can’t design and used a free web template with a sponsored footer.

6) The new link in the old post
While adding a new link to an old post might trigger your Paid Link Alarm Bells, not every <a href>-addition to an obsolete page is a paid link. In some cases it’s just an editorial change, in some cases it’s just an update.

This post was written as an illustration to show how difficult it is to detect a paid link, whether it’s algorithmically or manually. Not everything is always what it seems, so I wonder what factors affect Google’s decision to penalize a website or not.

October 7, 2007  12:08 pmThere is no penalty for buying links!

There, I said it. That’s what I believe is true; there is no such thing as a ‘you have been buying links so you should suffer’ penalty. At least, not if you do it correctly. I’ll make some statements about buying links that probably not everybody will agree on, but this is what I consider to be the truth.

If you don’t publish your link buying tactics yourself and if your website’s link profile doesn’t contain >90% paid links, then:

  • Buying links cannot get you penalized;
  • Buying links from obvious link networks only results in backlinks with little to no search engine value;
  • Buying links ninja style will continue to get you killer rankings;
  • Selling links can only disable your ability to pass link juice or PR (but you might want to read this);
  • Google will never be able to detect all paid links

Just about every time the topic finally seems to be left alone, someone out there heats up the good old paid link debate again. This time, Rand Fishkin (unintentionally) causes the discussion to emerge once again. By showing the buying and selling link tactics of several websites on SEOmoz’ blog (this info has been removed now), he made it very easy for the Paid Link Police to add some more websites to the list of websites to check out while building the Paid Link Neglecting Algorithm. Several people got all wound up because of this, including (at first) me, because these sites would more than likely receive a penalty (just checked, none of them has been penalized yet).

However, it is almost impossible for Google to penalize you for buying links for your website. At least, not if you didn’t scream “Hey, I’m artificially inflating my link popularity!” on your OWN website. David Airey penalized? Jim Boykin analyzed his penalty earlier and the same thing happened here. In some cases, it may seem that certain websites have been penalized for buying links. What in fact happened, is that the link juice tap of some obvious paid links has been closed, what resulted in less link juice, followed by lower rankings.

In most other cases, you can buy all the links you want and not get penalized. You could buy the same links for your competition, right? And if Google states that Spammy Backlinks can’t Hurt You, paid backlinks probably can’t hurt you either. This basically is the same thing.

The worst thing that can happen is that you buy hundreds of text links that only provide traffic. And, if you managed to buy the right ones, there’s nothing wrong with that.

October 5, 2007  9:54 amLink Building this week (05-10)

I noticed two subjects got a lot of attention during the past few days. One of them is the good old paid link discussion that has been going on since, well, since like forever.
Aaron Wall explains How You Can Rent a Million Links and Stay Under the Radar and even Forbes (out of all websites) covers the paid link debate. Rand Fishkin reacts to this post by outing several websites that sell links without complying to Google’s paid link policy. I don’t know his real motive for publicizing these websites, but I certainly will monitor both these domains and the websites they link to during the past few weeks. Just to see where penalties suddenly appear and where not.

The other subject is a much better discussion; it’s the debate of quality links. While Julie Joyce explains Why Relevant Links are Irrelevant, Debra Mastaler adds that a link is Sometimes Just a Damn Link. The third woman in this list is GoogleLady, who made the Top 6 List Why Link Building is Harder This Year. If it wasn’t for Justilien Gaspard’s post about Link Value (part one), this discussion would be a ‘Girl Power’ discusussion.

And also:

No seriously, she can. Your own grandmother can probably improve your website as well. Ok, she might not be able to get those 12.000 pages filled with scraped content out of supplemental hell, but she absolutely can help you improve your usability.

Have you ever watched your non web savvy friend, colleague or relative searching for stuff or navigating through a web shop? Almost every time I see an internet noob clicking on wrong links in a very unstructured way, I can barely suppress the feeling of saying ‘move over’ and doing it myself. In stead, I usually let them fool around and learn from their behaviour. Keep in mind that 99,9% of all people probably aren’t as web savvy as you are.

This is why your grandma (or every other person you know that isn’t either a Google AdWords Professional or a Stumble God) can help you to improve your website and -especially- your conversion rate. Let a non tech person find his or her way through your oh-so well designed conversion driven navigation path and see where he or she drops off.

Is it the ‘Buy now’ button that looks like a ‘Bugger off’ button if you happen to be a bit long-sighted? Are your breadcrumbs causing more frowning eyebrows than satisfied smiles? Or do most of your visitors feel that filling in your checkout registration form is like filling in their last will? Visit your grandma, bring your laptop and find out!

Comments (3) Posted in Usability by Wiep

Covert advertising is a form of advertising in movies or tv-shows that doesn’t need disclosure during or near the product placement, but works under the premise that it’s a natural part of the work. Mentioning the advertiser in the credits is advisable, but not mandatory. This makes Covert Advertising -if done correctly- quite hard to spot for the movie critics, but this also makes it a very efficient way of advertising.

Heineken placement in James Bond movie

Buying links is like covert advertising. If you do it the right way, it adds value to both the movie and your brand. If you do it the wrong way, it not only makes the movie look bad (themovie can get bad reviews from the critics as well), but it might also harm your brand.

Have you ever been watching a movie and saw a bad actor drinking from a soda can with the brand pointing towards the camera in a very unnatural way? Did that make you think “OMG, that’s frikkin’ bad. Why didn’t they make a regular ad in stead of this unnatural crap”? Well, that was like a bad paid text link.

Have you ever seen a movie where the main character was drinking a soda with the brand pointing to the camera and thought “Hey, I’d like a drink just like that as well!”? That was like a good paid text link.

Make sure that you don’t make your covert ads too obvious. Although Google has been busy penalizing multiple directories (which used questionable tactics), their Paid Link Detector is still far from perfect. If they can’t even figure out how to spot websites that buy thousands of text links (or sell them), buying links as a link marketing strategy will still help you to achieve top rankings. But keep in mind that there are no companies out there that only rely on covert advertising, it can only be successful on the long term if you mix it up with other tactics.

Next Page »