SES: Thoughts on ‘Are Paid Links Evil?’

Filed in Conferences/Educ. by Matt McGee on August 27, 2007 4 Comments

SES San Jose 2007Much has already been written about the Great Debate last week at SES: Are Paid Links Evil? I won’t get into the debate itself; you can read the recaps, and you can download the presentation that stirred the pot. Here’s what I want to say, instead:

I sat in the front row for this one. As Matt Cutts took the stage, I told Tamar (or maybe it was Rhea?), “It’s like watching the defendant being led to the witness stand.” That was the atmosphere. And after Matt’s presentation, when Michael started laying down the proverbial hammer, it was like watching the lamb get led to the slaughter. After Michael’s presentation, Todd, Todd, and Greg spoke about the problem with Google’s algo and Google’s stance on paid links, and how paid links dominate the SERPs. Much hooting and hollering ensued.

I ended up watching Matt C. through most of this. He was noticeably uncomfortable on several occasions, which made me wonder if perhaps some of the comments from the rest of the panel hit too close to home.

Matt Cutts

It also made me realize how much this stuff matters to him. A guy who doesn’t care would let the speakers’ comments and the audience’s cheering bounce right off him, right? I think so.

So, here’s what I took away from this session:

1.) It was a good debate that needed to be had, but in that atmosphere, I don’t think it solved a damn thing.

2.) I admire Michael, Todd, Todd, and Greg … and I tend to agree (for the most part) with their stance on the issue.

2.) I really admire Matt for accepting the invite to speak on this panel. He knew what was coming. He knew what the audience makeup would be. He knew he’d essentially be fighting this battle alone. And he did it anyway.

Well done, Matt. You deserve our respect for that. You’ve got it from me.

Comments (4)

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  1. davidmihm says:

    I completely respect the way Matt handled himself also. He always kept the debate on the issue & didn’t resort to cheap personal threats at the panelists’ websites. I think in his heart-of-hearts he knows it’s a bit of a losing battle.

    By the time Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect all paid links with certainty, there will be a new innovation to the algo that renders paid linking a waste of time anyway…as SiteMost said over on SEOmoz, the innovative Google needs to come back, not the one that tells people how to run their businesses.

  2. Miriam says:

    Hi Matt,
    You bring up an interesting point here, and one I’ve thought of, too…namely, that our industry has been taught to expect Google to care what we think about how they do business. The very fact that they’d send Matt into the lion’s den further our assumption that Google must care about our input. Yet…they don’t have to do things like this. They could simply sack sites not using nofollow and not even bother to tell us why, or have any communications with the public at all.

    But, that’s not the relationship Google has created with webmasters. And now, they are seeing an unpleasant outcome of that relationship…that people are sternly calling them to task for what seems like a hypocritical company policy. They continue to face the music, and I think this is something commendable.

    My real hope here is that Google will actually listen to the very sound arguments of the people they are making such an unusual effort to reach out to so that a solution can be reached. But in the end, I’m always left with the thudding conclusion that it is Google’s search engine…not ours…and they can do whatever they want, even if this results in the failure of their business plan by dint of them losing public support.

    It surely is an interesting thing to be watching.

  3. Matt McGee says:

    Well said, Miriam. It is their search engine, and they should do what they want. But that also means we shouldn’t be expected to help fix their problems. All hooting and hollering aside, the problem exists because Google’s algorithm is way too heavy on inbound links and anchor text. That’s not our job to fix with nofollow tags and the like.

    David – I agree. It would be nice to see an innovative solution come from within the ‘Plex.

    Great comments, guys. 🙂

  4. mrrex says:

    Great post, Matt. I too agree that it speaks volumes about Cutts’ dedication to Google and his person. It’s one thing to ride for the brand, quite another to cut down and made fun of for the brand.

    It seems like this session was more of a “bitch-session” about Google and paid links more than anything. While it was entertaining, I too don’t think much of anything worthwhile came about from it.

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