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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Google's Paid Links Double Standard: An Analogy

Pay-Per-Post's Ted Murphy gets into a civilized debate about why Google applies penalties to sites that use paid posting models, paid linking schemes, etc., but leaves Techcrunch alone on promotional linking that doesn't seem qualitatively all that different.

The thing about it is, what can Ted expect?

Google is Google, and they have to fight evil in its most obvious, link-economy-distorting, user-disgruntling forms. Matt Cutts is never going to be able to say: "you know what Ted? what the hell. we'll treat you the same as Techcrunch."

This is for a whole lot of reasons.

The best analogy might be if a prominent member of the FBI stood next to a prominent mobster and said "hey dude, I know those 'legit' business guys are every bit as dirty as you, so why don't we just wink and nod and treat you the same as we treat the Bank of America." The real statement would actually end: "but the public doesn't see it that way, so that's why we have to toss you in the clink."

Then, the authorities might get to philosophizing about it and thinking about how maybe the public is starting to catch onto even the "well dressed hoods." And after 8-10 years of deliberation, the time might be right to make examples of even the "respectable-looking" folks who are robbing shareholders blind, for example.

Here, the penalty of getting differential treatment by a search engine is slightly less onerous (at least to most of us) than 10 years in a federal prison, so it's unlikely that there's much incentive for Google to go all Eliot Spitzer on Michael Arrington, just to reassure the public that they're going after even respectable forms of SERP manipulation. Google's editorial sorting technology is, at the end of the day, arbitrary. And the favoritism element is indeed magnified when big penalties are applied selectively, because now it's a matter of human judgment overriding the algorithm more than usual.

Boo hoo, maybe that's true. Just don't expect Matt Cutts to stand up and say: "Pay-Per-Post is my favoritest non-evil thing in the world!"

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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