Send a laptop to a blogger. The blogger blogs about it. Readers read. Like. Click. Buy. Pretty smart marketing idea? Not really in the eyes of Google. In the recent Webmaster Help Video, Matt Cutts, Google's Head of Search Spam, unfolds various criteria that the search engine takes into account while determining which links are paid and which are not.
Cutts said that Google holds the authority to take actions on anything which is deceptive, manipulative or abusive. If Google finds that a new technique is exploiting the trust of users, it can take the necessary measures against it.
According to the video, Google's criteria of paid links can be divided into six broad categories:
- Direct link sales: The links which are directly sold in return for money is apparently the most obvious factor. Links sold explicitly in exchange of money to appear on other blogs and websites are the most common examples of paid links.
- Value of what is given: Another factor which Google considers to determine paid links is what someone is paying in order to get a link to their own website. Cutts says that if you go to a conference and pick up a sub-standard t-shirt that is not going to change your behavior. But if someone pays you $600 to link to you, that is a lot of value.
- Proximity to money- How close the thing being offered is to money is also an important factor in determining the paid link. For example: A gift card is close to money because it can be exchanged for money value. But if you offer someone a $1 pen or a free trial of a perfume that would hardly influence the user.
- Gift/loan: Cutts says that there is a huge difference between offering someone something as a gift and as a loan. Companies often loan their new gadget to a technology reviewer for him to properly review the device. But if you permanently give them the item without any intention of taking it back, is something much closer to a paid link then a loan.
- Intended audience: When someone is giving you real money to buy links, the intent is crystal clear. Say, when Google gives away a free Nexus 7, the intent is not about links but about developers. But if someone gives away laptops to bloggers at events in exchange of buying links, then that is a bad intent. Google calls it a “material compensation”.
- Surprise: It might not be surprising for a movie reviewer, if somebody lets them in for a free preview of the movie. But if a technology reviewer gets to keep a laptop forever in return of writing about it, then that can be a real surprise and Google perceives it to be wrong. According to Google this is something that should be disclosed.
Matt recommends users to peruse the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online ads guidelines because the principles of the FTC are very closely aligned to that of Google.Google's Stance on Determining the Paid Links!,