Google & Control – Four Reasons it is getting too far

15 Apr

Over the years, I’ve been a ‘fan’ of Google. I say that with hesitation – I’m not an unbridled fan that runs around saying how Google is the bestest ever. I simply try to take a step back, see what they are trying to do, and think it through. I’ve made many a snide comments on Webmaster World to people who do nothing but bash Google non-stop. But I can see reasoning. As someone who has lived in highly oppressive countries, I believe that education is the single best way to help people. So I sorta understood why Google wanted to operate in China (the altruistic companion to their desire to make more money).

I only mention the China incident to separate me from the usual Google-bashers. Sometimes second-best is better than nothing.

But the recent post by Matt Cutts (lead of their quality control team) on reporting paid links really ground my bones.

As in most things in life, there is black, there is white, and there is a ton of gray in between. Matt’s previous post on hidden links was quite slam-dunk – that was a concentrated effort to hide the link from the users. The trifecta of link posts came with Matt agreeing with Matt (Mullenweg, creator of WordPress) that sponsored WordPress themes are bad (something for another day).

Four separate issues to tackle.

1. First off, I agree with Michael Gray – Google is now trying to dictate what we can and cannot do. The common argument is that if an advertiser is buying adspace for traffic, why not just nofollow it? The problem with that is nofollow was never intended for such use. The intention behind nofollow was links you could not throw your merit behind. When someone posts a comment on my blog and throws in a link to his/her website, I have no clue if that website is spam or not. Nofollow was a way of covering my ass. But advertisers are different. I’ve vetted them. They make sense for my audience. I am only going to allow related ads on my site. Just like Google ensures ad-quality by having relevant ads, I do that myself. So I can vet for these links, and nofollow makes no sense. I have no problem with recognizing that these advertisers exist, and are useful.

2. The one place where Google’s hypocrisy shows – dealing with sites they ban. They’ve publicly caught, banned, and shamed large companies like BMW for using spam-techniques (keyword stuffing, black text on black background, etc). Matt hosted spam content on WordPress. What did BMW and Matt get? A slap on the wrist – they were back in the index within a few days. If I did the same? Good luck to me. I’m still fighting to get domains unbanned that were banned a year ago (when I didn’t even own them). The double standard here is bullshit.

3. What exactly construes a paid link? This is a huge gray area. What about partnerships? What if I happen to like a site (most webmasters do not worry about SEO and PageRank – thats why has 2.6 million backlinks, of which most are not even required). How is Google going to make the distinction that a link is paid or not? On my personal site, I could link to sites that I own. That is now suddenly a no-no? On (PR7) we link to sites which we own and operate. How does Google know if those are paid links or not?

4. What about pre-filled links? The WordPress installation comes with a default blogroll, and links to quite a few sites. What do we do with those? Does Ryan deserve his PR8? Should I report it? Over on the WordPress Trac, Matt Mullenweg completely dismissed the idea of removing any of those links. So those are suddenly fine now?

As a webmaster, we have a very tenous relationship with Google. This latest call by Google is so close to a witch-hunt that it makes me feel uncomfortable all over.


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19 Responses to Google & Control – Four Reasons it is getting too far



April 16th, 2007 at 8:13 am

Maybe, its not to ban sites but to adjust the relevance of the link.
If you visit any webmaster forum, you see link buying and selling where the connecting sites have nothing to do with each other. They are just playing the SEO game. If those links are ignored when considering relevance, then searches can lead to better results.

“But advertisers are different. I’ve vetted them. They make sense for my audience.”
This is great but, unfortunately, you are in the minority, there are thousands upon thousands of sites where this simply isn’t true.
For example, take a look at this site:
I’d bet the overwhelming majority of the links are not helping users at all, even the state purpose is not to help users but to game the search algorithms.

“Google is now trying to dictate what we can and cannot do. ”
They can not dictate anything to anybody. They run a search engine, they are not an ISP. Simply put, if you make your site useful for visitors, and forget about the search engines, then you will have traffic.



April 16th, 2007 at 8:38 am

Google has another issue with the recent acquisition of DoubleClick, which has a substantial paid link base. DoubleClick paid links litter big sites like ComputerWorld. How is Google to self police themeselves.

One issue you and I have talked about in the past Ahmed, is paid links in WordPress themes. Google’s new decision is the perfect storm for the ethical problems assoicated with sponsored link themes as discussed here: Googles Newest Worst Idea Ever.

How do you think this impacts the issue of sponsored link themes?



April 16th, 2007 at 8:48 am

Good post, I completely agree. Google has taken a new step with the one…



April 16th, 2007 at 9:58 am

I agree that the default blogroll in WordPress is not all that different than the very practice that they condemn.



April 16th, 2007 at 10:05 am

Paul – I won’t disagree that there are abuses. But thats not the point. I am saying there is a *huge* level of gray-area, and Google is trying to simplify that into right and wrong. I pulled out BMW as an example of hypocrisy, and then the WordPress default links as a grey example. They aren’t paid, but they have absolutely no relevance to 99.9% of the blogs that link there. So how do we treat those? It seems to be a simplistic response to a complex problem, and that makes me angry.

Buzzroid – you could blame us a bit for the sponsored theme meme, as we had one of the highest profile sponsored themes released (over at BloggingPro). I will address that later – but its unfortunate no one has mentioned how we were very upfront about it, and you could remove it if you want. It likely was still a bad idea … again, post for another day :)

Mike + Markus – thanks for getting the point :) People forget that it isn’t so easy to just go use another engine – Google is a major portion of search, and you have to play by their rules.



April 16th, 2007 at 10:45 am

Your argument is a little vague due to the inaccuracy of your hyperlinking (you link to Matt Cutt’s blog but not the post, and you link to a comments section but not a specific comment). Thus I don’t really know where you’re coming from. I wish you’d given more concrete evidence to support your argument.

However, fun fact, WordPress is a big part of Google’s Summer of Code event, so one can only speculate whether they are privy to special treatment.



April 16th, 2007 at 10:52 am

Great article, and very thought-provoking. Good job.



April 16th, 2007 at 11:38 am

@Brian – not sure what you are talking about, I link to all three [link text]: [reporting paid links] [hidden links] [Matt agreeing with Matt]



April 16th, 2007 at 11:45 am


Great Post . I think the broader issue is something that you’ve already touched on: Google’s dominance and “mind share” on search, and how their algorithm has become as much of an audience, as blogger’s actual audience is!!

See also:

The fact of the matter is that if a publisher wants to be “found,” they can’t afford to neglect Google. I’m still withholding judgment, but this latest development of enlisting people to report paid links, seems rife with numerous problems to me.



April 16th, 2007 at 1:16 pm

Google is trying to get control over breath of webmasters. Google is lucky that Yahoo! and Live are poor players. Though at the end we (webmasters) would pay the price :((



April 16th, 2007 at 1:22 pm

Google has done some great stuff – I love Google Webmasters. Sitemaps, etc etc.

I just believe this is over-reaching – there are too many gray-area issues that they seem to be sweeping under the rug.



April 16th, 2007 at 2:01 pm

Great post. If anything has spammed the internet in the last couple years it has been adsense.

So, Google can have their adsense links on everyone sites, but webmasters aren’t able to make their own money through advertising links? yeah… whatever.



April 16th, 2007 at 2:28 pm

Watch the Co-Founder of Google, Sergey Brin, talking about various aspects of Search Engines: Technology, Society, and Business.

Here’s the website:


Chris Langdon

April 16th, 2007 at 6:12 pm

Google is evil. Google, Microsft and Yahoo won’t allow me to advertise my webiste,, IN THE US, because it is critical of Communist China! The mainstream media loves the Googliars and won’t cover this story.

Chris Langdon,


abrindo as pernas? at Caveat Emptor

April 17th, 2007 at 9:21 pm

[...] E aproveitando o ensejo, para os que ainda acreditam naquela história de “do no evil” ou que acham que como a Google lida com seus negócios é problema só dela, recomendo este artigo. Especialmente para aqueles que precisam de propagandas e do fluxo de leitores que o serviço de busca mais usado do mundo lhes garante. [...]


  Google and Control: Going too Far? by Blogging Pro

April 18th, 2007 at 3:40 pm

[...] Check out his reasons behind some criticisms of Google on Tech Soapbox. [...]



May 11th, 2007 at 8:41 pm

Regarding number 4: As far as I’m concerned, Matt and co. have the right to make their own blogs the default links, as they spent the time and money to make WordPress a reality. I really don’t consider their taking advantage of the platform’s popularity unethical, since as the originators, they have full control over everything.



May 11th, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Rico – I think you missed the point.

The argument here is that paid links are evil. That all links should be put by the webmaster. But the webmaster did *not* put the links to all the WP people (or even XFN). So do the links get counted? If so – why? (as they have no relevance to 99.99% of the sites linking to them). And if they do get penalized – why? Do the authors not have the right to put their name no their work?



July 9th, 2007 at 1:13 pm

Nice finally someone else willing to bash Google a bit without fear of them secretly bumping your site down a bit in the search rankings.

Keep it coming!