Did Matt Cutts Say It Is Illogical To Think Google Would Penalize Sites Just For Buying Links?

Posted on December 2nd, 2007 at 12:38 pm by Michael VanDeMar under blogthropology, Cuttisms, Google, SEO

Donna wrote a piece today entitled, “Less PageRank Floating Around In SEO Niche“. The post was based around a comment Matt Cutts made on SEOmoz having to do with the fact that certain sites seeing lower PageRank had to do with the fact that “there’s less PageRank flowing around in some areas (e.g. search and SEO)” and not that those sites had been penalized. Her conclusion from Matt’s statement is that she thinks most people were wrong about the recent visible PageRank penalties being just visible, and that the the penalties were probably also behind there being “less PageRank” in the SEO niche.

Personally, I think her conclusion involves a glaring oversight. Her logic, as far as I can tell:

  1. If the visible PageRank was more than just visible, then it would affect the amount of PageRank to go around in the SEO niche (this is true)
  2. Matt Cutts stated there is less PageRank to go around in the SEO niche (this is true)
  3. The PageRank penalties were more than just visible (this is a guess, and doesn’t logically follow one from the other)

This is what I think she missed:

  1. If there was a mass panic, and a huge number of people quit selling links fearing a penalty from Google, then it would affect the amount of PageRank to go around in the SEO niche (this is true)
  2. Matt Cutts stated there is less PageRank to go around in the SEO niche (this is true)
  3. A mass panic did follow the visible PageRank penalties (this is not a guess, this happened, and could easily explain the loss of PageRank flow Matt mentioned)

Based on that I see no reason to conclude the visible PageRank penalties were anything more than link selling deterrents (although of course they either could be, or a more “real” penalty could always happen down the road… but that’s still all guesswork).

No, the bit in Matt’s comment that I found much, much more interesting is something Donna didn’t mention. Rand had pointed out a site that he felt shouldn’t be ranking because it has a large number of paid links (btw, nice way to prove that you won’t let the opinions of others who think it’s wrong to out sites for paid links affect your decisions to do just that, Rand). Matt replied with this comment:

To say “page A shouldn’t rank at this position because it has paid links” commits the logical fallacy that it’s the paid links that cause page A to rank, as opposed to the other links to page A. – Matt Cutts

To me, that’s a huge statement. While he doesn’t say that they won’t penalize a site that also happens to be buying links, Matt is pretty much saying that just because a site buys links is literally no reason at all to assume that it couldn’t be ranking on the merit of the other links to the site. In fact, he claims it is illogical to assume that a site that buys paid links shouldn’t rank. Wow.

In light of the FUD that followed Matt’s post How To Report Paid links back in April, and the criticisms from many (myself included) about how people would be able to use paid links to sabotage other sites, and why Google shouldn’t penalize for paid links, making this clarification is a very big deal. It does make sense, actually, that they wouldn’t penalize for paid links, since it would be easy to nail a competitor this way if they did. However, since Matt is usually so tight lipped when it comes to the decision making process as far as penalties go, and just replies on webmaster panic to drive people to obey Google’s wishes, I think it was great that he was willing to come out and make a statement as bold as that.

Kudos, Matt. :D

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3 Responses to “Did Matt Cutts Say It Is Illogical To Think Google Would Penalize Sites Just For Buying Links?”

  1. DazzlinDonna Says:

    As I’ve told you privately about this, I believe my “guess” (and that’s what it is) is no worse than your “guess” (and that’s what I believe yours is as well). I don’t accept that your so-called “facts” are in fact “facts” but I also don’t have any facts of my own to counter you with. All I can say is…maybe…maybe not. ;)

  2. Search Engine Roundtable Says:

    Matt Cutts Clarifies Recent PageRank Drops & Link Buying…

    Matt Cutts recently spoke with Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz and made a few interesting statements that elicited some interesting forum response. First, WebmasterWorld members were particularly interested in this statement: we did do a full PageRank update se…

  3. Sitelinks at #60 - A Warning Shot From Google | Smackdown! Says:

    […] year, when he stated that assuming a site shouldn’t rank just because it buys paid links is committing a logical fallacy (ie. just because they buy paid links doesn’t mean Google will penalize them), but of course […]

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