I think it is mostly the timing of these events that make this particular recipe of irony so compelling. I mean, they both do have merit on their own, but when viewed together a certain cosmic sense of “wtf” is inspired within. For me, anyways.
Event the First:
Matt Cutts announces that Google is now encouraging fellow webmasters to snitch upon one another about the use of text link ads (either buying or selling) via the Authenticated Spam Report found in Google’s Webmaster console
This raises all sorts of controversy in the community, having to do with a combination of issues. Among these are the facts that he calls “paid text links” spam, and that he asks webmasters to rat one another out about what is decidedly a gray area, rather than a black and white one. There are many reasons to buy text links on another site. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the practice (much like the sister practice of exchanging links) completely pre-dates Google as a search engine, or Sergy and Brin even conceiving of using it as the basis of an algorithm in the first place.
Hey guys, we have this great idea! Since y’all like to link to each other, we decided to build a search engine using those links as votes! Whoever gets the most links, wins!
Do us a favor though, will ya? Don’t try and cheat on this one, k? Stop linking to each other unless we say it’s allowed.
Thanks! You guys are swell!
Now, let’s set that aside for the nonce, and take a quick look at:
Event the Second:
It comes to light that lumped in with a recent Google acquisition is a company that offers, among other things, Search Engine Optimization services:
Well, ok. Package deal, that’s all fine and dandy. Sure, might be slight conflict of interest in there somewhere, but since we all know that Google will do no evil, we can all sleep soundly knowing that they will sort it out in the end. In the meantime, however, we do get the chance to really relish in a wee bit of irony.
I was poking around the website of this newly acquired company, Performics, when I come across their list of client sites:
As I looked at the list, I recognized some of the companies. I used to do work in the same field as a couple of them. That’s when it suddenly dawns on me: I first discovered how well buying text link ads can help improve your rankings by studying these same companies linking patterns! Unbelievable!
I checked a couple, and it turns out that they still appear to be using the same tactics, and they still appear to be working. Now, I’m not saying that Performics is the company that arranged these text link ads to be purchased, because obviously there is no way to know that. However, I checked a few on the list, and on a couple of the ones I checked they do seem to be doing the same thing. For instance, doing a check of Full Spectrum Lending’s links, we find this page on Forbes website:
On this page, near the bottom right, we do indeed find a link:
<a href=”http://www.fullspectrumlending.com” style=”font-weight: bold; font-size: 8pt; color: #003399; font-family: Verdana; background-color: white; text-decoration: none; padding: 0px”>Refinance Home Loan</a>
According to Matt Cutts, there is one glaring omission in this link that would otherwise make it on the up and up:
If you want to sell a link, you should at least provide machine-readable disclosure for paid links by making your link in a way that doesn’t affect search engines… You could also use the rel=nofollow attribute.
I guess the people at Forbes forgot to read Matt’s blog that day. Now, if Full Spectrum didn’t actually rank for this phrase, perhaps that would be one thing, but they do indeed appear in the top 20 for it when I checked, suggesting that this is in fact a likely reason for buying ads with that anchor text.
With another client, Answer Financial, I dug around a little bit, and found what is obviously your standard link exchange page:
Checking a couple of the links, I do indeed find some reciprocity (although perhaps Answer Financial should check those pages more, some links lead to dead sites altogether). Answer links to a UK based company called Loan Finder 4U, who in turn links back to them on their links pages:
Now, do not get me wrong, in my opinion neither company is doing anything heinous or repulsive, it is Google that seems to be taking this stance. Which is, of course, what makes the discovery that Googles newly acquired SEO clients are participating in purchasing text links completely ironic, and funny as hell to boot.