My opinion on Google “slamming” folks for paid links.

A lot of folks have been asking me about Google “slamming” sites over the past week for selling paid links and/or *perhaps* cross-linking between blogs/blog networks.

[ Note: I put slamming in quotes for a reason.. if “slamming” means making the Google index better, well, that’s just fine with me. ]

As many folks have pointed out, I essentially came up with the the concept of interlinking a blog network. Of course, that idea came out of the concept of a blogroll which I did NOT create. Let me give some background on what I’m talking about.

When we started Weblogs, Inc. we wanted to create 100 blogs that would help each other through shared infrastructure. That infrastructure included things like software, sales, and marketing. Marketing came in the form of three devices:

  • a) the “ad slice” unit at the top of the page. This was a thin line that I came up with to alert folks to breaking items around the network. I thought of it like a ticket symbol. It worked really well and it’s used all over the Internet today.
  • b) the second unit was the blogroll which, obviously, I had nothing to do with creating.
  • c) the “WIN grid” which was a table at the bottom of ever blog that showed a half dozen Weblogs, Inc. blogs and the last three headlines from each. It worked well and almost every blogged network has stolen borrowed it.

Now, NONE of these units were created for SEO purposes. In fact, we never tracked search engine traffic since it was such a small percentage of our traffic in the early days (like five percent… really). Over time the search traffic grew and folks assumed that we created these unit to create links between blogs–nothing could be further from the truth.

We made these units so we could promote the stuff we were working on. Engadget users would love Joystiq and HackADay we thought, so why syndicate some headlines. My thinking on this was like NBC promoting CNBC and Bravo… or ABC promoting Disney. Just an obvious way to get your product out there to people who might be interested in it.

It had zero to do with SEO. In fact, nothing we did at Weblogs, Inc. we SEO related… we were just too busy to focus on SEO because we were growing so fast, selling so many ads, hiring so many bloggers, and trying to keep the servers up and running. Really.

Additionally, folks started requesting to buy links on our side bar so we came up with adunits similar to Google’s ads and placed them on the sidebar. Over time we learned folks were doing this for SEO reasons and we discontinued the program. Tim O”Reilly had a similar issue with his blog network with the same paid text link buyer.

Anyway, Google is justified in dropping the page rank of sites if they think they are gaming the system and sites need to make a decision if they want to work with Google or not. I suggest working with them. The folks at Google are good people and I’m sure they don’t want to make good sites suffer. They just want to make better result for their users, so I support their efforts to fight paid links. It’s a good idea for everyone.

*If* I was running Weblogs, Inc. and the blogs got dinged I would reach out to Google and ask what we could do to correct the problem and just do it. Engadget and Autoblog are the definitive blogs on the internet for gadgets and autos (based on traffic alone) and to punish them does not serve the users of Google or Engadget/Autoblog.

My guess is AOL will find out from Google what is going on and resolve it and all will be good in the world again.

If the cross-marketing techniques we came up with are confusing search engine I don’t see any problem with removing them. At the end of the day Google, Engadget, and Autoblog are all boats in the same ocean… they rise an fall together. I’m sure they will work it out.

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