Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz recently asked a panel of search engine employees how they feel about pay-per-post reviews on blogs, and frankly their answers left me a little confounded. Tim Converse from Yahoo! answered first by saying they would not try to filter out the paid post from the other posts, and if the other outbound links were of a high quality, there would be no discount of link value. Adam Lasnik of Google and the other engines quickly followed suit by agreeing.
Now exactly what the hell is going on here? We’ve heard countless times that Google hates paid links. What precisely is the difference here? Sure, the paid reviews services require disclosure and they can’t force the writer to give a positive review, but a paid link is a paid link. I’m obviously not going to sell links that are completely off topic or to companies I just don’t have a good opinion of anyway. If ReviewMe wants to buy some links in the sponsor section of my site, they’re evil and trying to manipulate PR. However, if they pay me to write a review, those links are okay? I must be missing something, but it seems to me this just opens it up to abuse (and will probably give those services a lot more business). I’m going out now to buy 50 reviews. Who cares what they say, just give me the “white hat” links.
I applaud the reps for giving a straight answer to such a controversial question, but let’s get straight with our answers here. I don’t believe for a second that Google will not attempt to devalue paid reviews. I also don’t think Adam meant to go along with what Yahoo said, as the philosophies have always been different. Maybe he can straighten us out. Lots of hand clapping to Rand for asking the tough questions.
UPDATE: Comment from Matt Cutts on Search Engine Land:
The specific guideline for doing paid reviews or paid links is to make sure that your links don’t affect search engines. You can do that via a nofollow attribute on your links, or an internal redirect which goes through a page which is robot.txt’ed out, or several other methods.
Okay…? So yes, not, maybe again. Typical Google response.