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Selling Links? You've Gotta Label Them as Such

Matt also talks about the big industry in "selling links" and relates it to the FCC's stance that users should be made aware if that site links to another for financial gain. The premise of the FCC's argument is that content may have a bias because of that financial gain.

I completely agree with them. I've often only included merchants in a list of where to get a particular product if I get a commission - it's the first thing you learn in the old Affiliate 101.

With the realisation that you'll make net gains by including non-financially beneficial links in your overall merchant recommendation list more and more sites have started to include these links.

The issue I have is that this is all well and good for sites that you create for natural rankings, it's far from acceptable for sites and pages that you build for PPC. As someone that does a fair amount of PPC I spend a lot of time adding negative keyword matches, getting long-tail keywords and analysing click through rates etc. etc. to make my rate of return higher that I'm not going to add non-revenue generating links to those sites - simple as.

At the end of the day, these sites are style very useful to users, they show a wide range of sources for a particular product and allows them to scan prices and features very quickly so they don't have to spend half an hour trying different searches.

This is one of my definitions of "paid links". And if you look at certain networks, if you don't remove them from the Search Engines' view they'll easily get crawled and indexed - it's happened to me loads!

I don't deal in the other type - paid for flat links. Or just taking some cash for including a simple link to another site, whether it's within content or navigation. For this, how the FCC edict relates depends on whether the purpose is for "paid for a recommendation" of "paid for SEO purposes".

I totally agree that we need to protect users from inappropriate product/site recommendations but I don't see that as Google's job. The government should not use search engines to police their laws.

However, if Google sees it as morally unacceptable because it's just another form of "fooling" users then it's up to them. But where will it end? Will we end up in a "RoboCop" situation where one organisation polices the new world and creates a police state? I'm sure this isn't where Google want to head, but they need to leave some room for the legal term "caveat emptor" to come into it.

In the same breath you can not only say that we're turning the world into a "police state" but also a "nanny state" where business is hampered by those that can understand that ordinary people know that reviews are biased and that people always don't spend days and nights working on sites not to receive a penny in return. Get real, users aren't that dumb, they're capable of going to several sites and weighing up sites and don't view the one in isolation and take it for granted.

So my message to the FCC is, don't restrict trade by assuming that everyone is dumb. Internet retailing is yonks old, people know what to trust and what not to. If people new garden furniture from Tesco direct and not Asda because I link to them then so what, - it's their choice!

My message to Google - be very careful of what role you want to play in people's lives. We have governments and NGO's telling us how to run our lives. We don't need a search engine telling us to put disclosure text next to an article purely because we'll earn a couple of quid out of it. Understand that people don't use sites in isolation, there's enough fora out there that rate products and sites where speech is relatively free - allow people to do their own research. It's your job to give users the variety of information to allow users to come to reasoned buying decisions - don't blame site owners for their own slant on a merchant.

My message to everyone - Caveat emptor means:

'The axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying.'

if you buy online then bear this in mind, it's down to you what you buy, no-body else!

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