The more and more I think about the debate over paid links and Google, the more I think about FUD.

FUD is a marketing strategy that stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The term FUD describes disinformation tactics used to persuade customers to use a certain product over a competing product. A company that cannot respond with hard facts can use FUD tactics to cast a shadow of doubt on their competition and make people think twice before switching to the competitor.

Lets take a look at some quotes from Matt Cutts:

Reputable sites that sell links won’t have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized–a search for [daily cal] would still return

I’m afraid that my site will lose its search engine rankings.

Is my site a reputable site?

Maybe I shouldn’t sell a link then, since I’m not

However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext).

I’m afraid my site will lose it’s ability to give reputation.

How will I know? Maybe my PR will be affected? Maybe I’ll be penalized?

Guess I shouldn’t sell links.

Google’s stance on selling links is pretty clear and we’re pretty accurate at spotting them, both algorithmically and manually. Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.

Google can see my paid links from a mile away. My site will lose its trust in the search engines.

Wait. How can Google tell which links are paid? What if I’m just buy links for traffic. Oh no, should I have nofollowed that link?

Maybe I shouldn’t buy any links. I guess I’ll stick with AdWords.

Would anyone be surprised to find that some link buyers turn around and then sell links to other sites? And that those links may not be of the highest quality?

What if the site I am advertising on is linking to a bad site? Will my site be punished?

How can I check if the site is linking to a bad site? What is high quality?

Forget this, I’m pulling my link buy from this site and I’m sticking with AdWords.

What if a site wants to buy links purely for visitor click traffic, to build buzz, or to support another site? In that situation, I would use the rel=”nofollow” attribute. The nofollow tag allows a site to add a link that abstains from being an editorial vote. Using nofollow is a safe way to buy links, because it’s a machine-readable way to specify that a link doesn’t have to be counted as a vote by a search engine.

Now that I have a nofollow link, does that mean visitors will think my link is spam?

Search engines don’t count my link. Visitors see that my link has a link condom. Will humans think my site is spam?

I have no idea how safe this is. The only real safe alternative is to stick with AdWords. I can purchase links without having to worry about how it affects my visitors or my rankings.

The Google FUD is working.

Over at cr8atsiteforums, a user is scared of being punished for placing links on his site:

If I were to sell ads on 14thC and put up a page describing traffic, rates, terms, etc. one of the terms I’m inclined to place would be that a “nofollow” would be attached to the ads.

Except that will turn a lot of people away.

Shoul I even worry about it or just let Google devalue those links on their own (per Rand’s appearance in Newsweek and subsequent chat with Cutts)?

If I do that, would I incur any penalties?

Here’s a post over at webmasterworld:

BUT – arrgh, I still can’t quite get the big G out of my head. Now the option of buying a load of links comes up (around 15,000 in fact) and based on its natural merits of click throughs and brand awareness it seems like a very cost effective way of advertising. I can’t get G out of my head though. With a huge percentage of my traffic coming from search engines I cannot afford to get flagged or lose my rankings. I know I want these link for natural purposes but will G realise they are for natural purposes? I’ve read a bit about buying links and getting flagged and bam, your rankings have plummeted to oblivion. I’m trying to go completely white hat – but even then I think I may get into trouble, even though my motives for the links are totally pure.

And another:

Matt stressed that obvious paid links offered no boost in rankings, although they do not detract. In short, he stressed that paid links are a waste of money, and that G rewards links occuring naturally. He stressed that G is getting better by the day in detecting paid links.

I know there are ways of crafting paid links so that they will appear to be naturally generated, but the effort may not be as cost effective as developing unique, compelling content which will stimulate good inbound links. At least, this was my take away from that session as well as others in which matt participated.

Sure sounds like FUD to me.

Google may have a problem determining the difference between a paid link and a freely given link. But that is their problem, not yours. Ultimately, it is Google’s job to detect whether a link is bought or not and adjust its rankings accordingly.

It’s not the Webmaster/Marketer’s job to prevent web spam.

Who wants to buy an endorsement that says “Visit this site, but I don’t really trust their products”. Imagine buying a page spread for the New York Times that has a big banner across the top that says “This site maybe in the same category as pharmaceuticals, porn, gambling, and other spam.” Right.

Google can/is effectively eliminate competition to its main cash cow (AdWords) by keeping people afraid of using any system other than AdWords for advertising. Buying a graphic ad – well don’t because Google may ban you since the site you are buying ads on may link to something Google doesn’t like. Buying a text ad – well don’t because paid links are bad. Selling ads on your site – well don’t because Google may not trust your site anymore. Adding affiliate links to your site – well don’t because Google doesn’t like “thin affiliates”. Ad nauseum.

The FUD isn’t just hurting the text link brokers and individual link buyers. The impact is widespread. Online publishers are afraid that their sites will lose rankings, so they don’t consider any alternative revenue sources (affiliate links, text link advertising, etc) and they stick with AdSense. Ad networks like text link ads lose potential business since customers are afraid of buying links. SEOs are impacted since clients are afraid of Google so they stick with AdWords. For instance, take a look at the SEO guide from Google. It is filled with FUD. There is one sentence about the benefits of SEO and about another 200 lines covering bad SEO.

Nofollow is not an option. Nofollow was created to make sure spammers get no benefit from abusing public posting areas (like trackbacks/comments/etc). Forcing site owners and advertisers to employ nofollow on their links with FUD is just low. Google needs to stop scaring site owners/advertisers and focus on producing a product that makes the debate over paid links non existent.

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