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Matt Cutts: “designed by” Links Will Hurt You in Google

Does your web design firm “require” a link on your web site, back to their web site? According to Matt Cutts, the Google Quality/Spam team manager, those back links will now be detected and labeled by Google as “search engine spam”, and your site will suffer in the search rankings. Matt doesn’t give a time schedule for the new rule, but does say that Google has not only already developed the detection algorithms, but is actively testing them right now. Matt has asked people to send in reports when they see such links. It seems that Matt wants those “sure thing” sponsored links so he can test the reliability of the new penalty algorithms.

The practice of including links back to web design firms is an old one. Commonly you get two price options for your web design: price one, which does not require a back link, is much cheaper than the second price. The second price includes a requirement that you credit the designer firm with the work, by way of a promotional advertisement Google is now calling “paid links”. According to Matt Cutts this past week, it is that price break that makes the link illegal in the eyes of Google, and Google will diminish the value of sites that include such links as a way of dealing with them.

Naturally there is a good deal of discussion on the web right now about this flex of muscle by TheMightyGoogle. Non-profit agencies that link to their sponsors and donors are looking at Google penalties for doing so, under the new rules as described by Matt Cutts. So are membership organizations which list their paying members on their web sites (with back links to member’s sites). It’s all illegal under the new rules.

The new rule also hurts web hosting companies , who commonly provide reduced cost hosting for selected projects or customers, often non-profits and good causes. Sometimes they require a back link, but many times the grateful customer gladly places such a link as a means of saying “thanks” for the help. Now, that link will hurt the charity, as Google calls it “spam” and takes action to devalue it, whethe rit really is a padi link or just looks like one (or is reported to be one by some oddball Google fan out there). Geesh. This is getting scary, no?


  1. eric hebert wrote:

    Scary is right. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the beast, we just have to eat it. Google is the internet just like Microsoft was the PC (until the next shift)

    Sunday, April 15, 2007 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  2. Call me stupid, but I cant see any reference to ‘designed by’ links in either the post or the comments. Can you point it out pls?

    The whole paid-links thing is just smoke and mirrors from Matt.

    The proof of the pudding is the tasting – anything that requires human intervention that doesn’t generate direct revenue for Google is a big no-no. Any algorithmic solution will have to be set to very high tolerance thresholds to avoid collateral damage.

    Of course Google could start by cleaning up their own house, perhaps removing parasite hosted results or disabling Adsense accounts on MFAs rather than just removing them from their index….

    Monday, April 16, 2007 at 12:41 am | Permalink
  3. Paul Bliss wrote:

    What give Google the right to tell me how to make some money on my site? They have to realize that some sites pay for their hosting by selling text links, banner ads, sponsorships, etc – to penalize sites that have them is unfair – just my $.02

    Monday, April 16, 2007 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  4. Jill wrote:

    John, what are you talking about? As Richard Hearne said above, there’s no reference at all to what you’re talking about in this post.

    Doesn’t seem right to put those types of words in Matt’s mouth.

    Saturday, April 21, 2007 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  5. john andrews wrote:


    When Matt writes about “hidden links” but then says that all paid links should be marked as such, preferably with a bot-notification, he’s all wrong. Sponsorship and commercial relationships are driving the back linking web these days (you can check on that by asking some webmatsers for free back links based on merit, and see how far you get). His “hidden links” framing of the sponsored links issue is spin. His suggestion that paid (sponsored) links are bad and need to be marked as such is naive.

    When a web design firm provides a discount for a backlink, that back link is just as much a “paid” link as other sponsored links. There are so many other cases covered by his “bad law” but I chose that one to make my point.

    If Matt didn’t have time to address sponsored links separately from hidden links, or perhaps wasn’t able to, he shouldn’t have bundled the issue with hidden links and search spam. But he did. And that confused a lot of people. If my assertions are incorrect, I would love to hear that, but even after re-reading my post, I don’t see anything that was not directly derived from Matt’s statements.

    If you think my posts do not accurately reflect what Matt said, and I do, then perhaps Matt’s not being as clear with his messages as we need him to be?

    Saturday, April 21, 2007 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  6. Matt-Cutts-Bashing and Other Blunders

    Responses to what appeared to be an upfront disclosure and an honest solicitation of industry-input have quickly developed into a slew of Matt-Cutts-bashings. I’ve never met the man but, folks, he simply doesn’t deserve that from us.

    That said, I do find horrendous problems for Matt Cutts in finding ways to define, to identify and to monitor paid links. I’ll just give you three examples here.

    1. Define What is a Paid Link

    At law, compensation doesn’t just mean cash. It also means goods, services and even love. What is a paid link? If I write a 750 word article and allow it to be posted on a Web site in exchange for a link, do you not realize that I have just paid between $220 and $750 in time and talent for that single link even though no money traded hands?

    If a philanthropist donates $20,000 to a nonprofit and that nonprofit posts a thank you for the sponsorship on its Web site and provides a courtesy link to the donor’s Web site, is that not a paid link? If it isn’t, than all link farm sites can become nonprofits and give away links for a “donation.”

    2. How Will Google Know For Certain How to Identify a Paid Link?

    I just finished a backlink campaign for a client yesterday. I submitted 100 links. Not one was a paid link and not one was given a reciprocal link or a “no follow.” If my record holds, 90% of these links will be accepted. But here’s a problem. Five of these links were to directory sites (PR 6 or greater) that also post paid links and links that are paid for by reciprocal links. No one but the sites’ Webmasters and I know for certain which category of link I applied for. I’m certain that the Webmasters of these sites would not want to volunteer how many of their posted links are given for free. Like all of us, they have mouths to feed.

    3. How Will Google Monitor and Mediate?

    If a competitor of my client’s Website “reports” to Google that I have paid for links, will Google notify me so that I may initiate a slander or libel lawsuit? Will Google mediate so that I have an opportunity to refute the accusation? (How many new employees will Google have to hire to monitor and mediate the accusations and complaints?) Or, are we to be presumed guilty with no opportunity to prove innocence?

    So Matt Cutts asked for a discussion, so let’s discuss. I am seriously pleased that he gave us this opportunity to participate. And for all the panicking Web site owners, may I just point out that it is possible to garner a Google Page Rank 7, place #4 on a Google search out of 256,000,000 Results for a 2 word Keyphrase, with a Home page that does NOT contain the Keyphrase and a Web site which has only 20 inbound links.

    Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 7:12 am | Permalink
  7. raj wrote:

    There’s already collateral damage in every new Google PR rollout. Google couldn’t really care less, in the general scheme of things, what happens to your site. Maintaining their objective means they may have to cause collateral damage, and if so, that’s what they’ll do.

    Don’t think so? Explain to me why one of my blogs with only two links and no posts since Feb 2006 stayed at PR 3 and another of my relatively active sites with no Google advertising (because of the niche) dropped from a PR5. Another site with no new posts or backlinks since Aug 2006 stayed at PR4. Several other sites of mine with very active posting dropped PR, sometimes two points.

    There’s really no consistency in what I’ve seen for my blogs, nor for those of several other bloggers I know with mini-networks. It’s worse than the previous rollout. Google does not care and we webmasters should be scared. I’m praying for the day when the next future tech monopoly pokes its head up – which should be around 2009. (I’ve seen the effects of three tech monopolies over 30 years. We’ll praise the next one when they materialize, then curse their name a few years later.)

    Sunday, May 13, 2007 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  8. dex wrote:

    Since this article was first written we`ve seen PRs go up and down like crazy. Google ought to get its own house in order before being the sole arbiter of what can and can`t be placed on someone`s site.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 3:16 am | Permalink
  9. Additional competition may make Google sit up and take notice. Yahoo looks like it`s up for grabs, but with Microsoft now being out of the picture it`s anyone`s guess who`ll buy it.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  10. Best Web Designs wrote:

    This is so stupid rule. This means someone else can hurt our search engine rankings. People will send spam links to their competitors like crazy. What does google tries to do!

    Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  11. bcsem wrote:

    Well developed by should be treated the same. Which means Matt Cutts own blog should be penalized for having link to What a hypocrite.

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 6:48 pm | Permalink
  12. wotsupdock wrote:

    I’m surprised that so many people care about placement in a stupid search engine.
    yes, lots of people make their money off of having high placement, but geez it’s just a search engine. There is more to life than the Internet. We did fine before Google and we’ll do fine when Google goes by by with the rest in a few hundred years . . .

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 7:25 am | Permalink