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Google Barters Backlinks to Show The Way

The Google blog (which routinely uses the “nofollow” attribute according to Google’s guidelines for link management, has just posted a set of direct backlinks to the people they are calling “bionic posters” in the Google help forums. These back links are not nofollowed. They are genuine, live, link juice passing links. They are presented as a reward for participation… for helping Google’s customers for free, by answering questions in the forums.

When Google started the ridiculous “paid links are evil” debate, I was disappointed that such a bright group of kids would step into such an open-ended, impossible argument. When the search optimization community jumped into that trap yelling “Google is not the Government“, I was disappointed that so much energy would now be wasted on a negative, endless argument that would lead nowhere. Of course back links are “traded”, and of course they are “bartered” and of course there would be a micro-economy around the exchange of links based on some currency, and yes, of course money would represent the currency of choice for everyone not looking for a relationship at this time.

So I crafted a post for the new marketing community Sphinn and announced I wanted to get a phenomenal amount of votes. I was asking for votes, and would thank my voters with a back link. Of course it works… everyone needs backlinks, and this blog has a decent amount of page juice to pass around. That Sphin post is now approaching its target of 300 Sphinns (votes). It accomplished some of the secondary goals as well, which included raising awareness of Sphinn, encouraging more people to actively vote instead of just lurking, and I also encouraged more voting of comments as I see that as an early engagement that leads to more active participation.

But it didn’t (yet?) lead to some of the conversations I had hoped it would prompt. Despite some shallow discussions, nothing significant on the quid pro quo link exchange. And Google continued its attack on “paid links”.

Now Google, as it has to eventually, has started to openly barter direct backlinks from its own properties. Really, folks, it HAS to barter, just as we have to barter. To think otherwise is ridiculous. Now maybe we can point to it as a living example and maybe, just maybe, webmasters will start to wake up and smell the coffee.

According to the Google blog post:

While there are lots of helpful people in our groups, we have some that really stand out as being exceptionally active, helpful, competent and friendly. They volunteer time and energy to help build a great community and to help webmasters all around the world. In order to more publicly recognize their contributions, we’re calling them our Bionic Posters. We want to highlight their outstanding efforts and thank them for the sound advice they’ve offered to so many.

Following that are 12 direct links to the poster’s websites, along with links to their profiles, using their names as anchor text. There is a 13th that did not get a backlink – and it is an SEO who did not identify herself by name or website. I really would have loved to see Google direct link out to a website called SEO101, but I’m not that lucky today.

The take-away is this, folks: Google is controlling you not for some benevolent reason, but in order to control the currency of the web. It took X amount of effort in those forums, dedicated for free by those posters, to earn a direct backlink from Google’s very popular webmaster blog. What was that worth? Google got to decide. Google thinks it is fine to barter in links without the nofollow… it just wants the price for such links to remain pitifully low, managed by Google. Can you see it now? Do we really need to wait a few more years until it is perfectly clear beyond any doubt that Google has all of the money and there is no room for us to share?
A few analogies for those who benefit from analogies:

  • SEOs are the card counters of the Internet. Google says gambling is illegal, except in their casino, by their rules, which are rigged in their favor and able to be adjusted at any time, in real time.
  • The search optimization community, by investing energy into Google’s arguments, is decimating the public market for SEO, increasing the profits of the underground and so-called Black Hat practitioners and giving Google the room it needs to increase its unofficial, mostly unaccountable monopoly on search traffic.


  1. Dave Eaves wrote:

    Well deserved to Phil Payne and Robbo, both of them are legends.

    @Dave: I’m all for the recognition. Nodoubt it is well deserved. In fact, given the amount of work that went into it, those are probably the most expensive direct links we’ve seen bartered in quite some time.

    Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  2. Business Man wrote:

    I guess this gives an incentive for people to participate in communities and stuff. But those bionic posters people made quite a few posts and I can imagine spent quite a bit of time helping out other webmasters.

    @BusinessMan: No doubt. Some wonderful people getting the backlinks they deserve, just as it should be.  ;-)

    Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  3. Geld Lenen wrote:

    In the Netherlands Google only put helpful contributors in the spotlight, without a link at all. I think these people can be happy with their (unfortunately without anchor) link :)

    Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  4. Paul Bliss wrote:

    Great analogy naming Google as the dealer and us SEO’s as card counters – I also think it’s funny how so obsessed people are at making pennies from Adsense instead of building valuable web properties of their own – but the sheep all need a shepherd…

    Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  5. Lenen Geld wrote:

    In the past there were complaints about Google algorithms and strategy. Nowadays most people consider Googles approach as fair.

    Sunday, June 15, 2008 at 3:19 am | Permalink
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    Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 4:08 am | Permalink
  7. Schilderijen wrote:

    i think it isnt very fair for the real bloggers. but i don’t know of this is the true..

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  8. Jeff wrote:

    Thats crazy… Although it is somewhat understandable. One of those people (webado) took the time to answer a particularly confusing question for me once, so I have no problem with it.

    btw, in your article, paragraph 6 (right before the ” ” part) is exactly the same as paragraph 1. Maybe it was intentional, but it doesn’t look like it.

    @jeff: thanks I fixed it.

    Monday, December 1, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  9. dave wrote:

    So I guess we slave away for free in the google help forums and we get a free link? Wow, I wonder if they’ll send me a cookie too!

    Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  10. George McCumiskey wrote:

    Awesome. Google is great.

    Friday, December 12, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
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    Monday, November 16, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink