When is a Link a Paid Link?

The current and perennially hot topic of PAID LINKS has had me thinking since the summer about the nature of payment for a link and how all links might be paid links.

I work in the media sector. As such, I get some freebies from the journalists or am sent things directlyfor review. I also go to drinks events, launches, conferences and otherevents as part of my job.

It was at the Moo Summer party that I began to wonder – if I blog about this party and link to it, is that a paid link? YES and NO.

YES it IS a paid link because with several thousands being spent on food and booze, any links were clearly bought. Even though specific links were not solicited at the party, packs of free Moo stickers, free alcohol and free food a paid link doth make.

NO it ISNT because this was a traditional PR party event. Sure it was a PR event for bloggers but none were directly compensated for the link. The money spent went to pay for the party and no one at the party had to link to Moo. Anyone who did link to Moo (like me – I LOVE MOO!) did it because they wanted to – not because a request was made.

That’s nice and clear like mud. But let us look at the traditional PR party. This event is usually held somewhere nice a gallery, a swanky office, a nice hotel. The event is catered and complimentary alcohol flows freely. These events cost thousands to run and the people running them expect payment in some form an article, a link, a favourable connection. These parties are a way of paying for exposure. Are links they receive through the year paid links?

I think what we may be seeing with Matt Cutts’ commentsis Google’s recognition of the gaming of the system. Theremay beadesire on the part of Google to make links a less important ranking factor because of the gaming, but they need to find relevance beyond the on-page content. Links are votes and while I have always been an advocateof links for traffic, Google also counts links as a big part of rankings.

Googles Matt Cutts says only editorial content should have follow links because it is the only content that would exist without payment. Im saying from inside the news industry that the news is paid for.

Agencies, PR machines, and companies themselves are showering journalists with gifts of concert tickets, hampers of food and drink, technology and more. The so-called editorial content is paid for with food, drink and gifts. Those editorial links are paid links.

Looking beyond the direct compensation of people, I can begin to make waters muddier still. Is exemplary service purchasing a link? The time required to provide the service has a cost attached. Is getting a free gift with purchase paying for a link? The product has a cost.

There is too much room for Google to interpret things any way they wish. I can argue that almost any link has been ‘paid for’ somehow and would not exist without that ‘payment’.

This debate will rage on and on. Im cynical and evil and exist only to cause suffering and pain so I throw this out to you all ALL LINKS ARE PAID LINKS. Somehow, somewhere they have been paid for in service, freebies, parties, networking, community contributions, or whatever.

Perhaps instead of trying to castrate existing link love, Google needs to better filter weighting of links.

What do you think?