From time to time advertisers pop up over at Boing Boing who want to do nothing but buy a hard coded text link. The advertisers are not in any way interested in conversing with BB readers, all they want is to grab some Googlejuice by having a link on a high PageRank site. We always say no, as the intent is so evident. But here is an interesting case (at publisher O’Reilly, which is a partner of mine in Web 2) where a more sophisticated approach – via Google ads – to basically the same idea was not caught, at least initially. BB and SEW have good overviews.
From Tim’s post:
So there’s the heart of the question: is it appropriate for a site to monetize its page rank as well as its page impressions?
It’s pretty clear that the practice of “cloaking” — that is, hiding links so that you’re selling only the page rank — is illegitimate. But what if someone pays you for a real ad, even if you know that they are paying you primarily because of your page rank rather than your targeted audience? As long as there’s no deception as to the nature of the sponsored link, and a legitimate opportunity for click through, isn’t this still an ad?
That leads to a whole nest of hard questions: Where are the boundaries between legitimate “search engine optimization” to help people find stuff that they will appreciate, and “search engine gaming”, to inflate the rank of sites that are less useful? Whose responsibility is it to solve this problem? Should web sites turn away advertisers just because they are performing arbitrage on Google and other search engines? Or is it the search engine’s responsibility to adjust their heuristics to counteract any attempts to game the system? Or both? Is it legitimate for a site to improve its own user experience by hosting small, well-paid and relatively inobtrusive text ads rather than the large banners and popups demanded by many advertisers if those ads lead to a worse user experience on search engines?
Long term, I’m pretty sure that supporting people who game search engines is not a good thing.