Saturday, February 23, 2013

Should newspapers be allowed to sell links?

The recent degrading of Interflora's website has caused quite a stir in the UK SEO industry. Not just because the flower delivery service has been given a Page Rank reduction by Google, but because this has exposed the company's practice of buying links from newspaper sites.

Personally I'm less than surprised that this reduction has happened (but perhaps a little shocked at the extent to which the newspaper sites have been downgraded by the might of the World's most powerful search engine). However, newspaper websites has been selling links for years. The practice is fairly widespread in my experience and even in the last year or so I've had pitches from high profile news sites that have highlighted the number of links they offer as part of 'a package'. This is hardly a new revelation and some time in coming.

But lets put reality to one side for a moment and forget that search engines will penalise sites for selling links... And ask the question of whether specific sites such as newspapers should be able to sell hyperlinks from their sites to those that want them.

On the one hand there's the huge elephant in the room that a lot of newspaper owners feel and actually say that the online world (including Google) has taken away a significant chunk of their income. They are right... Free news sites, content aggregators, the poor return from display advertising and a bunch of other factors have all eaten into many major newspapers' revenue. Selling links from their sites gives at least some way of making up for this loss.

On the other hand, I really don't know how you would distinguish a newspaper site these days from a lot on other online news sources and even a lot of blogs. The lines are now so blurred, with nothing to chose between them... Making the definition of what actually is an online newspaper almost impossible. Whatever choice you make it this area would be wrong for someone.

And to those who might say "you would need a printed publication to qualify for immunity", I would remind them that there are a number of newspapers that have ditched their print version and now exist solely online.

In short, there is no way I know to discern those who should and shouldn't be able to sell their links. And if nobody else can either, then we are probably just better off letting Google do it.
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