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Yellow Pages & Blog Payola

Ed Kohler, outspoken critic of YP industry, “outed” DexKnows.com for using Pay-Per-Post to increase links and associated PageRank for their site.

DexKnows.com logo

As you may know, Pay-Per-Post involves paying bloggers to write articles endorsing products, services or companies, and in this flavor it also involves using those posts to link back to the company’s site in order to help build PageRank.

The blog post is very thinly disguised payola – as Kohler points out, the blog is purportedly belonging to someone in Arkansas, while this post appears to be all oriented around providing keyworded links involving Pizza in Minneapolis through DexKnows. The blog has a large “payperpost” ad badge on it, too, and if you read through the articles, every single one seems to be engineered to sound like someone writing about random daily life incidents, but always with a couple of injected keyword links.

In context, it’s glaringly obvious that the blog is a paid posting. Kohler posts a comment below it, asking if it’s a paid post for Dex, and the author replies that she doesn’t “know who’s Dex”.

Kohler further pokes fun at Ken Clark, a yellow pages industry advocate, for also linking to that blog post and citing it as a golden example of how valuable the general public finds print yellow pages. Again, Kohler posts a comment below Clark’s blog post, challenging him for linking to it while while calling it an example of a consumer’s “actual experience”.

Clark responds back defensively, saying that there’s no reason to think it’s a pay-per-post piece!

While trying to insist that the original post isn’t payola is pretty laughable, it seems obvious that Clark was just innocently duped by the faux blog. The YP industry has been in a very defensive mode lately due to bad press about print YP viability versus online ad competition, and it’s unfortunate when the legacy industry advocates display this sort of naïveté with new media — it really tends to undermine their case to some degree when they demonstrate a lack of savviness in the new marketplace.

Here are some of the other pages I found linking to DexKnows which also appear dubious:

www.livelaughblogg.com/2008/08/find-dentist-in-minneapolis.html

www.productivus.com/blog/2008/07/phone-directory/

www.joy32-joy.com/2008/08/dexknows-las-vegas.html

www.obstaclesandglories.com/2008/08/dexknows-flagstaff.html

www.langging.com/2008/08/minneapolis-directory.html

Once you visit a few of these, the types of blogs they are posted upon all begin to seem to be faux, and the posts themselves begin to all appear fraudulent.

This whole interchange illustrates what sort of problems there are with pay-for-post done badly, and DexKnows is likely now to reap some considerable Google penalty for getting involved in this sort of thing.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with pay-per-post, so long as it’s clearly labeled as a paid sponsorship message of some sort. When it’s not clearly labeled, it fools people into thinking it’s an objective endorsement.

Google and the other search engines take a dim view of paid links which seek to manipulate natural search rankings. Google penalizes pay-per-post blogs when they detect them for this reason.

In fact, I heard Matt Cutts state at SMX Advanced a few months ago that Google is likely to devalue links obtained through any duplicitous means, including viral link bait (such as shocking ficticious stories engineered for the purpose of rapidly building up PageRank).

Link-building is one common component of search engine optimization, so it’s not all that surprising that R.H. Donnelley would be doing it in some fashion for their DexKnows.com site. However, link-building is also an extremely sensitive area where the search engines are concerned, and using really aggressive tactics like this are very dangerous. Here in this case, some amount of money has been expended to obtain paid blog postings, but now it’s likely that all that money has been wasted as these sites will undoubtedly get any PR yanked, if they had any to begin with.

It’s quite possible that DexKnows.com didn’t know that this sort of thing was being done. They may have provided some link-building budget to an agency or external contractor, and they may not’ve been aware of what was being done in their name. If this is the case, it would likely be worthwhile for them to clean up what was done, discontinue contract with that agency, and send Google an apology note.

There are plenty of ways of doing link development that do not run against the search engines’ guidelines.

I employed a number of best-practice style link-building strategies when I worked at Superpages.com. One of the most basic strategies is to build valuable, useful content which people will want to link to. For instance, links from .EDU sites are some of the most valuable in terms of ranking power, but very hard to achieve since universities and schools are generally not open to being paid to link to commercial interests. So, we built campus yellow pages for hundreds of universities and colleges across the U.S., and this resulted in many of those schools linking back to Superpages.com.

For the same amount of resource time and expense, you can build something that’s bona fide as opposed to something intended to fool the search engines.

5 comments for Yellow Pages & Blog Payola »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2

    I keep hearing on how Google will ‘punish’ you for this, but it happens and works everywhere and all the time.

    Comment by AhmedF — 10/7/2008 @ 5:14 pm


  2. MyAvatars 0.2

    Great post, Chris. Not surprised to see you staying on top of YP marketing practices. Glad that someone with your experience and considerable expertise has weighed in so thoughtfully.

    I also agree with Ahmed; these kinds of tactics do still seem to work with Google…but that’s not to say they won’t get better at cracking down on them eventually.

    Not a very good long term strategy for Dex either in terms of rankings OR reputation management…

    Comment by David Mihm — 10/8/2008 @ 10:18 am


  3. MyAvatars 0.2

    De isn’t the only one, check out the schemes by local.com:
    http://www.snoopbloggyblog.com/2008/10/11/a-local-search-engine-hybrid/

    Comment by joe — 10/12/2008 @ 11:51 am


  4. MyAvatars 0.2

    The article quotes,”every single one seems to be engineered to sound like someone writing about random daily life incidents, but always with a couple of injected keyword links” and I would have to ask is the writing any less interesting due to the injected keyword links? Did you enjoy the article any less due to the injected keyword links? I feel if its really “CRAFTY” and still an enjoyable piece and the writing is not an obvious bill board for a product or service what is the harm. I guess what I am saying is I appreciate the time the writer took to share his/her random daily life incidents.

    Comment by Martin Snytsheuvel — 9/1/2009 @ 9:52 am


  5. MyAvatars 0.2

    Martin, I think part of the problem was that the article was glaringly an advertisement, tricked up in an attempt to fool a reader into thinking it was an honest endorsement on the part of a housewife. But, as I described, it was even a very poor fraud, because I think most consumers would see rather quickly that it was an ad, and false, in part because it was about a local business a few states away, and also because most of the blog’s articles were similar product ads. Not only does it rapidly “feel” as though there isn’t a real human behind the writing, but it leaves users with an intense sensation of someone trying to manipulate them.

    I should’ve gotten a screengrab of the article so you can see what we’re talking about. It’s been quite a while since I wrote this, and the blog has been taken offline since.

    Since even the fraud was so poorly executed, it makes it seem obvious that this wasn’t truly intended for human consumption anyway – it was intended primarily for search engine benefit.

    I like well-written, helpful ads. This was neither, though, and I don’t like it when it’s a sneaky attempt to fool me.

    Comment by Chris — 9/2/2009 @ 9:40 am


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