Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s web spam team and an authoritative source on all things search engine optimisation (SEO) and what Google allows and what it will slap a website for. The criteria that Google uses when it decides whether a link is paid or not. Roughly, here are some of the important questions we ask:

  • What is the value of the gift, product, or service?
  • How close is the gift, product, or service to actual money?
  • Is it an outright gift or a loan?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the intent of the gift to get links?
  • Would the gift be a surprise to third party?

Google can adapt and change their approach to any behaviour or methods it finds that might change the ranking of a website compared to other websites. Google regularly updates the algorithm, the calculations, that are used to index and rank websites so if there is a new method that website owners start using to improve their ranking we can be sure it will soon be on Google’s radar and that the brilliant engineers at Google will figure out how to identify it. Matt Cutts [head of Google’s web spam team] says:

Anything that is deceptive, manipulative or abusive we reserve the right to take action on.

Which is why we aim to stick to the guidelines that Google produce describing what are acceptable ways of improving, optimising and promoting a website.