I started writing about this topic, but came across a well-written post at Mike Driehorst's site. It seems that Google is concerned about website owners buying links to improve PageRank, and has developed a sort of anonymous tip page to encourage the ratting out of buyers and sellers of links.
For those unfamiliar with the concepts of search engine optimization and the value of links, I'll give you a 30-second explanation: Search engines such as Google use links as a means of determining the relative "worth" of a website. More links equals a higher PageRank (Google's term for this complex algorithm), and links from a higher-ranked page are much more valuable than from a lower-ranked page.
Read Mike's post for a lengthier discussion of Google's plan to sniff out link selling, but I have a few questions: a) how does Google plan to "punish" those it deems are participating in this behavior? b) if I am paid to review a product, and in essence "sell" a link, will I too be branded an algorithm scofflaw? c) will Google also attack its own AdSense program, perhaps the largest buying and selling of links on the Internet?
Seems like the height of hypocrisy to me on Google's part; perhaps Google executives are just jealous that they cannot monopolize the valuable commodity known as Internet links. Besides, just how, exactly, is Google going to tell what is a paid link and what is not? If, for example, I talk about term life insurance in a post, how can Google tell this is a paid link or not? For all the Google algorithm knows, I might be friends with the good folks at any given site.
Besides, if a product (let's call it the WidgetThingy) is a poorly-designed or overpriced item, there will be more than enough negative publicity about it on the Internet to swamp the handful of links its manufacturer might purchase. At best a company can buy some short-term gains in the search engines, but ultimately consumers will prevail.
Besides, as a wise old man once said to me: "It don't matter how much shoe polish you put on that shoe, boy: if it's got dog s**t on it, it's still gonna stink."
Full disclosure: the author of this post sometimes accepts compensation from third-party companies that link bloggers and advertisers. More inormation about this on my disclosure statement.