Here is a new 8 minutes Webmaster Help video by head of the Google search spam Matt Cutts explaining about what search engine takes into consideration while determining whether or not links are “paid.”
Matt Cutts notes that there are certain criteria, but just like webspam guidelines which says ‘Look, anything that’s deceptive or manipulative or abusive we reserve the right to take action on.’
The First important factor which Google takes into consideration is the actual value of what someone is getting for something. If a webmaster sells a link to another webmaster for a certain dollar payment, then it’s clearly a paid link and it is the most common example.
The next consideration Google uses is ‘How close is the value of money.’
Example: A gift card is pretty close to money in that it can be often exchanged for a dollar value. But if you give someone a free pen that is valued at $1, the chances are that the value of that $1 pen won’t influence the user. However, a free beer or free trial to software is less value to users than a $600 gift card.
Cutts Said that “If someone goes and buys you dinner, and you write a blog post four months later, and the dinner wasn’t some huge steak dinner with eighteen courses or something like that, that’s probably not the sort of thing that we would worry about.”
Intent of Audience-For example, when you go to a SalesForce conference and get a free trial of the software, which is often not in exchange for a link. In addition, when Google gives away a free Nexus 7, the intent is not about links but about developers working on apps for the device. But if you give away laptops at events and expect bloggers to link to you in exchange, that is a bad intent.
The final criteria is would the reporter or blogger be surprised? For example, if you are a movie blogger and you are given free access to a movie to review, that would not surprise the blogger. But if you are given a free car or laptop in exchange for writing about it, that would be a surprise.
Matt also pointed that the FTC and other Government agencies have guidelines about disclosure and that Google’s thinking is pretty much aligned with these.