I just got an offer from someone I suppose works for a search engine optimization (SEO) company offering to pay me $40 to advertise on one of my web pages.  I get these offers from time to time, but this time I decided to inquire a little bit further and find out exactly what they wanted from me.  It turned out that they wanted me to place 3 links on my Cantabrian cheesecake recipe page.  That, in itself, was pretty weird, as I can’t imagine that page gets many visitors, but what was weirder was the actual links they wanted me to include.  They were to websites for building birdhouses!  Two of the websites, moreover, where government websites (I guess park departments must encourage birdhouses).   Now, this puzzled me as I was sure that government websites would not be paying for links, specially from irrelevant pages like mine, so I decided to do a bit of investigation.  This is what I found out:

– Nobody knows exactly what Google’s algorithm for listing websites is, but one factor is how many other sites link to that one site.

– The “quality” of the site where the link is matters, Google gives more weight to websites that it deems “legitimate” (i.e. not created for the sole purpose of linking to other sites).

– The word it links from matters too.  In this case, the SEO seller asked me to add the words “cottage cheese” to my description of queso fresco and link to the one commercial birdhouse site from the word “cottage”.

– Google, however, does not assess the relevancy of the link to the subject matter of the page.  In other words, Google won’t notice/care that the link to a page on building birdhouses came from a recipe page.

– If Google catches you buying or selling links, it will penalize you by not having your website show up at all or in the first few pages of search results.

I still don’t quite understand how this person actually found my Cantabrian cheesecake page (what word could she have been searching for that would have led her to that page?).  In any case, I thought this was interesting to share.