I have received a number of requests recently to remove links from my Spanish website (casabill.net), the reason being cited in each case was that it may have been interfering with their search engine rankings (the name of a, perhaps the most, famous search engine always being mentioned); sectors concerned have been currency-related and car rental related websites of the 'comparison' kind. I have complied with these requests for link removal, but made it very clear in my email correspondence with the firms concerned my view that whilst their attempts to manipulate search engine rankings may succeed for a while, they will almost certainly be found out by those running the search engines in question. Usually such requests for link removal have come from firms which had earlier requested that I include a link. Naturally for my own protection I am not naming the firms in question, although I have full documentary evidence to support what I write.
To be absolutely clear, my website is totally non-commercial in nature and payment for links is neither sought nor accepted if it is offered.
The point of this article is to highlight the fact that comparison websites, whilst offering nothing of their own, are obviously in the business of gleaning the small individual revenue that is generated whenever there is a 'click through' from them to one of the firms to whom they link. You will find that, if you compare different comparison websites (so to say), the firms to whom they link often overlap extensively, but the underlying financial transactions on offer (whether currency or car rental, etc - probably the same is true of insurance, but I have no personal experience of this particular comparison sector myself) may vary slightly in the prices quoted, possibly because of the different volumes of traffic generated by the different comparison websites to particular end-providers and the remuneration terms they have negotiated - and no doubt this is influenced to some extent, or is perceived to be, by a particular comparison website's ranking in search engine queries.
It so happens that I received a request for link removal this morning from a 'comparison' firm which had some months ago requested that I include a link; I complied within 5 minutes of the request being received by removing the link. Perhaps it is purely a coincidence, but I had added a link to another 'comparison' site in precisely the same sector only yesterday (after having received a request for link inclusion from them a few days earlier), so I wonder if the fact that I was now linking to a rival 'comparison' site as well was felt to be 'unhelpful' to them commercially.
I have no particular 'axe to grind', because I operate my websites and blogs purely for my own interest with no commercial gain in mind. Comparison websites, on the other hand, may portray themselves as sources of impartial advice and generally it is true they can be helpful in guiding a buyer of a service to a sensible and reasonably cost-effective provider of such services, but it is prudent never to forget that such comparison websites are commercial enterprises and different comparison websites compete against each other and others who provide similar links and that rankings in search engine queries are an important criterion for them and that whilst the search engines try to put in place measures to prevent undue manipulation of rankings, some businesses do try and 'tweak' the results in their favour, in one way or the other.
In other words, what has always been true, remains true in the age of the internet, when seeking guidance about how to spend one's money - all is not always as it seems. Remember - caveat emptor ('let the buyer beware').
NB/ This article is cross-posted from my 'Spanish' blog , 'casabill - the blog' because I think it is of general interest.