Paid links. We’ve all read the warnings that we should not partake in the practice of buying and selling links. Google frowns upon paid links, and as clearly stated in the Google Webmaster Guidelines “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or ‘bad neighborhoods’ on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.” Google sees paid links as being outside of its guidelines.
Why has Google taken this stance towards paid links?
As Google sees it, paid links for the purposes of manipulating PageRank is outside of the quality guidelines it has established. Google uses links as it would votes in an election. Each link is seen as a vote of trust towards the website linked to. When links are paid links, it is difficult for search engines to determine which of these links to trust. Because of this, Google will penalize sites for utilizing paid links, and lower the reputation of the sites selling the links, affecting their ability to pass PageRank.
However, the practice of paid links continues in the SEO community. Many webmasters freely advertise their Links for sale, while others advertise they are looking to buy links. Visit the Digital Point Forums and you will see numerous posts on this. The higher the PageRank of a site, the more it can charge for a link.
Google has included a mechanism in it’s WebMaster’s Tools that allows users to report sites that buying and selling links. This is an attempt to police the realm of paid links, and while it may be somewhat effective, it will never catch every paid link.
In a recent effort to obtain some quality links for a site, I had started a small email campaign to solicit links from relevant sites. My emails were personal, not a mass campaign, and indicated what my site was about, why I thought the link was appropriate for their site, and indicated how it could benefit their readers. The reply from the webmaster on the other site was simple: “Sure, pay me $25 a month and I’ll link to your site.”
I realize what it costs to run a website, but the request I had put forward was legitimate, and would have been beneficial for the company. How is Google or the other search engines ever going to determine that this link was a paid link? It is impossible.
I do recognize the dilemma that webmasters and SEOs face. Links are the bases of better search engine rankings. Obtaining quality links relevant to their sites is becoming more and more difficult. Paid links are seen as a way to obtain a coveted link with an appropriate anchor text. Webmasters recognize the value of links and therefore are willing to risk their link reputation and sites by selling links. Paid links have become the black market of the SEO industry. I would question anyone who says differently. Paid links exist – PERIOD!
Google is within its right to penalize sites for utilizing paid links because it is a privately owned company in the business to make money. By lowering the reputation of those sites buying and selling links, Google is protecting the integrity of its search index, and making an attempt to provide users of its products find relevant results through searches. Paid links not only muddies the waters of the results but casts a different light on the search index itself.
Not all paid links are bad. If a site wishes to utilize a paid link as a mechanism to build traffic and to draw attention to a particular product or service, the link can contain the “NoFollow” tag, meaning that it will not pass PageRank and reputation. Google will still follow the link, and visitors are given the opportunity to click on the link even though it is paid, but Google will not pass reputation or PageRank.
As long as there is money to be made in the SEO industry, there will be people who will continue to risk it all by utilizing paid links. Ask yourself the question – Is it really worth losing your reputation over paid links?