In late 2007 Google officially announced that so-called paid links are outside its webmaster guidelines, and asked webmasters to report paid links they find on the Web via a special form. Fast forward to 2011 and you’d expect that paid links are long gone, like stuffing meta keyword tags or inflating keyword density on page. They aren’t.
There is even a surge of interest in buying links after many large brands have been caught using this technique successfully to manipulate Google’s algorithm for months.
These large brands are not alone; indeed, even Google itself has been sponsoring sites that link to it without using the nofollow attribute required by the Google webmaster guidelines. So it’s no wonder that in this world where some people are more equal than others, many webmasters resort to buying links from text link brokers who are still more or less openly selling them.
Personally I was both buying and selling links prior to the 2007 announcement and let it go when it became apparent that it’s not a white hat SEO tactic. I may have been a little naive back then, but I assumed that links to advertisers you approve of are like editorial links; after all, you agree willingly to link to sites you have checked before. Google doesn’t think so though, as this way just the sites with the richest owners would succeeded in Google.
I can smell paid links from afar, while many webmasters fail to notice them even on their own sites.
Many people do not even know of the nofollow attribute, or that you have to use it on your ads. Others can seemingly get away with it because they are too huge to get penalised or have enough real links. Nonetheless, some large and renowned sites have been penalised for paid links in 2011 already.
Sometimes it depends on the amount of bad press. If you manage to make the New York Times aware of a large brand that buys or sells links, you might force Google to take action.
In the above mentioned example, where Google itself appears to buy links among dozens of others, nobody even cared about it. So apparently, depending on who you are and how you do it, paid links can work for you. Ironically, even those companies that have been caught and got penalised for paid links did get so many editorial links from the press and the blogosphere after getting busted that they probably don’t need to buy links anymore anyway.
In some countries or industries, paid links are so widespread that you’ll get outranked without them.
On the other hand, it’s a risky technique which you don’t have to use in most cases, or better still you can mimic its effects without breaking the rules. The best example of an exception has been paid directories. Sponsoring events seems to be another exception, as in the example cited above where Google has utilised sponsored links itself.
The paid links definition seems to be quite straightforward and easy to grasp, but when you think about it for a while you’ll notice that it’s far less obvious in many situations. Also, sometimes the paid link definition is not enough. What about paid content, for example? Last but not least, paid links are OK when they are used for PPC.
- Paid links – Webmaster Tools Help
- Text links and PageRank
- Paid Links are Not SPAM if They Pay Per Click
- 7 Points About Paid Links v.s. Editorial Links
- Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google
So while it seems that the paid links definition itself is not so obvious, the question of whether you buy links or not is a bit more complex. Search marketers have dealt with it for a few years now, and there is still a lot of disagreement in the SEO industry about paid links. The voices in favour of paid links seem to be outnumbered, but that’s just in public.
When it comes to the actual SEO practice my impression is that it’s rather the other way around. Most people don’t admit it, but they are doing paid links. Until Google finds a way to detect ”link intent”, we will have have to deal with this issue.
To even understand both positions you need to take a closer look at what’s at stake when it comes to paid links. Some deeper analysis has been done by some search bloggers.
- A Paid Link Building Experiment, Results & Takeaways
- The Quizzical Duality of Paid Links
- How Google detects paid links in websites
- Five Things I’ve Learned About Paid Links
- Paid Link Noi$e
- PageRank: Caught in the paid-link crossfire
- Google Loses “Backwards Compatibility” On Paid Link Blocking & PageRank Sculpting
- “Pushed” SEO Case Studies – Does “Old-School” SEO Still Work?
The pros and cons of using paid links as an SEO tactic are evident you’d think but there is even disagreement in the industry when it comes to link building as a whole. Some consider it ”paid links” as well.
I guess they argue in favor of allowing paid links, but I think they rather make Google limit link building altogether in the webmaster guidelines. In any case, it’s intriguing to witness the on-going discussion and wide variety of opinions present in the SEO arena.
- Our Stance on Paid Links & Link Ads
- Paid Links in 2011
- In Defense of Paid Links, why Rand is Wrong
- Paid Links – The True Cost of Buying Links for SEO
- Paid Links SEO: A solution for Google’s Paid Links problem
- All SEO’s Do Paid Linking & Google Doesn’t Care | Seer Interactive SEO Blog
- Every white hat link you obtain for clients is paid for
- Jim Boykin: Paid Links Aren’t Worth It To Me
Google Buying or Selling Links
Why would Google itself buy or sell links? Is it at all possible? It seems yes, it happened again and again in the past and I was quite disenchanted when I discovered a high Pagerank site that has a ”sponsors” link to Google without the nofollow attribute, and hidden anchor text on top of that – another breach of the guidelines.
In the best case scenario, Google employees who have no clue about SEO and their own guidelines have made a mistake. In the worst case, Google itself does not have to adhere to its own guidelines.
- Google Invests in Creating Paid Links?
- Google Buys Links with Hidden Anchor Text
- Google Japan Buys Dirty Pay-Per-Post Links
- Google Gives Free PR8 Links to Paid Partners, and Doesn’t Follow Their Own Guidelines
Who sells or buys links?
The question who sells or buys links is wrong. The more apt one is: who does not sell or buy links? Sometimes it appears that most people do it and I am the only idiot who does not. If you want to stick completely to white hat SEO techniques, you’ll end up frustrated sooner or later with the competition who does not have such lofty ideals. Also, just the few cases where links been bought or sold admittedly show that “everybody” does it: big brands and news media are no exception.
- Yes, I Sell Links, Google Penalizing Me, Don’t Judge Me
- Google: Forbes Busted For Selling Links
- JC Penney SEO & New York Times SEO and how that applies to your SEO
- SEO’s Nemesis, Ripoff Report, Caught Selling Links
- Express Group contacts SEOs to sell links
- Express Group turns to selling links, big companies caught buying
- Paid Links: Just Sign on the Dotted Line
- How Google Cost Me $4 Million
- Paid links and the BBC
Paid link SEO techniques
Do you want to buy or sell links? Well, think twice. Also consider similar tactics that at the end of the day have a similar effect but where the links are not directly paid. On the other hand, in cases where the competition does paid links and ranks with it without getting a penalty even a year after you have reported them to Google, you may have no choice.
Try everything else first though. Paid links are just a short cut and not a sustainable long term SEO strategy. It’s just an SEO tactic or technique that happens to work. Next day it might not work anymore. Better you prepare for tomorrow today, rather than just focusing on current results.
- How to Buy Links Ethically
- Link Buying: Nine Ways To Get Them For Cheap
- Paid Content: the New Paid Link
- Why Does Google Police Links While Ignoring Garbage Content?
- The History of Paid Directories
- Google Likes Quality Paid Link Directories
Do you really need paid links? Personally I’m a firm believer in the “link love” concept. It’s a very suitable metaphor. When it comes to love the more you give away the more you get. It works perfectly on the Web; the more you give away, the more you get in return, be it content, software or just links itself.
You have to give to get. So the money is spent indirectly. You spend it on the stuff you give away, and therefore you get the links. You can spend time or money to get links – you don’t have to do it by actually paying webmasters to link to you. Why not fund something else, then send out a press release about it and get interviewed as being the generous contributor?