Google Penalizing Paid Links Buyers & Sellers

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Dave Naylor, SEO extraordinaire, has been witnessing the after effects of the call to report and penalize paid links by Google. According to Naylor, over the past 14 days, Google has been penalizing sites which both purchase types of paid links and also sell them.

For a good while Google has been lowering the power of the Google juice that sites which publish paid links can pass on. Now it seems however, that the sites which are purchasing those links are coming under fire by Google:

Normally Google attacks the webmaster from one side at a time to stop collateral damage. For example, if you sell links your site might not pass link juice or page rank while those links are still on your site. Clean up and after a update or two you should be OK. Buying links, well that’s another ball game. You could loose the domain forever if you don’t move quick enough.

Naylor adds that sites which are publishing paid links in locations such as footers and sidebars are coming under the Google ‘attack’, especially if those links are not relevant to the content of the site. In such a situation, both sites can be dropped from Google rankings.

For example, a site about “home cooking” linking to a “holiday site”, but where the holiday site would have dropped this time both have dropped – one for selling the links and the other one for buying links.

This also brings about the question; what is a good paid link? A rule of thumb in the linking game has always been to target links on sites which are relevant to your target market, and links which would ideally convert into a positive action on your site, such as:

  • Links from authority sites which are very relevant to your audience
  • Links which you did not pay for
  • Links from Blogrolls
  • Links in high authority content
  • Links from sites which do not link to questionable sites

Google’s Matt Cutts also addressed this issue on a recent blog post update on Reporting Paid Links to Google when answering the question; Can you give me an example of the sort of things you’d be interested in hearing about?

Here are some paid text links on a site dedicated to Linux:

Paid Links

There are a few interesting things about these links. If you take off your webmaster hat and put on a user hat for a minute, you quickly start asking yourself questions like “Why is a Linux site linking to a bunch of poker, pills, and gambling sites?” Users often consider links like this spammy or low-quality. I’m sure some people will happily defend links like these, but in my experience people who search on Google don’t want links like these to affect Google’s search results.

According to Mr. Naylor, since sites selling irrelevant (low quality) paid links and link networks have been hit by Google, search marketers should track their backlinks and try to identify incoming links which may be hurting them, and clean them up. If irrelevant links such as the ones in the Matt Cutts example where purchased, it would be a good idea to end those campaigns too.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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  • KJW

    I’m not surprised that Google is taking these steps… If you think about it it’s very cut and dry. Don’t pay for a link that has no relevance to your site.. it’s a simple concept.

  • David V.

    So from what I’m reading here I can put up a spammy site about some random topic and make it totally obvious that I’m putting up a “paid” link to my competitors and I can cause damage to their SERPs? Awesome!

    I’d be a little surprised if it were true that your site could be damaged by sites linking to you, but I do believe that losing value from purchased links would do damage if you relied on purchased links heavily.

    I know Naylor is a smart guy so I’m sure there’s some element of truth in this. If it does turn out to be true I can see a lot of people using an algorithm like that to damage their competitors.

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    This is actually a good step, IF and ONLY IF topical relevance can’t be established.

    This can be sometimes very tricky, especially if it is not a boilerplate/site wide link, but a link within the content itself and only on one or a few pages.

    I found myself more than once linking to a site that is not really relevant to the site I linked from, but it was somewhat related in the surrounding context of where the link was posted, if you consider links to illustrate a metaphor contextual relevant at all.

    The penalization is today a manual process from what I can tell and considering the severeness, should it remain that way.

  • Sushubh

    what about the links which are liked using images… like the popular right bar on here, techcrunch and similar sites. 🙂

  • Mukesh

    In other words, google is only telling us to buy/sell links from/to good sites, with relevant content.

    Here is what I think this is all about:

    Buy links from:

    1.) Quality Relevant websites
    2.) Websites which do not link out to unrelated sites (vertically/horizontally unrelated)
    3.) Deep link to relevant pages instead of homepage only links
    4.) Buy relevant intext links. Links that go with the context of the article
    5.) Do not go for sitewides
    6.) Do not buy links from pages that have more than 50 outbounds

    Sell links to:
    1.) Quality Relevant websites only
    2.) Do not give too many links from the same page
    3.) Try to sell intext links from internal pages (similar if you are exchanging links)
    4.) Sell links on the basis of backlink strength, age of site, rankings, traffic, site quality; and less on PR

    If you follow these pointers, google can never ever penalize you. This holds true even if someone reports your links as paid links. What is the proof they are paid? They are relevant links and could very well be natural, isn’t it?

    Google can take action though if the links are unrelated, as in case of the examples shown by big guy, Matt. Otherwise, you are on the safer side.

    No matter how advanced the algo bcomes and not matter how many people report your links as paid, Google can take action only in case of high level of non-relevancy.

    Am I right, Loren?

  • Paolo

    So…If I buy or sell a link to a relevant content site, it’s not a big problem for google.
    I understand the google policy but I think it’s a bit utopistic. Buying links it’s a consolidated SEO strategy

  • Marcel

    Instead of buying irrelevant side links, it would be better to buy blog link within relevant content.

  • princess

    what happens when a competitor starts to buy links useing your site name and then reports you?

  • alfromla

    that's the problem…how do you find the relevancy of a link. for example on my blog I write about SEO and internet marketing a lot but I also do have favorite beer breweries and burger shops which is irrelevant but I put them on my blog anyway because I like to recommend them.

  • alfromla

    that's the problem…how do you find the relevancy of a link. for example on my blog I write about SEO and internet marketing a lot but I also do have favorite beer breweries and burger shops which is irrelevant but I put them on my blog anyway because I like to recommend them.

  • Ollie

    I totaly agree that his could be a problem for genuine link builder like my self. How do you think google would view a reciprical links page, they are not paid but can be unrelated. I know they are trying to stop manipulation but it seems to be opening up more door than it’s closing.

  • Ray

    Google will soon have all the internet marketing in their control if no other sites are allowed to places ads on their sites for pay/ profit. What is Google Adsense ?????? Time to make some other search engine the verb of choice. Lets keep the internet for the people as it was intended and keep commerce alive.