Google Says Selling Links Can Harm Site Ranking in Search Results

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Earlier in the month Google began its unofficial crackdown on pages which openly sell links in an effort to capitalize on their Google PageRank. Google’s crackdown; lowering the PageRank of those pages.

Danny Sullivan eluded to this in October and we published the unofficial confirmation of this via Matt Cutts a couple of days after the widespread shrinking Google PageRank across such sites. But yesterday Google made it official (thanks Philipp), adding to its Google Webmaster Help Center that selling links that pass PageRank can penalize a site not only in its Google Toolbar PageRank status, but also in Google search results.

Some SEOs and webmasters engage in the practice of buying and selling links that pass PageRank, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.

Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

  • Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the tag
  • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such excessive link exchanges and purchased links that pass PageRank.

So, there you have it. Officially and according to Google, selling links that pass PageRank can not only harm your site’s toolbar PageRank, but also damage your site’s rankings in the Google index.

If you feel that Google is targeting your site and you do not deserve such a penalty, the request reconsideration from Google.

You can also look into diversifying your site’s monetization or, for advertisers, building links without having to buy them.

Of course, Google could always be bluffing, and I do not recommend that people stop buying links. I do think however that in addition to buying links, you should also look into a well rounded approach to link building. Here are some tips:

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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  • They should have said this clearly before the crackdown!

  • Its just as well I stuck to my original principles of not paying for links early on.

    Its not logical for small businesses (my target audience) to pay for links, otherwise I would be very unpopular.

  • I cannot blame them. Buying – selling links has turned into real hysteria…

  • What right does Google have to tell anyone to use the NOFollow tag or to use an Intermediate page.

    Are they indicated to the public – that they will consider anyone who does not do this, to be buying or selling links for pagerank purposes.

    What Google fails to understand is that blogs or Websites may not be the best outlet for advertisers.

    Does any Webmaster really WANT some one to click away from his site to visit an advertiser whose banner or link is right on the top of the homepage????

    Webmasters and blog owners need to get some compensation for their hard work and their free output!

    Advertisers will probably do much better with Adwords or Overture that with the average Website they buy a link on. So, if the pagerank is taken away, what reason will some of them have to continue buying.

    Also, directories have been penalyzed that same way blogs have. Many quality links directories have been given PR0 as of last month.

    So now, there is virtually few ways many smaller sites can manage to get an extra push to become competitive.

    Google may be doing this to FORCE buyers to buy more Adwords – thus eliminating sellers and buyers who they see as competitors.

    Does anyone smell a massive, class action lawsuit in the making

  • Anonymous

    I guess the 15-year standard of creating a links is against Google terms of service. Considering everyone guilty until proven innocent is apparently, “not being evil.”

    Go figure.

  • You wrote the article “13 reasons why no follow tags suck.” Yet I notice that you have no follow tags on your site. Why is that?

  • Wade, I tend to toggle DoFollow in the comments to gauge the reaction of search engines and the counting of outbound links. Although I think Google has enough sense to identify wordpress comment templates and ignore outbound links from them if they chose.

    NoFollow does suck in some circumstances and its inception has turned into a snowballing nightmare.

  • As far as I’m concerned it’s just Google’s way of selling more of their own text ads. Why bother buying from the little guys if the links all have to wear link condoms? Might as well buy from Google and get more exposure since you can’t get any backlink juice.

    It’s sooooo transparent!

  • So I guess this is some kind of surprise to SEO’s now?

    How long have I and a few others been warning about buying and selling links because of Google?…. quite a few years now.

  • Eventually it will come to this, Google will control who links to who, and how they do it. Tell me that isn’t control of the internet, ha!

  • Google is not telling you or anyone to do anything at all. They have always told you what they like though. You can choose to not follow what they say, or you can choose to follow what they say. After all; isn’t Google what your site would like to do well in with free referrals? If not, then simply ignore what they say. It’s fairly simple stuff with doses of common sense added in I think. 🙂

  • Nice catch Philipp and Loren! I’m very pleased GG has finally disclosed this information in a more public way to educate webmasters. It might have been common knowledge to SEOs and bloggers, but in my experience, the webmaster on the street still doesn’t have a clue about this. Having it in black and white in the webmaster guidelines will help.

  • This has really hurt companies like Text Link Ads and their publishers who rely on monetizing their sites from displaying paid links.

    Yes, Google should have at least given a warning before cracking down on everyone. I guess it’s a reality check!

  • Ok, I’m eating my words above. I just did some more digging into the archive to discover that this warning and paid links page has been public since July. The only difference is they added the phrase “links that pass PageRank”. See

  • Google search results are only great because of how they fight spamming, and link buying is one very bad way of misleading search engines.

    The advertiser should normally be interested in the place of his banner on a certain site, not to fool search engines of being a popular site by purchased links.

  • I think this no follow tag system is unfair for advertisers.

    You pay pehaps BIG money to advertise and get no link juice. And your ads might not even supply break-even traffic or sales for your ads cost. Advertisers should NOT advertise on sites that give no follow tags. Sorry to say this but it sucks!

  • The problem is Google’s market share. Somewhere around 65% of the search engine market, right? The law of supply and demand is in play with Google as it is in any market situation, especially when they’re, in essence, giving away the product, i.e. search engine rankings.

    As numerous marketing pros have pointed out in articles I’ve read online, if a company builds a business with just one vehicle for advertising, especially free advertising, then it’s bound to get in trouble when that vehicle changes the rules, raises the price, or goes out of business.

    Google controls the supply (SERPs) that everyone’s demanding because they can and, in their estimation, because gaming the system leads to less than quality, relevant results for searchers.

    There are alternatives: other search engines, directories, direct mail, email, radio, television, guerilla marketing/word of mouth, billboards, wireless/text messaging, skywriting (well maybe only at the beach). The problem for small business is…they all cost money. SEO for organic SERPs is a bargain, almost free even, if a business does it in house as part of an employee’s job responsibilities.

    Everyone’s free to buy and sell links. Other search engines might not care about the practice at this point, but Google doesn’t want to play the game that way for whatever reason. It’s their business, they have the clout, and we simply have to decide if we’re going to play their way or not. Fair? Not really. Is Google doing it to sell more Adwords packages? Probably. Complain? Sure. Maybe Google will have a change of heart. But meanwhile get creative and find a way around Google, including spending a few bucks to market our businesses. Free is worth as much as it costs.

    Pedantic P.S. for Loren: In the second graph, I believe you meant to type “alluded” instead of “eluded.” Got a chuckle from that, imagining Mr. Sulllivan bobbing and weaving and then running away from the question about links.

  • How are we meant to get good websites to the top? Websites and businesses that have good products and services but have not optimized their website properly. They need proper onpage/onsite optimization, PLUS links of some sort.

    What is the difference between someone paying me to get links from free directories (which still works in part), and paying someone specifically for a certain link? Should I (or an employee/contractor-oh dear, they have to work for free) be wandering around the web getting links for people for free, and not paying for those links either?

    Do websites rank solely because of their onpage/onsite SEO with no help regards links? Certainly not. Unfortunately we need to get inbound links somehow. It is suddenly becoming very risky to even link out to someone.

    According to the new Google formula there must be a large amount of collateral damage. Are signature links in forums defined as “paid links”, are dofollows on blog posts considered “paid”…? Is it when there are links where snippet text around them is not unique between any two websites???

    Actually Google have raised the price of “payment for getting links”, because we have to be so much more careful about how we do a linking strategy for clients.

    I consider that all links have a cost! All links are “paid links”. That Google is singling out its version of “paid” is abhorrent.

    Why can’t links therefore SERP’s be another auction system like Adwords. Where the price continually goes up till the business at the top is the one able to afford the price since they are the one converting traffic for the highest profit.

  • Another white hat technique turned into a black hat one, and as other before, blocked.

  • When Google owns the Web they’ll be in a position to dictate to the rest of us what we must or must not do.

    Until then, Google, you can shut up about paid links and learn how to be a search engine again.

  • I think that until Google change their algorithm so it does not put much weight on the number of links a website has to determine its popularity people will always buy links on other websites

  • i am not sure, but after reading this article i have decide to not to sell text links on my website.