The Google Tell us flat Links help them evaluate a site’s reputation, and search rankings are “based in part on an analysis of those sites that link to it”.
We know links are the ranking factor.
We know that organic links can be hard to come by.
Can you just buy links and enjoy the same ranking benefits that you get through the quality of your content, building your reputation and authority, and sharing valuable experiences that people can’t get anywhere else?
Sure, you can buy them. There is no shortage of people willing to sell you links.
In this article, we will explore if these paid links can actually help you rank higher.
Claim: Paid links as a ranking factor
The Google Webmaster Guidelines Paid links are visible. They don’t want them to influence search rankings. Google says:
Make a reasonable effort to ensure that ad links on your pages do not affect search engine rankings. For example, use robots.txt fileOr rel = “nofollow” or rel = “sponsored” to prevent ad crawling by the crawler. “
This is not to say that paying for links is inherently bad. You just have to be upfront and open about it.
But what if you could sneak one (or several) paid link by Google?
They certainly can’t detect all paid links algorithmically, especially if you’re very careful. right?
In this case, if you don’t disclose that it’s a paid link and you’re careful not to have a footprint to speak of, that link will provide the same benefit as any organic link.
This is correct.
It is also a dangerous game.
Evidence of paid links as a ranking factor
We know that links traverse PageRank and affect search rankings. This is not even a question.
However, Google is asking you to disclose if there is some relation beyond the scope of, “Hey, this is a super valuable/reputable/authoritative page that I really want to share with my audience!” behind the link.
The way you explain this relationship to Google is through the rel attribute values in a tag Link tag:
- It says rel=”sponsored”, “This is paid advertising and placement”. It will not pass the PageRank system and will basically be ignored by Google.
- rel=”ugc” says, “This is user generated content and we make no endorsements of its quality or accuracy.”
- rel=”nofollow” says, “This is not a site we want to link to, so please do not follow this and crawl this page”.
(Nofollow was the precursor to rel=”sponsored” and is still an accepted markup for paid links. However, Google go ahead You are using the sponsored tag for all paid links.)
If you choose not to disclose a paid relationship or transaction, you may enjoy some of the benefits of classification.
until you get caught.
And when that happens, you’re out of luck if Google simply ignores the link.
Paid links can also make ranking impossible
If Google detects that you are using paid links to process the algorithm, it may find that your site has been removed from the index.
People have been trying to manipulate links and profit from their sale – and Google responded with applause – since the early days of the engine.
A comical lawsuit from 2002 makes Google’s stance on the practice of selling links very clear.
was a case Search King Inc. v. Google Technology Inc.
Google has been sued by Search King for “maliciously” removing PageRank from its link selling scheme, PRAN.
Search King was selling links on high profile sites. He tried to argue that because PageRank was described as “honest, objective, and mechanical” in Larry Page’s thesis paper and in Google’s materials, taking manual action against his linking scheme was anti-competitive.
In her opinion, District Judge Vicki Miles LaGrange explained:
“Search King asserts that the reduction occurred after Google knew that PRAN was competing with Google and was profiting by selling advertising space on websites ranked high by Google’s PageRank system.”
The Search King case was dismissed and the lesson for the industry was clear: If you get caught participating in paid link schemes, you will get slapped.
And if you try to sue Google for deindexing or punish you for doing so, you will lose.
In a 2005 blog post, Matt Cutts explained Although the algorithm took care of most of the paid link issues, Google wasn’t averse to intervening manually:
Yes, Google has a variety of algorithmic methods for detecting such links, and they work well. But these links make it difficult for Google (and other search engines) to determine how trustworthy each link is. A lot of effort goes into optimizing Basic quality (fit, coverage, freshness, etc.).
“At the point where people are recommending ways to make paid links less discoverable (for example, by removing any rankings or mentioning link selling), I wouldn’t be surprised if search engines start taking stronger action against link buying in the near future.”
However, SEO professionals have largely believed since around 2010 or so that if Google determines that a link has been paid for, it will just ignore it.
But recent manual interventions show that Google doesn’t mess with paid link schemes on a massive scale.
In 2019, Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted his gratitude to someone who submitted a spreadsheet of 700+ domains selling links that passed PageRank:
It also appears that Google has taken manual action against a law firm over its scholarship link building scheme in December 2020.
In this case, the links were not directly bought or sold.
But as Search Engine Journal’s Roger Monti explained at the time,
“…links are not contextually relevant and do not count as an actual quote or ‘link vote’ warranted to the law firm.”
Today, the search engine Paid links supplier says,
“Google works hard to ensure that it completely reduces links intended to manipulate search engine results, such as excessive link exchanges and purchased links that pass PageRank.”
But it’s clear that even outside of algorithmic detection, Google is looking for unnatural links. This includes links that are exchanged for some kind of value – monetary or otherwise.
Google has asked long ago The SEO industry censors itself with paid link reporting and other link systems.
This means that what the Google algorithm might pick up isn’t your only concern.
If competitors (or their agencies) discover your paid links, you may find yourself on the wrong end of one of these reports. and work that produces.
Paid Links: An error of caution
SEO professionals have long argued about what constitutes a paid link and whether Google has any right to require marketers to disclose the relationships behind the links.
See a 2006 article by Lauren Baker, for example.
Today, Google defines the following as: Link charts Which can negatively affect a site’s search ranking:
- Buying or selling links that exceed PageRank. This includes:
- Exchange money for links or posts that contain links.
- Exchange of goods or services for links.
- Send someone a “free” product for writing it with a link included.
- Text ads that exceed PageRank.
- Sponsored ads or native ads where payment is received for articles with links that pass PageRank.
Google says paid links don’t work.
But this is not entirely true.
Paid links work the same as any other link unless they:
- Marked as “sponsored” or “nofollow” using the rel attribute values.
- Algorithms are identified as having been manipulated in some way.
- Manually reported or undetected paid links detected.
Two of these options – Detect Payment Status Yourself and Detect Algorithm – will simply result in Google ignoring the link. You still gain any branding, advertising, or other value associated with it.
The third might stop the spam team on the web and cost you a manual action.
In this case, you risk losing not only the value of the link but all of your other SEO efforts as well.
Paid links as a ranking factor: our verdict
Google uses links as a ranking signal. However, they explicitly do not want paid links to be counted.
Yes, you can try to hide it from them.
But you do so at your own risk – and the repercussions can be devastating.
Using undisclosed paid links to improve your search rankings is the SEO equivalent of installing a bomb on your site.
If you are unlucky it is a wired error and nothing will happen.
But one day, you might find that someone has dumped Gary Ellis with the Bomber.
And he will gleefully flip the switch, not mistaking it.
Featured Image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Magazine