Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few months, then you’ll no doubt be aware of the furor surrounding paid links. This furor pretty started when Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web Spam team, made this post “How To Report Paid Links“. Many webmasters beg to differ on Google’s link policy.
So, what is a webmaster to do?
There’s no doubt that if you want to stay within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, then it is clear that you should not buy or sell links, unless they are clearly marked as advertising. Google states:
“Buying links in order to improve a site’s ranking is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.”
However, Google does make a few distinctions on what constitutes a paid link. For example, Google advocates submitting your site to directories, such as Yahoo!, which requires an annual fee. It would appear that Google does not regard this as a paid link, rather – a paid review.
Says Matt: “If there is a fee, what’s the purpose of the fee? For a high-quality directory, the fee is primarily for the time/effort for someone to do a genuine evaluation of a url or site”
Having said that, there is a danger in letting Google define your practices. Google are, after all, a business, and their business involves selling links, albeit a slightly different flavor.
In this respect, Google competes with other links sellers for advertisers budgets. It could also be argued that any money being spent improving algorithmic placement for a site is not being spent on Google’s PPC offerings, so Google’s advice and policy could be seen as self serving. What is good for Google may not be good for you.
Webmasters who do go against the guidelines need to evaluate the level of risk they are happy with.
If Google isn’t important to you, then you have no risk. If Google is important to you, and most webmasters would feel this way, then one must obviously tread carefully. On-topic and in context links are least likely to raise flags. The further off-topic you stray, the easier it will be for Google to detect and discount the links.
For those who are overly worried about this issue, I’ve yet to see an example of an outright ban attributed to link buying or selling, so it would appear Google is simply discounting the value of certain links, rather than removing sites althogether.
So, do you need to worry? I’m guessing you already know the answer. If you can’t sleep at night worrying about links, then the Guidelines are your friend. If you can’t sleep at night worrying about your competitors beating you in the rankings, then don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight.
Rand Fishkin made a good point the other day (I can’t locate the link at the moment – if you know it, please chime it in the comments) – say if only 10% of webmasters are even aware that link buying is an issue, and if you’re in that 10% and don’t emulate the tactics of the other 90%, you’re essentially handing your competitors the high positions.
Food for thought.
As an aside, I had a comment on a post I made yesterday:
“Alive Directory Blog – WTF ? Please remove that or Chris paid you for this“
This highlights one of the problems with paid links. What is a paid link? How could anyone tell if a link is paid or not? The truth is that no, Chris did not pay me for the link. The link is one of the best kinds – editorial
Scouts honour, m’lord
Category: Link Building Tips