Paid links also referred to as “rented” links have been around since Google’s rise to fame at the beginning of this millennium. Google hates them and yet the very reason they exist is Google’s own fault. And with all the measures Google has put into place to try to devalue them and even penalize sites who sell and/or buy them, the golden question is, “do they still work?”
I could have also placed “people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” in the title of this post. The question is, “Are you a search marketer that reports paid links?” Your answer would be either a definite yes, a definite no, or a sometimes, but for competing sites. Patrick Altoft asked the same question in a post at Blogstorm and admitted that he had reported them in the past, but only when the site buying or selling them was a direct competitor and ranked higher than him.
While I did not expect much in the way of news here in the U.S. due to the Thanksgiving holiday, it appears that Google took the opportunity to update their web master guidelines regarding paid links. The changes essentially reveal that buying or selling links that pass PageRank can penalize a site not only in its Google Toolbar PageRank status, but also in Google search results. What does this mean for those that consider themselves “white hat SEOs?” Better go shopping for a new hat – a nice black one.
It is all over the blogosphere – sites known for selling text link ads or Google PageRank have been slapped with a PageRank reduction for their own sites by the almighty Google itself. Is this a worldwide PR update with a possible algorithm change or is it more along the line of a hand job? Seeing that a couple of sites we launched several months ago are still at a “0″ PageRank, even though they have a good amount of links pointing to them, I’d have to say the latter. The question that remains to be answered is, “should publishers and those buying links be worried?”
If Danny Sullivan’s report over the weekend that Google is in fact reducing the PageRank for sites that are suspected of selling paid links isn’t enough to send the entire paid links industry underground, then I don’t know what is. Add to this the storm of controversy that recently occurred over Rand Fishkin outing sites that sell paid links. Now I don’t sell paid links for the sake of ranking better in the organic search results, however, as one who buys paid links for client sites, I have been a proponent for some time now of the entire industry, those who buy links, those who sell them and everyone in between, working to make it more difficult for Google and other search engines to identify paid link strategies. Currently we are making their job way to easy.
Don’t let the title fool you – I’m not against buying links. In fact I buy them quite often for clients. However I am frustrated time and time again when searching for good links. I find a great site in which there is an opportunity to buy a paid link but am scared off for one reason or another. Here is a rant of sorts as I list several things that bug me regarding those who sell links.
Owning a few directories myself, this is a question that is of interest to me, especially after Matt Cutts recently stirred up some controversy when he invited people everywhere to report paid links as spam. With our directories, some listings are editorial while others are paid. In the beginning, every site added was editorial simply to populate the directory. Today we require payment for every submission simply to compensate for the time that is taken to review, edit and include the listing. Therefore the submitter is not necessarily paying for a link but rather paying for the editor’s time to consider the submission for inclusion.
Matt Cutts started a firestorm this last Saturday by inviting people to use Google’s spam report form to report paid links. Many are interpreting this as a sign that Google is having difficulty detecting which links are paid and which are not. Others see it as Google taking another step to dictate how we should run our web sites and even our businesses. Although I can respect the fact that Google wants to protect its own search algorithm and ultimately their business model, I think they have gone a bit to far with this one.