Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog

Paid Links and Losing Trust

There’s a highly interesting thread going on at SEOmoz about what Google should officially say about the issue of buying text links.

Rand starts the thread out with comments about the nofollow tag and ends with what he feels Google should use as a written statement about buying text links. Rand thinks Google should say:

Honestly, if a relevant, high-quality link requires financial compensation to acquire, we have no problem with that. We may have an algorithmic preference for links that point to content without a monetary incentive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find good links that need to be bought. However, we’re pretty darn good at evaluating who’s selling "PageRank" and who’s trying to manipulate us with their link schemes. When we see that, we’re going to do our best to discount it and oftentimes, that means removing a site’s ability to pass link juice. If you’re selling links, you should think about whether you’re giving those links a good, solid editorial review and adding value for your visitors, because that’s what we’re thinking about, too.

Later Danny comes in and give some good information, including:

In short, if you’re buying a link, nofollow is your way to tell Google you mean no harm. If you’re confident that the link is (1) not really a paid link they’d be worried about or (2) a paid link they won’t detect, go nuts. Don’t do nofollow. I can appreciate that there is a ton of gray area in terms of what’s a "paid" link out there, and I’ve written extensively on that topic and how I think Google is trying to put a genie back in the bottle. It was, of course, one of the exact issues I raised with Eric Schmidt earlier this year. But if you are buying links, specifically buying them, and you’re worried about Google, nofollow is in fact a far more elegant solution for the *purchaser* to demand than hoping Google will get the crap shoot of an algorithmic guess correct.

I do agree it would be better if they could just evaluate links, paid or not, and decide if the link seems good. And let’s not be foolish — they are doing some of this. Nofollow isn’t the perfect solution, and I do see much of what Google wants to shape as trying to conrol the link genie. But nofollow remains excellent advice for that nervous webmaster that wants to buy a link and not been seen as doing harm. I’m glad they have that condom to slip on.

Jims Thoughts:
If your site is selling a bunch of spammy links, and you are spotted (through a forumula, or by hand), you’ll surely loose your ability to pass link juice from your site.

If you’re buying links…buy them under the radar. If you are buying a lot of links from sites that are "over the radar", then put a no follow on them, and figure your value is the traffic you get for the price you pay…. your value might not be from any google juice.

Later Matt comes in and gives the ole official Google statement:

I think I’ve been straightforward on Google’s behalf: paid links should have a nofollow attribute. Other choices run the risk of losing trust with Google in various ways.

If you look like a link spammy SEO you might pay the price of poor rankings, lost rankings, or worse yet, the fate of Matt’s axe (reminds me to remove, or slap a no-follow, on a big link I bought for some site last month that got sandwitched between some other shady buyers….(sending email now)).

Rand quickly follows Matts comments with:

I would say that you’ve been consistent and direct, which are both admirable. I’m merely disagreeing with the logic behind your position. My point is simply that, to my mind, it seems illogical to ask webmasters to attach nofollow to links when the benefits of not doing so are high and the liklihood of being caught (if you’re intelligent about it) are relatively low.

I’m just hoping for a shift towards something like the fake quote I made for you above.

Later Robertk then poses the question of the year that I’d love Google to respond to:

If I paid money to Yahoo to review my site for listing in their directory, would that be considered a "paid link"? Money did change hands and without it, my site would not have been added to the directory. However, there is no guarantee the site will be listed.

So.. is it a bought link, one that Google would like me to ask Yahoo to add a "nofollow" to it, or am I okay to leave things as they are?

Gotta love grey areas.

There’s a lot of great information, questions, and debates there – check out Rands post about his Link Buying Practices.

Let me ask YOU – If you found a great page….let’s say it was relevant to your site, and that page had lots of backlinks to it, and you could get a paragraph of text added, with your link imbedded, and you knew that even if an engineer saw it they’d say "Hum….is that an ad?….is it relevant? Is it a quality trusted site that giving the link (non-bastardized, real backlinks)?…is the link going out to a site that can be trusted?….is this spam?….and you think you’d pass the test…but you had to pay someone $….would you nofollow it?


31 Responses

  1. I think Matt and company would do a better job of finding spammy sites by looking at affiliate links and Adsense ads than trying to figure out what’s a paid link and what’s not.

  2. build your websites for users not for search engines … except of course when we don’t like it then you should care deeply that what you are doing makes it much more complicated for us and not listen to a thing we said …

  3. Regarding the Yahoo! directory question, there is a clear difference. As I posted in Rand’s blog on this topic, a Yahoo! directory link involves a human review by a trusted editor.

    I believe that Matt has been clear that the problem that Google has with paid links is the lack of editorial judgement. It’s the editorial judgement that they are wanting to value when they see a link. A purchased link involving no editorial judgement is what they see as a no-no.

    Whereas the Yahoo! directory reserves the right to reject your submission, even though you have paid. In addition, they will put your listing in a directory different than the one you picked, if they feel you recommended the wrong one.

  4. I don’t ever recall Matt/Google saying “paid links that have been reviewed are OK”….please show me where they ever made that clear…or even hinted at that.

  5. Agreed that there has never been a public statement about this. My comment about the directory listings is just my opinion. But I have never seen a site that we have worked on suffer for purchasing a directory listing at Yahoo!, Best of the Web, or

    Yet they are obviously purchased links.

  6. “build your websites for users not for search engines” This statement is probably the worst thing I’ve ever heard. I guess 90% of the online business I ran into are the one I’ve never heard of before.

    Thats the beauty of the Internet, information is available as long as you are connected. But the thing is, when your users HAS to search through SE to find you, you CAN’T just think about your users anymore.

  7. [quote]when your users HAS to search through SE to find you, you CAN’T just think about your users anymore[/quote]

    And that is the reality that we live in….Anyone who serves the search engines food will outrank those who are oblivious, or choose to ignor, how the search engines rank websites.

  8. Did some research

    A guy named Josh says,

    “Question: Generally doesn’t Yahoo’s directory require payment? “Isn’t that pretty much the same as getting a paid link? I might be wrong on that, its been a while since I’ve looked at them, just curious.”

    Matt Says in Reply,
    “Josh, with Yahoo, you’re paying for the manual review of a site by an editor–it’s not automatically approved by any means.”

    Another interesting post by Matt on Link Buying

    he says in a comment,
    “one thing that Google and probably most search engines have developed is the ability to look at site-level linkage. So buying a ton of links from a lot of smaller sites can stand out even more than buying a link from a well-known site.”

    And to answer your question Jim I would not add a no follow to a virgin site. But that is my opinion

  9. If I recall, when the big three brought out the nofollow tag, it was primarily the result of blogspam – it allowed bloggers to stop all that casino/porn/insurance crap from getting links from peoples blogs.

    Now you’ll notice that that’s almost *never* discussed anymore. Instead Matt Cutts et. al are forcing the community to dance around like puppets, blackmailing webmasters to use the nofollow tag or risk their rankings.

    Think about it folks. We’re being herded like cattle. The SE’s have completely twisted the nofollow tag’s useage and intention away from helping to stop spam, to making YOU a human editor of inks for their benefit.

    Matt Cutts (respectfully, not to single him out, but allow me to use his online persona as a whipping post 🙂 ) et al. don’t even talk anymore about the real intentions of blog spam. They’re too bent out over buying links that they can’t hope to detect – and I’m pretty certain they’re having nightmares about and the like. Expect the frenzied propoganda from these folks to increase, not decrease, on this subject. That’s his job and that’s fine – but don’t let that prevent you from doing what’s best for you – including buying links for rankings.

    You can smell the bullpucks a mile away. From the same mouth that comes ‘build it for the user’ now comes ‘add the nofollow’ even though the nofollow on paid links has absolutely NOTHING to do with user experience.

    Nobody’s going to tell me I have to inform the SE’s about every single link I buy, no matter what the reason. Let them figure it out if they’re so bright.

  10. “This statement is probably the worst thing I’ve ever heard. ”

    In one sense, I agree (you can’t afford to ignore search engines), but if the posts on this blog sucked, you’d have a harder time getting new links.

    Here’s the obvious: build for both people and search engines.

    “I don’t ever recall Matt/Google saying “paid links that have been reviewed are OK”

    According to Matt Cutts, you’re not paying Yahoo for the link. Instead, you’re paying for the review. Payment also doesn’t mean an automatic inclusion into their directory.

    I personally don’t buy that., for example, can say “we charge for the review, but the link is free”, and then list every submission. How can Google determine what people are paying for (review vs link) or what percentage of submitted links are being approved by just crawling a site?

    It’s impossible to automate.

  11. Halfdeck – Matt’s comment on my blog was pretty specific to the Yahoo! directory. If I expand upon this comment a bit, I would only guess that Google views that paying some sites to review your links is a practice that they would accept for a very short list of well understood and named directory sites.

    I did not get any sense that Matt intended his comment to extend to web sites in general, nor that there was any intent to automate it.

    I certainly can’t speak for Google, but my guess is that there is a very select list of directory sites that they trust, and paying for a review by them is cool with Google. Any where else is not.

  12. Eric, it’s definitely worth noting Matt’s comments on your blog post at

    To quote Matt’s comments there:

    “I think you put this pretty well, Eric. Search engines want links to be real: editorial votes based on quality and merit. With Yahoo, you’re paying for the reviewing service; Yahoo rejects plenty of submissions.”

    Ah…it’s all clear now…so my emails I send should start with “I’ll pay you to review my link….and after you’re done reviewing, put it right there….” I’m not buying link…now I see…..I’m paying for the reviewing service everywhere I go.

  13. “Halfdeck – Matt’s comment on my blog was pretty specific to the Yahoo! directory.”

    Yeah, I get that Eric, and I agree. I’m just pointing out the fact that Matt’s statement implies to me the determination to penalize or allow paid links depends on a manual process, not an algorithmic one.

  14. Yahoo! sells links, plain and simple.

    Matt and other Googlers who pitch the “no paid links” policy are simply wrong on the whole issue because they are, in fact, threatening people with penalties if they refuse to do Google’s job for them.

    The fact that some sites are given special exemption only makes the whole situation more infuriating for many people.

    Now, I have always maintained that it’s Google’s search engine and they can do whatever they please with it. The SEO/Webmastering community just needs to accept that fact and move on. Because the Webmasters have the right to do whatever they please with their content.

    It’s not up to Google to decide who gets to sell links and who doesn’t. It’s up to the Webmasters.

    It’s not up to Google to decide who has to use nofollow and who doesn’t. It’s up to the Webmasters.

    All Google can do is strip you of your ability to pass value, or delist you from their index. And once you’re delisted, life still goes on. There are other ways to get traffic. Anyone who depends solely upon Google for traffic needs to address their real problem: they have put all their eggs into one basket and need to diversify.

  15. “build your websites for users not for search engines” This statement is probably the worst thing I’ve ever heard”

    I didn’t have enough time last time, but let me clarify this issue.
    Lets say your are selling services/products from your site. So what do you do?

    First, you set up a website (duah!!), about your services/products, you tweak the site and make it appealing for your potential customers. And now hos is the best way of tweaking the site? Well you put up nice bit of Flash, and make the menus and other stuff with JavaScript, (Just imagine how wonderful your site could be). And then what? You sit down and wait!

    What happens is that after some time your realise that your site is not appearing in the SE. But why? You followed the guidelines from SE. Made a great site for your visitors etc… But still, there are many other sites that outranks yours, and their site is not as great as yours.

    You start to look at the top sites for your keywords and discovers that “hey their site is not offering any great offerings to their visitors as Matts talks about” but still they are in top… You take a coffe or two and, and after many sleepless nights you figure out “Screw them.. I will make a site that gets me on top of the SE’s”

    You redesign your site, buy great amount of links, and Voila! you are now on top. Isn’t that what most of us are doing?

    When i talk with my clients, I try to explain how the SEO works. I explain that doing all the SEO work is needed to get to the top, but it is really IMPORTANT to think about SEO as a part of the Marketing as same way as advertising. Thats how I get my clients, not mainley because I can get their site on top, but because I combine it with my knowledge of Marketing and Branding.

    A combination of the things as I mention above, is something I’m missing among other firms offering SEO.

    “In one sense, I agree (you can’t afford to ignore search engines), but if the posts on this blog sucked, you’d have a harder time getting new links.”

    Yes but remember why people visit Jim’s, Aaron’s and Matt Cutts blog and even refer to them with links. It’s not that what they are saying is so genius (Sorry guys, I really like to read what you write about) but because they have managed to build up a reputation online, due to their experience.

  16. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the big problem with the argument is the presumption that all paid links are inherently poor quality.

    I think everyone’s falling for an implied strawman in the Google statement.

    Bottom line is – there are good quality links and poor quality links. You can buy both. But good quality paid links shouldn’t infer that the link or target site has no inherent value or relevance.


  17. “But good quality paid links shouldn’t infer that the link or target site has no inherent value or relevance.”

    Whether a link was paid for or not paid for implies nothing about the quality or the relevance of a target site. But a buyer wants Google to take a paid link as a signal of value just because, for example, a “trusted” directory links to his/her site. The site may or may not be relevant, but Google will never know by just looking at the link if it suspects the link was paid for because the intent of the link is ambiguous.

  18. Everyone’s very concerned about ‘What if . . .’ we use nofollow, buy links, don’t, pay for reviews, or don’t. This is just a small ripple in the evolution of the SE’s. The power of the top ranking in Google is still formidable, but even that is diluting as they serve different results for different users in different areas and they implement customization. The future will require you to appeal to your visitors more. When your visitors add you to their on & offline bookmarks, when they suggest you to a friend, when they link to you from your blog, when they give out your web address on the phone & by e-mail, the value you offer will triumph. We all need to be looking further down the road.

  19. As a matter of fact, folks pay to be reviewed, but not included in the Yahoo directory. Thus, it is not a paid link. It is a human-reviewed link, that’s what Google has always wanted. And it is recommended so in the Google guidelines (last I checked, that is).

  20. Well when certain things a overused one has to come with unique tactics to avoid any kind of complications in future. Nowadays I think it is better too work smarter than working harder.If you are sure that you haven’t used any unethical techniques along with that you also need to take precautions for not getting punished by any search engine for that matter. It doesn’t matter what procedure you follow and how you follow, best thing to do is always play safe.

  21. What urks me about this whole matter is that there has never been any guidance whatsoever from Google. It has always come from matt, a “non-official” source.

    They need to clear the air on this in an official manner

  22. Your paid links information is a great resource as you said. The other great resource that I have seen when it comes to paid links is a web site put together by Jason Ryan Isaksen. Have you seen this one, is it o-k for me to post a link to the web site here, or is that against the rules? I think everyone here would greatly benefit by takeing a look at it.


  23. Would i nofollow the link Jim?? ME?? well…um… yeah of course i’d slap a nice big red nofollow on the link. After all, I’ve learned alot from you over the years! 🙂

  24. Yeah, this debate will go on, seems, forever… Why not really better to look for some more useful SPAM protection than rising all this mess around these paid links?..

  25. Coming to this discussion late, but I was involved on Rand’s post.

    I think paid links will all come down to trust and relevance.

    If you contact a medical association, and recruit 1000 doctors to link to your new cool gizmo medical site (legit of course), it might be hard for Google to discount the links.
    The sudden burst of links actually resembles the linkage after a trade show (great place to recruit linkage partners) – hell why don’t trade shows have link exchange pavilions?

    The same doctors writing about garden fertilizer wouldn’t be appropriate.

    There is so much linking by corporates between their various web fronts and sister sites, hell even Google does that extensively. There is a commercial relationship betwen those links.

    Devaluing a link because of a financial relationship is.. “evil”

    I discussed this more back in December
    Paid Links- Hindsight gives perspective

  26. Quote – I think Matt and company would do a better job of finding spammy sites by looking at affiliate links and Adsense ads than trying to figure out what’s a paid link and what’s not. – Peter Davis

    I think they should use the Google results to find spammy sites. Their algo sure does seem to pick them out and rank them highly!

  27. There has got to be a better way of finding paid links.

    For the most part, Google should just look into the people who are paying outrageous AdSense… In my opinion, those are the culprits.

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