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Buying Links Could Cost You

Buying links to your site on more popular and/or related sites is becoming part of many people’s promotion plan. Late last night Matt Cutts, Software Engineer at Google, posted a very interesting and ominous answer on his blog to a link buyer’s question (the emphasis is mine):

Q: “If one were to offer to sell space on their site (or consider purchasing it on another), would it be a good idea to offer to add a NOFOLLOW tag so to generate the traffic from the advertisement, but not have the appearance of artificial PR manipulation through purchasing of links?”
A: Yes, if you sell links, you should mark them with the nofollow tag. Not doing so can affect your reputation in Google.

I’m not sure what this really means, but I wonder exactly how the GoogleBot is going to tell a paid link from a non-paid link (except that Google wants the paid ad to have a NOFOLLOW tag, which I have actually seen in pagecode).

I have come to the conclusion that PageRank is overrated anyway, and while I understand that Google values organic popularity, it should be spending more time weeding out the Googlebait sites that manage to rank higher than real sites. Instead it is punishing those with successful sites who want to sell advertising that helps people’s PR.

I do chuckle at the fact that Google is becoming a market unto itself — it makes rules and the market finds ways around them, so it changes the rules again.

3 Responses to “Buying Links Could Cost You”

  1. aaron wall Says:

    How Google may detect paid links:
    -Typically paid links are not exceptionally topically relevant.
    - Typically paid links have the keyword topics in the anchor text.
    - Typically sites that are heavily buying links do not have that many natural inbound citations.
    -Often paid links are sitewide or in a large section of a site.
    -Paid links are frequently not near the page content, and may even be in a block of links that are close to one another.
    -Many people selling links sell them to sites that are obvious buyers.
    -Many people buying links buy them from sites that are obvious sellers.
    -Google can sorta cross reference the two and figure out many of the most obvious link buys from that.

    Most sites that sell paid links do not lose their own authority or rankings in Google. What Google usually does is not allow those sites to cast outbound votes for anyone (ie: none of thier outbound links count in the relevancy algorithms).

    Although Google will index links to pages they find from sites that have their PageRank blocked those same links will not pass link authority.

    While that may sound harsh at first, if a site has great readership then some of those readers will probably link at the most useful resources referenced on the more popular site that may have had its ability to pass PageRank blocked for selling links.

  2. Matt DeAngelis Says:

    Very interesting.

    While I think this may catch the blatanly paid-for links, what about links that are off-topic but relevant to the blogger? For example, I am putting a link section on my link pages for non-marketing related sites that I like.

    And I think this actually makes it worse. Many of those characteristics apply to non-paid links as well. As I said on SitePoint, the only person who should decide link relevancy on my site is ME.

  3. aaron wall Says:

    I think most good websites link at least slightly off topic once in a while. That isn’t really going to hurt you.