Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google
More and more, I’ve been seeing people wondering if they’ve lost traffic on
Google because they were detected to be selling paid links. However, Google’s generally
never penalized sites for link selling. If spotted, in most cases all Google would do is
prevent links from a site or pages in a site from passing
PageRank. Now that’s
changing. If you sell links, Google might indeed penalize your site plus drop
the PageRank score that shows for it.
The Stanford Daily is a good example
of this. In my Time For
Google To Give Up The Fight Against Paid Links? post from earlier this year,
I looked at how the student newspaper of Stanford University was continuing to
sell links despite widespread attention to its actions and without any penalty
being imposed by Google:
The Stanford Daily is NOT banned from Google. The site’s homepage still has a
PR9 score. Nothing indicates that the Stanford Daily’s links aren’t passing
ranking juice, not in the ways that Google could control, if it wanted. Maybe
they aren’t, but how would most people know? How would other publishers thinking
of doing the same know? Certainly not from reading the paper’s
(PDF), where there’s nothing said about text links relating to search engines.
The only thing said is the price: $350 per month.
Last week, I noticed the Stanford Daily had dropped from when I wrote the
above in April to PR7 today. That’s a huge
drop that has no apparent reason to happen.
Some others were also reporting
PageRank drops. So I pinged Google, and they
confirmed that PageRank scores are being lowered for some sites that sell links.
In addition, Google said that some sites that are selling links may indeed
end up being dropped from its search engine or have penalties attached to
prevent them from ranking well.
The debate over paid links has continued since Paid Links War II was kicked
off in April (that Time
For Google To Give Up The Fight Against Paid Links? explains how it got
started the previous war). Most of the arguments I’ve seen continue to feel like
they’ve been made and made again. I remain of these views:
- It’s Google’s search engine. They have every right to say that if you sell
links, they might penalize you.
- Google is not telling people what to do with their sites, which is a
popular argument point. Google is telling people what to do if they are
concerned about doing better in Google. Don’t want to be harmed in Google?
Don’t sell links.
- Don’t care about Google? Sell links all you want.
- Despite Google’s policy and even this latest action, they’ll never catch
all the paid links. It’s part of the reason I’d like to see them back off the
paid links war and instead work out other ways to determine if a link deserves
credit, paid or not.
- I don’t want people who innocently sell links to be harmed.
The latter point came up recently when David Airey
worried that paid links had caused him to drop in rankings and that he
didn’t realize they were a problem. I
commented that it was hard to
believe he didn’t realize this given all the SEO knowledge he demonstrated. But
the concern is well taken. What if someone sells links and gets their PageRank
dropped or traffic reduced under this new policy by Google?
Google says that most people hit with a PageRank decrease will likely notice
this, and then they can request a review. Eventually, it may be something
flagged within the
Google Webmaster Central system.
Why not just change the PageRank meter to something like a red bar, to warn
those potentially buying links from getting them from a nabbed site. That would
be helpful from a consumer point of view, preventing people from wasting their
Google says that by doing this, it would be easy for anyone to detect which
sites have not had their paid links discounted — and since they don’t want
people to buy links, that would work against their efforts. For the same reason,
Google is only decreasing the PageRank for a subset of the sites they actually
I can understand that — plus, while I suppose an innocent person might buy
links for direct traffic, it is again hard to think they’d buy links for search
ranking purposes without understanding that Google might discount these and so
they might be wasting their money.
As for the sites themselves, I still feel like if there’s going to be a
penalty, tell the site that.
Google stressed, by the way, that the current set of PageRank decreases is
not assigned completely automatically; the majority of these decreases happened
after a human review. That should help prevent false matches from happening so
Back to David Airey, Matt Cutts
about paid links as an issue with his drop in rankings, when asking if they were
gone and not coming back. David put in a reinclusion request and today
notes his rankings are returning.
Overall, the move takes Google into a new era of attacking paid links,
allowing it more precise weapons than it has had in the past. For example, both
the Stanford Daily and New Scientist
are among several prominent sites that sell links. Google has not really been
able to penalize such sites as that would hurt core relevancy. People expect
them to show up.
By using PageRank decreases (something Google first experimented with in the
SearchKing case in
2002), Google can hurt the perceived value of buying links from a particular
site without harming core relevancy.
In contrast, if you’re a smaller site not deemed as important to relevancy, a
harsher punishment of a ranking penalty may be dealt out (the Text Link Ads
site is an example of this).
Ironically, despite the move, Google itself will still allow paid links to be
promoted in another way — through its own ads. For example, here’s an AdSense unit
I just saw recently on our own site:
See the "Get A PR6 .Edu backlink!" ad? Expect those firing back at
Google over the selling links issue to poke at the hypocrisy here. Of course,
the search quality team and the ad sales sides are completely different parts of
the Google house. And more important to the site owner, you can argue the points
all you want, but they won’t help reverse a Google ban. If Google traffic is
important to you, don’t sell links.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.