Are Google Choosing To Ignore Paid Links?
There is growing evidence that paid links penalties are not being applied to all sites uniformly. In fact, there are many instances of large, powerful sites, using ‘do-follow’ paid links to manipulate Google PR, improve their rankings and these websites are avoiding any penalties, regardless of the obvious nature of their linking activity.
This raises questions for those sites lower down in SERP’s, wanting to compete against the top ranked sites. Do you keep plugging away, building genuine high quality links to your site pages, hoping to find some link opportunities that will pass enough PR and authority to push you to the top, OR…. do you mimic the top ranked sites and buy links from the same resources that they are using?
Do you aim for the middle ground and advertise on the paid link sites, BUT insist on having a ‘no-follow’ attribute on your links?
In many cases, the sites selling the links are powerful, highly ‘trusted’ sites, selling advertising space openly, which in itself is OK with Google. The anomaly however is that many of those links do not carry the ‘no-follow’ attribute, which is supposed to separate them from non advertorial links.
So back to the main question many webmasters want to know…….. Is it safe to pay for links from the same sites as the ones ranking at the top for your target keywords?
The factors that stand out in our case studies;
– Sites that are currently avoiding any paid link penalties while using paid links to boost their rankings, are buying advertising (text and image links) on highly relevant websites.
– These linking sites are open about the advertising opportunities that they offer, so it’s not a hidden transaction.
– Many of the links are sitewide sidebar links…… often marked down by Google as potential spam links, but clearly not doing any harm to the top ranking sites in Google SERPs.
– They are, almost all on highly relevant, high authority, niche and category relevant sites, maximising their linking influence.
– They offer a straight payment for ‘advertising’ transaction.
It begs the question…… How Are They Avoiding A Link Penalty?
The consistent advice and guidance from Matt Cutts (Head of Google Web Spam Team) has long been that the criteria above would see your website hit with a ranking penalty (see video below)…..
Matt Cutts Video On Paid Links:
Is It OK To Buy Paid Links?
Our job is to get to the bottom of these link opportunity anomalies, identify them and determine why and how the ranking sites are benefiting from practices that Google clearly state will harm your rankings.
We have analysed hundreds of websites in order to draw our conclusions. Some are powerful, international brands, household names, companies and products. Others are high ranking, less well known sites, that are actually the more interesting examples to analyse.
The conclusions we can draw from all this data are however, not as clearcut as you might imagine.
There are a few unanswered questions that it is only possible to speculate about. For instance;
Google has an issue removing the largest, best known brands and companies from it’s listings. As a default, the high street brands and internationally known products are searched for by company and/or brand name far more often that less well known competitors. As a consequence, it is in Google interest to show them as a result for those searches.
In high profile instances where Google briefly removed BMW and on another occasion Interflora from its results, it had the effect of driving searchers to Yahoo or Bing, forcing Google to the conclusion that they should reinstate the offending sites.
That is all well and good if your Brand is so well known and powerful that the search engines suffer if they remove you from their results, but what about the other 99.9% of websites who are trying to rank well, while complying with Googles best practice and have to adhere to a different set of rules to the big Brands?
Google suggest that they follow FTC Online Advertising guidelines, but these discrepancies suggest that they are not applying the same rules across the board.
Paid Links Observations
1. It looks very much like sites are treated differently. Big brands appear on the whole to be allowed a lot more leeway than smaller sites.
2. Some smaller sites do appear to be avoiding any penalties, inspite of what look to be blatant paid linking infringements. Either Google doesn’t care, or the sites in question haven’t been flagged for a manual review which would see penalties imposed.
3. The Google algorithm doesn’t appear to have the ability to clearly identify paid links algorithmically and penalise offenders.
4. Google is either only interested in policing larger, high traffic terms which is allowing some sites to slip through their net, or a trigger is required before your site will be manually reviewed.
5. As an SEO, it doesn’t matter too much what the rules are, just so long as they are consistent across the web. When we find so many examples of websites that are not being treated equally, it generates a whole load of new questions….
– Are these sites purposefully flying below Googles radar?
– Will these sites continue to rank where they are?
– Is there any merit in implementing do-follow high authority paid links on your site?
– Will you be penalised?
Our Deeho philosophy is that it’s far better to avoid a penalty than to have a penalty removed. In our heads, that answers the last question…… by definition, a paid, do-follow link is against Googles terms and conditions, so it should incur a penalty at some point in time.
Maybe not today or tomorrow, but the time will surely come, when you will wake up one morning and wonder where your site has disappeared to?
Matt Cutts On Paid Directory Links:
Should YOU Buy Paid Authority Links?
Here is your situation;
You’ve worked hard to find and build some great authority links to your site pages and your rankings have been improving, but you are now in a quandary.
After analysing the top ten sites ranking for your most important keywords, you discover that 30 – 40% of their high authority back-links are do follow paid links.
You’re tempted to bluster ahead, doing what they have done and hoping for the best….. but is that the ideal strategy. What if Google penalise you? Is it worth the loss of traffic and business, let alone the cost of the advertising & links themselves?
If you are going to get past your competitors and grab all of that delicious traffic only the top spots receive, you are going to need some high authority, trusted Google friendly links.
If you are in a tight niche, then very often high authority link opportunities are not abundant, making the decision even harder. If the only way to get a link on the most powerful and influential sites in your niche category is to buy advertising on them then you have limited options;
1. Buy do follow links and keep your fingers crossed that Google continue not minding
2. Buy the advertising links, but insist they contain the no-follow attribute
3. Ignore the paid authority links and hunt out true organic free link opportunities
The first option is a risky strategy and in the current Google climate it’s a difficult decision to make. Paying someone to potentially destroy your website trust, authority and rankings is a tough one!
The second option is safer, BUT…. how can you be sure that you will gain the same benefit as the top ranking competitor if your links are no-follow and his are do-follow? In short, you can’t. Will you gain half the benefit? Three quarters? A tenth? Or the full benefit? ……. more about the potential of no-follow back-links
As previously stated, the third option is all well and good in broad niches, but if you are targeting quality category specific links in a certain niche, the highest authority links available to you might very well be the ones that are asking for payment.
Another interesting point is that Google have waged a war against sites selling links (without giving the the no-follow attribute) so why is it that in our tests and analysis, so many ‘authority’ sites can sell links with what seems to be total impunity or sanction?
We find it very irritating ( just as we imagine you probably do) that Google is not appearing to practice what it preaches, or to provide a level playing field for all web masters.
The minute you decide to ski off piste, you run the very real danger of getting flattened by a Google avalanch. It is inevitable sooner or later.