How Does Google Define a ‘Paid’ Link?

no-paid-links-signYou don’t have to be a professional search marketing expert to know that Google frowns upon paid links. When a webmaster buys a link, it’s considered to a violation of Google’s terms and conditions; thus, the offending website may receive a rankings penalty as a result. But the line between natural and paid links isn’t always cut and dry. That’s why today we’re going to dissect Google’s definition of paid links.

Why You Should Avoid Paid Links

Simply put, you should avoid buying links because it’s against Google’s terms of service. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for websites to achieve top rankings in the search engines through paid links. Webmasters would buy massive amounts of links through link “packages,” at which point their rankings would steadily increase. All of the major search engines have since caught on to this tactic, however, and now it will likely have the opposite effect by lowering your site’s rankings.

Matt Cutts Talks Paid Links

Former webspam team leader for Google, Matt Cutts, recently published a Q&A video on YouTube, discussing the topic of paid links. In the roughly 8-minute long video, Cutts answers the question: what is a paid link? You can check out the video in its entirety by clicking the play button below.

Video: What is a “paid link”?

Granted, the most obvious type of paid links occurs when a webmaster exchanges real money for a link placed on another website. It’s not uncommon for websites to blatantly advertise links for sale, hoping to generate revenue off unsuspecting webmasters who are unfamiliar with Google’s tough stance on paid links. Unfortunately, this type of paid link is the easiest for Google detect, meaning webmasters who engage in this practice have the highest chance of getting caught and being penalized.

But there are other forms of paid links that shouldn’t go unnoticed, including the exchange of gifts. If a webmaster gives another webmasters a free product or service in exchange for a link, it too would be viewed as a paid link. Keep in mind that paid links don’t necessarily have to involve money. Whether it’s a gift card, concert tickets, t-shirt, or even a free membership, these are all gifts that can be construed as paid links.

Matt Cutts summed it up pretty nicely by adding the following:

Roughly, here are some of the important questions we ask: – What is the value of the gift, product, or service? – How close is the gift, product, or service to actual money? – Is it an outright gift or a loan? – Who is the intended audience? – Is the intent of the gift to get links? – Would the gift be a surprise to third party?”

Answering these questions should allow you to differentiate between a paid and organic link more easily.

Have you been penalized for buying links? Let us know in the comments section below!

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How Does Google Define a 'Paid' Link?
Google has some pretty strict rules around what can be considered a paid link. Make sure you stay on its good side by following these suggestions and checking out this video.

3 Responses so far.

  1. Brandon V. says:

    I have an acquaintance whose ranking really suffered long-term because of paid links. He thought because it was working at the time, there was no need to stop. Unfortunately, he paid a price for quite a while.

  2. J. Bradford says:

    Brandon – I know someone who had a similar experience. It was enough to startle me into avoiding paid links.

  3. Kai says:

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate your site’s resources for paid link alternatives.

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