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Following Google Guidelines: Buying and Selling Links and PageRank

Keller Hawthorne | June 10, 2010 | 21 Comments
Following Google Guidelines: Buying and Selling Links and PageRank

This week, I had to turn down another advertising opportunity. I get approached often with requests to purchase text links on my blog. I’m always open to these opportunities as long as they follow Google’s Guidelines. Unfortunately, they never do.

Is the Buying or Selling of Links Against Google Guidelines?

Absolutely not! Buy and sell away. Your website is YOUR online real estate and you get to choose what goes on it. It’s paid advertising and it’s perfectly legal (even in Google’s eyes). So, why am I turning these offers down?

Is the Buying or Selling of Links That Pass Along PageRank Against Google Guidelines?

YES! Paid links (be it banner ads or text links) that pass along PageRank ARE AGAINST Google Guidelines and can potentially get you banned from the search engine. Paid links that pass PR are considered a form of SEO or PageRank manipulation.

You may notice you get more requests for text link ads when your PR is high versus when it’s low. That’s because those advertisers aren’t offering to pay you for your ad space, but rather for your PageRank!

How Does a Link Pass Or Not Pass PageRank?

A link passes PR when it’s considered a “Do-Follow” link. The ONLY time a link is NOT considered Do-Follow is when it’s assigned the “No-Follow” attribute like this:

<a href=link” rel="nofollow">Text Link</a>

OR when a Meta tag is placed at the top of a web page applying No-Follow to all links.

The Power of a Text Link

Some people get confused about this “Paid Link Google Guideline” and begin to believe text links are bad. They’re not – they just happen to be the more common type of advertising webmasters offer to pay for when trying to gain PR. So, why are text links more valuable than banner ads?

A text link offers a webmaster the ability to add valuable keywords as the text of the link. These keywords are what tell search engines what the destination site is about.

So, when you link to a site with the keyword term “Home Decor,” Google believes that’s what the site is about. This helps that destination site prove its relevance to that keyword term. And that’s what search rankings are all about, right?

The site that has proven it is the most relevant to the term “Home Decor” gets to hold the number one position on the first page of results for that search term.

A banner ad, on the other hand, only offers an Alt Tag for SEO – no text.

Tip!If you want to follow Google’s Guidelines, always apply the “no-follow” attribute to your paid text links AND paid banner ads.

Who Buys Text and Who Buys Banners?

It is my experience that people who buy text links are often after PageRank while people who buy banners are after traffic. However, even No-Follow (won’t pass PR) text links can generate traffic for advertisers as they have the awesome ability to not appear to be ads.

Tip!It’s not just against the rules to sell links that pass PR. If you’re caught buying them, you will be penalized by Google.

Do-Follow Paid Links Manipulate Search Engines

If you think about it, the activity of buying Do-Follow links really is a shortcut to building a valuable website. Rather than building quality content that naturally earns inbound links, advertisers attempt to purchase the benefits of SEO. It’s FAKE and I’m not surprised Google bans this behavior.

If I were to accept one of these deals and link to a website, it would be purely for profit. Now, that’s exactly what I do with my banner ad spots, so don’t get me wrong – of course I’m trying to earn money. But all of my banner ad spots are No-Follow. I’m not telling Google, “Hey, I happen to think this site is relevant to ‘Blah Blah’. In fact, I think it’s so relevant and high quality, I want to pass along my PageRank to it.” Do you see the difference?

Of course selling ad space is about earning a buck. But it shouldn’t be about manipulating search engines. That’s how CRAP sites gain high rankings. That’s how search engines become useless. That’s how the good sites get hurt and the bad sites get traffic.

Your PageRank Has Value – Take Care of It

Your PR plays a role in your search engine rankings and can even change the way other webmasters view your website. A site with high PR is usually considered more valuable and powerful than one with little or no PR. Your PR can dramatically increase the number of sites that talk about you, link to you, connect with you and request link exchanges from you.

With such “power” comes responsibility. IT MATTERS who you link to. Google cares about the type of websites you connect with. If you decide to link to a bad seed, your site could be harmed.

Just as having high PR can dramatically help a website, having your PR removed can drastically harm a website.

My Own Experience

Due to what appears to have been a glitch in the system, I lost my PR for over a month this year and trust me – it hurt. It never impacted my traffic or rankings (like I said, I believe it was a glitch), but it did alter the way other people viewed my site.

My PR wasn’t just removed – I was gray barred. Now, when you’re gray barred, it either means your site hasn’t been indexed in Google yet (your site is new) OR your site is considered NAUGHTY.

Advertisers stopped knocking on my door and a couple people left nasty comments about it on my posts. Who wants to mingle with a naughty website, right? Fortunately, with the next PR update, my PageRank reappeared, but the impact of this experience has stuck with me.

Tip!To learn more about my experience, check out the following article series: The Mystery of the Missing PageRank

The Website That Cried Wolf

That PR issue brought up a great point that I had never thought of before. Once I was at my wits end, I decided to join the Google Webmaster Forum and ask for help on the issue. Immediately, the power users began dissecting my blog, looking for ANY way I may have been breaking Google’s rules. Fortunately, I knew that I had not knowingly done anything wrong, which helped me to obtain more help rather than finger pointing in the end.

I was able to obtain quality help from webmasters because I was able to prove I was a “good girl.” Now imagine if I had been selling Do-Follow links. Do you think I would have received much help or support if I knowingly broke Google’s rules?

It Still Sucks!

Excuse my language, but yes – following the rules isn’t always fun. I’ve lost out on some pretty good revenue opportunities just to please Google. So, why do I bother? After all it is MY website and I have EVERY RIGHT to put WHATEVER I want on it!

I guess it comes down to what is more valuable to you. Would you rather receive a thousand dollars a year placing Do-Follow links on your website? Or, would you prefer to obtain high Google search engine rankings that lead to lots of traffic that can be converted into a long-term revenue source? The paid link opportunities will fade away, but your PR and rankings (or lack thereof) can last for years. So, what is more important to you?

How Do You Feel About the Paid Link Guideline? Do You Think It’s Worth It to Follow the Rules?

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    Following Google Guidelines: Buying and Selling Links and PageRank…

    This week, I had to turn down another advertising opportunity. I get approached often with requests to purchase text links on my blog. I’m always open to these opportunities as long as they follow Google’s Guidelines. Unfortunately, they never do….

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  • catascouts

    Amazing post Keller! Just had a similar situation with an advertiser and refused the offer.
    Thanks for all the info!

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    Thanks! It's tough refusing them, but it's worth it in the long run.

  • Jaszy

    Wow, I had no idea about such things! Why can't we all just get along. I used to think that having an online presence would be easy going but there are so many RULES it gets a bit overwhelming. Thanks for the great info!

    What can you tell me about Google's supposed dislike of duplicate content?

  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com SmittenbyBritain

    Keller, you are awesome. I had no idea there was anything to consider when selling text links. Just so I get this straight, if your text link does not have the “No follow” tag in it, then it is considered a DO FOLLOW link no matter what? Wow, maybe that's why I went from a 4 to a 3 PR recently?

  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com SmittenbyBritain

    Keller, I would also like to know about duplicate content too. Having just moved from Blogger to WordPress, I'm wondering if I should delete my old Blogger blog.

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    You can learn more about Google's Duplicate Content policy here: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/an…. Basically, Duplicate Content can hurt your site in a couple ways:

    #1: If Google believes you are duplicating your content on your own site with the intent to manipulate the search engine, you could get banned.

    #2: Google tries to include only one version of content in their search engine. So, if a different website has duplicated your content, Google will decide whether your article or theirs gets into the rankings for related keywords. This has the potential to harm your website if you are the original author since you should obviously reap the benefits of the article rankings.

    Google says that if your site is being scraped by another, it shouldn't harm your rankings. However, if you do find someone copying your content (as I recently have), you can file a DMCA request to claim ownership over your content. You can also notify Google of the infringement and they may remove the other site from search rankings.

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    Melissa,
    Be sure to click through the link I offered above on Google's Duplicate Content policy. There, you will find instructions on how to deal with duplicate pages.

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    That's right. Without the No-Follow attribute, a link passes PageRank and is therefore considered Do-Follow.

  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com SmittenbyBritain

    Would this apply even to links on your blog roll? Wouldn't they also be benefitting from your higher page rank?

  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com SmittenbyBritain

    Funny, I just contacted an advertiser and told them I would no longer offer Do FOLLOW links and they withdrew their advertising. Even though I was paid, it doesn't make me feel good to know that they basically sucked the PR rank from my blog. Won't do that again.

  • http://www.searchengineoptimisation.com Phil

    You are right.This can be the main reason for demoting the page rank and when there is no No Follow then it means that it is a Do Follow link.Selling text links is a kind of business also but there are so many guidelines for this.

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    This only applies to PAID links. Links in your Blogroll are often sites you find of interest and wish to recommend to your visitors. Those are exactly the types of links Google likes to see as it helps them know what is relevant and of high quality.

  • Rantgatorant

    An absolutely great post, very comprehensive! I do take exception with a few things though…

    Not all paid links are “bad” per say – some directory sites come to mind. The Yahoo! Directory in particular offers the option for users to purchase a “site review” for $299. While you are really purchasing a link, the main caveat here is the “review” element. Google attributes quite a substantial level of importance to the Yahoo! Directory.

    Something worth considering.

  • Rantgatorant

    I should probably clarify the above. The main difference between a paid link and a review is the possibility that your site will be rejected. IMO, directories can aid search engines in filtering poor quality sites from the web.

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    Thanks for the feedback Rantgatorant.

    As I mention in the first section (second paragraph) of this article, “Is the Buying or Selling of Links Against Google Guidelines? Absolutely not!” In the third paragraph, I explain “Is the Buying or Selling of Links That Pass Along PageRank Against Google Guidelines? YES!”

    Not all paid links are bad and I believe Google cares most about those who attempt to manipulate the search engines by purchasing PageRank through links. But, there policy does state that any paid link that passes PR is against their guidelines.

    Are you sure the Yahoo Directory passes PR? If it does, it would be very interesting to confront Google about this and see what they have to say. Great point Rantgatorant!

  • Link Ninja2

    An alternative is to tell advertisers that you'll sell the link, but only if it says their domain name, or “click here” or something non-paid link looking. For a new site trying to build PR, even anchor keywords like these help out big time, yet they easily pass under the paid link radar, because, you know, “Who would pay for that?” I actually advise all my clients with new sites to buy a few of these “crappy” links because it makes their link profile look way more natural.

    And don't be worried, only do it for a legitimate non-span site that you don't mind endorising, and although you are technically breaking google's guidelines, there's no way they can ASSUME it's paid and penalize you. This is the most common way to link out with non-optimized anchor text, and in my experience Google just doesn't worry about them. My 2cents.

  • http://financiallyeliteblog.com Dwight Anthony

    I think WordPress establishes the 'no follow' attribute to your links by default, but knows some people with high PR that turn on the Do follow attribute to at attract other high quality traffic or advertisers which i guess is ok as long as google doesn't feel that you aren't being paid to pass PR!

  • http://financiallyeliteblog.com Dwight Anthony

    I think WordPress establishes the 'no follow' attribute to your links by default, but knows some people with high PR that turn on the Do follow attribute to at attract other high quality traffic or advertisers which i guess is ok as long as google doesn't feel that you aren't being paid to pass PR!

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    You should be able to override that (I hope) by using the no-follow attribute in individual links.

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