Why Google’s A Hypocrite For Penalizing Paid Links
SEOs have gotten their panties in a twist over all the algorithm updates of last year. I personally have been very happy with these updates because they encourage quality. But there is one policy which does really irk me: Google’s stance on paid links. Google has long had a stance against paid links and even penalized big brands like JC Penny, 1800 Flowers, Forbes, and Overstock for selling links. Heck, even Google itself was penalized for paid links to its Chrome page! It wasn’t until last year that we really saw Google crack down on link schemes by implementing their web spam update.
While link manipulation does result in an online hierarchy where those with big budgets get bigger, Google’s stance against paid links has more to do with Google’s monopoly than with user quality. First off, the rules against paid links are stupid because they are so difficult to enforce. Yes, it is easy to spot a section of “featured links” at a website, but how can Google (the bots or humans who work there) know for sure that I paid or bribed my way into a link from that PR7 review site? And then there is the arbitrariness of the rule. Why, for example, would Google penalize a Mommy Blogger for paid links but let directories like Best Of the Web off the hook?
Google does, after all, encourage website owners to put third-party links on their web pages. These links are called Ads – and they are the lifeblood for Google’s multi-billion industry (in just the first half of, Google generated $10.9 billion in ad revenue!). Of course, Google’s stance against paid links isn’t just because the links hurt user experience (as ads do). They claim to be against algorithm manipulation. If this is the case, then Google shouldn’t let website owners pay their way to the top of the SERPs with PPC ads! So, it is obvious that Google hates paid links because they are a threat to Google’s monopoly of the web.
Google: You shouldn’t be the only way to make money online!
Is it really that bad for some websites to use their budgets for buying links? I wouldn’t do it – but I can see some situations where it makes sense. For example, a website might decide to buy a link from, say, Oprah.com. Then all the Oprah-ites would follow her gold seal of approval that the link represents. It is the web equivalent of having Michael Jordan endorse your briefs in a commercial. Is it fair for the little guys who can’t afford Michael Jordan? No – but we all work with the budget we have!
In the Oprah scenario, the link is bought for traffic and backlink juice. So, unless the marketer was completely clueless about target audiences, the link probably has some value for the audience. Even in purely spammy situations though, like someone paying $10 for a crappy forum signature, the paid link shouldn’t be penalized. Google is completely capable of recognizing these sorts of spams links and can devalue them instead. That means the marketer just blew $10 on a crappy link with little or no value.