I’ve been meaning to write about this but, you know, hey, whaddya gonna do? Things get in the way. But the topic came up again when reviewing a potential client’s web site that looked like it was at risk of being penalized by Google because of paid links. So, though the topic may be a bit dated, it’s still relevant.
In April, Matt Cutts, Google’s search engine marketing liaison, explained the company’s attitude toward paid links and clarified in May. In short, the search engine does not like them because some search engine marketers use them to try and improve the ranking of their site in Google’s search results. As such, Google considers them Web spam.
You need not worry if you’ve been buying links from reputable, legitimate sites and not link brokers. Google won’t penalize you for that but, if the site linking to you is viewed very favorably by Google, you will incur no benefit from that site linking to you. That’s often the reason people buy links, to get Google to think of your site favorably because of a link from a site the search engine already views as very favorably.
Google’s Paid Link Policy
Google’s paid link policy is an eminently reasonable practice to keep Web spam from its search results. Google wants its search results to be as relevant and precise as possible because that keeps people using the service and the search engine’s user base is what drives ad sales.
But the policy calls into question how Google will treat paid links that are not necessarily intended to game their search results or links that are intended to boost the linked-to site’s search ranking yet are topically relevant.
Let me explain.
Buying Topical Links
Let’s say I have a baseball blog that I’ve been posting to for a while but haven’t really marketed in anyway. The traffic to it is low and I’ve finally decided I want to grow my readership. But I want to do it relatively quickly because the post-season is approaching and readership for baseball blogs in general is going to rise and my team, the Minnesota Twins, will likely make the playoffs. (Hey, they did it last year!) This will be my prime opportunity of the year to tap into a large audience.
So, I plan on buying some links from Twins blogs and I’ll buy links from a few blogs that cover Major League Baseball in general but are not devote to a specific team. In both cases, the topics of the sites I’m going to buy links from and my own blog are the same: The Minnesota Twins and baseball.
Boosting Search Engine Ranking Through Link Popularity
My purpose for buying these links is to grow my own audience, so I obviously want those sites’ visitors to visit and read my blog and become part of my readership. But I’d also like to try and get some search engine traffic, so I’m going to use relevant keywords in my link text. My link text will read "Visit my Minnesota Twins blog" to try and rank well in the search engines for the phrase "Minnesota Twins Blog."
Why should should Google disapprove of my links, much less penalize me for them?
As I said, Google needs quality search results to make money from advertising. But my link buying campaign is doing nothing to affect the quality of the search engine’s results.
Let’s say that I post daily, sometimes more, that I’m a brilliant baseball mind and a superb writer, so the content of my blog is of the highest quality. If my site ranks highly because of my link campaign, I’m improving the quality of Google’s results for the phrase "Minnesota Twins blog" because my blog is as good as if not better than the rest that are listed. And a link to my blog precisely matches what the searcher wants.
Though they don’t say specifically, it would make no sense for Google to penalize this type of Internet marketing because it only helps Google improve their results. It’s a win-win for both my blog and Google’s quality. So I have to think Google will not frown on such paid links.
That’s the approach I take to search engine marketing: Help Google improve their search engine results by including my clients’ high-quality, relevant content in their results. Such an approach is in everyone’s long-term interests: Mine, my clients’ and Google’s.