Google Ranking Factors 2017

05. Paid Links: Are Paid Links a Viable Strategy?

With Barry, Stephen, Kirsty and Will.

Kirsty Hulse – SEO / Digital Type
So when we say paid links, there are very different currencies. So there is giving a blogger a product or giving a blogger a voucher or literally just exchanging cash for money or content, so the moment you engage in any kind of SEO activity you are, in a roundabout kind of way, paying for links either through content or an event.

So, I think, should we be paying for links in terms of direct exchange in money? No, probably not. But there are multiple different kind of nuances and it’s a really grey area, and to define what is a paid link becomes incredibly difficult. Especially if you have Ad-teams and PR-teams that are doing legitimate advertorials. As a hard-and-fast rule, I would recommend no.

Will Critchlow – CEO & Co-Founder Distilled
In general I think it’s very clear, that Google is moving further and further towards wanting to categorize more and more links as the kind of thing you should nofollow. That, if you are doing advertorial, if you are doing those kind of things it’s very clear that’s what Google wants you to do. And the most important thing that I think that everyone needs to understand is the risk factor increases the further down that path you go and that some of those lines are pretty firm.

I think, yes there are grey areas but Google’s made it very clear that there are certain things that are definitely outside that scope. They even penalized other bits of Google for doing it. So, direct, negotiated exchange of links for money or things are over that line and what you do with that information is up to you.

Barry Adams – Founder Polemic Digital
I think it depends a lot on how easy it is for Google to identify a link as a paid link. I think there is still a lot of value in throwing money at links as long as you can make damn sure that those links don’t look like paid links, that they look like proper editorial link inclusions. And Google has notoriously been unreliable in spotting those sorts of links, unless you go really overboard and throw a lot of signals at them for them to make it easier to spot the spammers amidst the genuine links.

I think, when you do link-building at scale, it’s easy to get lazy about it and stop paying attention to the little signals you might be giving Google that you’re doing this at scale, on a paid basis. But if you’re careful about it and you choose your websites carefully, you choose your placements carefully, paid linking still works and it works really really well.

Stephen Kenwright – Director of Search Branded3
I think there is two aspects to it. I think the dangers of paid linking are kind of overstated a little bit and everything that I see points to Google really just giving up trying to penalize people for it. However, I also think the upside of paying for links is kind of overstated, too. So generally, as a rule, if a blog or a site owner asks for money from us when we’re trying to place, trying to acquire a link to a client, then we know that they ask other people for money.

Regardless of what our link looks like. I’m more concerned about what everyone else’s link looks like and generally will just immediately blacklist that site, not work with them. Probably try and educate them a little bit about what kind of risks they are putting themselves under, but generally that kind of link isn’t valuable for us.

Will Critchlow
That was something that I was going to say is that, for us, that crosses that risk threshold and, in particular, I think it would be easy to underestimate Google’s capability in an area that, increasingly, they just want to devalue those links. And the massive data capture that was Disavow, where they essentially said “Would you just mind telling us all this shady stuff you’ve done?” and then they throw that into a massive machine learning model.

I think they’re probably getting better and better at identifying a lot of that stuff. And, at the extreme, if you do push it too far, it’s not just algorithmic signals. We have seen them take the kind of RICO-style informants and all kinds of ways of trying to find out if they really want to bust a network.

Kirsty Hulse
But then what happens if – I’m not saying I agree – but what happens if say you create some great content and it naturally gets placed on the site that does sell links. Do you ask them to remove that content even though yours wasn’t paid for because other people buy links from them?

Stephen Kenwright
Generally no, in that proactive sense. So if it appears completely naturally I would generally just kind of leave it where it is. What I am worried about is, if we are reaching out to someone directly, we know a lot of people are also reaching out to them directly. So that’s when I kind of think about the scale of things.

Will Critchlow
The machine learning model will handle that fine, because if your content is getting all kinds of legitimate links from places that the machine learning model has identified as good, alongside a handful that you naturally get from a few places that turn out to have some of the bad characteristics, it won’t flag you. It’s a more subtle model than that, it’s not just kind of saying, “one bad link is a bad”. I think we have moved past that point of poison links.

Stephen Kenwright
Absolutely, and it’s very much the case of how many links do you genuinely just appeal to your site, so few that that kind of threshold is going to be really low.

Juan Gonzalez – SISTRIX
Thank you very much.