There is a lot of discussions going on the moment about some new Google rule changes, these concerning the issue of having too many ads on your site. The word is that having too many ads ‘above the fold’ on a page will result in penalties, (see http://searchengineland.com/google-may-penalize-ad-heavy-pages-100601) this in turn resulting in a loss of ranking.
This is just the last of many and as ever it will pay site owners to take heed of this rule change.
Penalties and Paid Links
But what of the other rules, and more especially what about the ones relating to the use of ‘paid links’. The established wisdom is that using these will result in both the site providing the link and the one receiving it being downgraded by Google. Now while I cannot be certain that this is indeed the case, I think that there is more to this ‘rule’ than many think.
Past Google Penalties
But before we look into this area more closely, let us check on what has happened in the past. There was the famous instance of BMW, who back in 2006 were removed from Google for manipulating results (see http://www.google-success.com/googles-penalty-for-german-bmw-site.htm) [Note this came up high in the rankings when I searched for ‘BMW + Google + penalty’ which shows just how good keyword rich URL’s can be].
Google Panda’s Update
More recently we have seen the results of Google’s Panda update (which is in essence all about content and how good / unique / relevant it is). The list of sites that lost ground was long and contained some surprising names. See http://searchengineland.com/google-panda-losers-today-show-winners-youtube-95257 for some more detail.
So we can see that Google does remove sites entirely from its SERPs and in other cases removes them partially, thus reducing their ‘visibility’ and thus traffic.
What Are Google Trying to Achieve?
But what are Google trying to achieve? Basically (besides making pots of money) they want to provide their users with the best possible list of sites for any given search term. In order to do this they assess all sites, looking at the words on the page and the links to the site, at least that is what their computers do.
But besides these computer checks, Google also employ humans to check the sites that appear high in the lists. These pages / sites are checked to see if they are using any underhand methods on the page as well as, more importantly, how ‘useful’ the site is and how well it matches the related search phrase.
In theory then the above systems will ensure that only the ‘right sort of site’ will get / retain their listings. But what if a site that is otherwise ‘good’ is seen to have ‘cheated’ by buying some links? Will Google then take action and remove the site from their first page, as well as taking action against the site that provided the links?
Well not in my experience and don’t think that Google won’t have noticed the bought links either. It takes but a few minutes to find out that a site is selling links and a quick view of the code to work out who is buying them.
What Actions are Google Likely to Take?
So what actions are Google likely to take? Well in some instances I expect that they might do something, but only, at least if logic prevails, when a site selling links sells ones pointing the totally unrelated sites. I say this as if a site that is otherwise is ‘delivering the goods’ is linking to relevant sites then is it not only providing it’s users (and Google’s) with a better quality offering? The fact that the site is making some money is in my view irrelevant.
If on the other hand the site is just a vehicle for adverts (see above) and does not have good content and is selling links to just about anyone, then it will more than likely be downgraded. But it won’t be just the selling of links that causes the downgrade…
Paid Links May Be Disregarded
There is another school of thought that states that all ‘paid for links’ will simply be disregarded when deciding rankings. This is quite possibly true (and is the main reason that SOM does not believe that links should be bought UNLESS they also provide the promise of good traffic).
In the end it all boils down to the issue of ‘Cheating’ and ‘Quality’. If a site is really good and yet still employs cheats, then whilst it does run the risk of being downgraded, the chances of this are remote. If that is the links are from related sites using related terms. Then from what I can see there is little chance of any down grading.
I say this after carrying out some extensive research in a very competitive area, one that would be sure to attract the eyes of Google’s engineers and ranking rules. The top sites (as is the case with most of such sites) were definitely buying links.
Google and Common Sense
Besides my research there is the matter of common sense. In all my years of working on SEO I don’t think I have ever found a ‘top’ site that has not gained their position through some form of ‘cheating’ in the linking area. It is a fact that all these sites use methods to inflate the number and quality of their links, Google know this and in essence have to turn a blind eye for fear of knocking many good sites out of the listings (and thus give their customers a poor service).
This does not mean that they will stand for anything though, take things too far (like having a linking structure that is noticeably manufactured – all the links using the same words etc) or having too high a percentage of paid links (or paid links from irrelevant sites) and you can expect trouble.
In any case, whether you use bought links or not, always remember what Google wants, high quality sites, with unique content and evidence of user involvement (this being so called User Generated Content).