Paid links work. In any competitive industry, smart link-buying is necessary if a site wants to rank in the SERPs. From Google’s perspective, it’s the single biggest threat to the relevance of their algorithm. So what should they do about it?
What They’ve Tried
It’s programatically easy to detect a large number of bought links. Anyone still labeling them with words like “Paid”, “Sponsored”, “Advertisers”, “Ads” and the like are leaving themselves open to punishment. Anyone purchasing thousands of links at a time in the sidebars and footers of non-relevant sites can expect retribution. In short, it’s not too difficult for Google to detect 80% of paid links.
There are many well-documented Google penalties: the 950 penalty, the -30 penalty, the zero PageRank penalty, the deindexing penalty… These are meted out for anything from extensive reciprocal linking to duplicate content to link-buying to hidden text and beyond. But it’s clear from Google’s rhetoric and search results that this hasn’t successfully curbed link arbitrage for search engine placement.
How Should Google Solve the Problem?
The webmaster is the natural ally of Google. They provide all the content that forms the basis of Google’s search engine, and Google in turn sends free or paid traffic to their sites, allowing them to make money or simply have an audience. By punishing webmasters who sell links, Google is making enemies. PageRank culling and depressed rankings for link-sellers materially damages their sites as marketable products and destroys the relationship between Google and webmasters.
Instead, Google should actively cultivate this relationship, leaving PageRank and rankings intact, and instead using algorithmic and human review to make the paid links worthless. Don’t allow them to pass PR. Ingore them as backlinks. Don’t tell anyone.
Better yet, Google should add a field in its Webmaster Tools where a webmaster can submit a list of paid links on the site, without attaching the rel=”nofollow”. This takes knowledge away from link-buyers. It reduces the amount of work Google has to do to detect paid links. It allows webmasters to earn money from their sites without fear. It puts Google and webmasters on the same team against link-buyers.
Why Is This the Best Solution
Keeping link-buyers in the dark about the value of their paid links can only be good for Google and for link-selling webmasters. The cash will continue to flow from link-buying companies to independent webmasters because link-buyers are interested in quantity. Think about it. If you buy 1000 links and Google can only detect 80% of those, that’s 200 links that will be helping you. Link-buyers can’t be sure that link-sellers aren’t nullifying those links by reporting them, even if it’s written into the contract. Since there’s no way to tell, webmasters can essentially have their cake, eat it and have money left over to buy more cake.
At the minimum, it changes the dynamics of buyer, seller and policeman to buyer from this:
Upsides to This Plan
- The independent webmaster makes money
- Link-buyers spend money with little or no ROI, which is even more difficult for them to measure
- Google protects the integrity of its search engine
- Google doesn’t alienate webmasters
Downsides to This Plan
- Some companies decide link-buying is no longer worth the investment of time and money –> some webmasters lose some money
- Would-be link-buyers must think of new ways to game Google
Google is huge, with an incredible amount of resources. But troubleshooting at an individual link level is extremely difficult for an algorithm or a human. Google’s best bet is to change the discussion and ally with the individual webmaster by allowing them to play both sides: making money from link-buyers and staying in Google’s good graces.