How People are Using Paid Links Safely

September 6, 2012 // paid links, seo

Ok, I just want to start by saying I do not promote the use of paid links at all but there’s a technique which I’m seeing being used more and more that does help increase rankings and has very little if not any risk from Google.

Right, so link building has been happening more a less since the day Meta data spamming optimisation died a gruesome death many years ago. For a long time paid links have worked well and as a result of that a lot of content has been muddying up the waters in Google’s search results and making it very difficult for genuine search marketers to follow their increasing guidelines.

There are methods out there, such as the one I’m going to talk about which do still work – yes it may be an old method but that’s irrelevant, I’ve seen exception results for a long time. It’s the process whereby you build links to an already existing or trustworthy link therefore indirectly passing page rank and link value to the page and those links on it. There are many names for this method, pyramid link building, link wheels, indirect link building but they all work on the same principle. This can be a genuine link building method for white hat if done correctly but paid links are creating a problem for Google and those websites who worry about negative SEO.

So below you can see how traditionally building links to a page works, a website passes a percentage of its value (or PR) to the destination link, as a result your website gets more link value.

So indirect link building (as I like to call it) looks quite different:

So when you build links to an existing link on say the BBC which will pass good value and trigger trust signals left, right and center – you are in a sense boosting whatever you already have. Now the value is going to be a lot less than if you build directly but integrated into a long term SEO strategy this can work wonders for keyword performance.

Although Google has talked about how bad paid links have been for a long time now it’s only really been in 2012 that I’ve seen any real progress from them, with updates such as Penguin and its slightly comical unnatural links warning in July – but results have been improving.

So Google’s got paid links cracked right?

Unfortunately not, as I’m seeing more and more paid links using this method – as you might expect they are not reinforcing already good links on places like the BBC but promoting content through places like PR web which are generally low quality to start with.

A very real problem with this is that people are starting to build paid links to websites that are using ethical means of link building putting them at risk. Some might call this negative SEO but in some cases they are in fact buying links indirectly without any Google risk and getting the SEO benefit.

What I believe Google might be doing about this is something mentioned in their update about the unnatural links warning:

We don’t want to put any trust in links that are artificial or unnatural. We recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links are outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole. If you are able to remove any of the links, please submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

So the fact Google is taking action against the links themselves could mean that they may only penalise specific pages rather than whole websites – but still any way you look at it Google still has a problem here.

Matt Ridout

About the author

My name is Matt Ridout, I've been working in digital marketing for 9 years; worked for agencies and currently Head of SEO at fashion startup called Farfetch. Try to test my own theories.


  1. Link builders have been using this strategy for many years. It’s often sold as a “link wheel” with multiple levels, where a profile or page on a trusted domain is used as the first level (linking to the target site), propped up by second level links from less trusted domains, propped up by the third level, etc.

    When this type of link building is automated, which it usually is, I imagine Google could identify the footprint. Usually the second and third levels have massive numbers of links, and the anchor text isn’t that varied.

    In any case, buying links does still work, especially when the paid links are indistinguishable from natural links…which isn’t difficult at all to achieve.

  2. yep, the days of automated link building are certainly dying – good riddance. However, I agree with HungryPiranha that when done correctly, paid links absolutely still work. Screw Google

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