Why Doesn’t Google Penalise Paid Links in the UK?

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September 6, 2011 // seo

Ok, so the title of this blog post may be a bit controversial as “in theory” Google should be out there using it’s extremely complex algorithm to crack down on those websites buying links and page rank to achieve better organic rankings in Google.

Here is a snippet from Google on paid links:

Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such excessive link exchanges and purchased links that pass PageRank

Pretty clear to most people that this is something that Google must surely invest heavily into if there is a way to effectively “game” SEO and deliver results to users that may not be the best results. The debate of paid links is by no means something that is new – it’s been going on for many years – most often with Matt Cutts taking his hard line explanation (i.e. don’t buy links), see some of the videos on YouTube:

So who has actually been Penalised by Google?

This is a question that’s come up in recent weeks quite a lot – well here’s the big ones that have been very publicly handed a penalty for buying paid links:

This is the extent of the list I could find on big brands over the span of 4 years – not too many “big” sites in the grand scheme of things, of course there are likely to be many more than this just smaller websites which don’t make the “big news”. In each of these instances the companies have undoubtedly lost thousands and in some cases millions of pounds because of buying links which would be disastrous to any business – in most cases this is a big enough deterrent not to buy links but in the UK at this current point it is NOT a big enough deterrent.

Are people still buying links?

The very short answer is yes – in fact it seems to be more buoyant than ever before, well in the UK anyway. How do I know this? – well working in some of the most competitive verticals working on completely “white hat” strategies and  it’s hard not to come across a competitor who doesn’t buy links. Anyone can use either Majestic or Open Site Explorer to pull off a list of backlinks that point to any website, from which certain filters can be added to identify the culprits. Now I have for a long time been providing Google with detailed reports on what I’ve found and who’s buying links using their suggested method of reporting and in some instances I see positive results i.e. that competitor will drop rankings within a few days but this is less than consistent unfortunately.

Buying links has changed – but has Google’s algorithm adapted enough?

Buying links use to be a simple process of either using a broker (such as text-link-ads.com) or just by going onto a forum like Digital Point and asking what’s available – there are literally hundreds of people buying + selling links on that forum. Times have changed, a few months ago I wrote about a new method used by one UK site that seems to used on a mass scale and gone completely un-noticed to Google and in February I listed a range of other paid linking methods which also seem to still work. With such strong evidence against so many websites you have to ask the question why doesn’t Google penalise more sites that buy links to get better SEO rankings? It could be for a number of reasons:

  • Google’s algorithm simply isn’t picking up these new methods of paid links? – With all Google’s billions and assets at their disposal there should be no reason why they can’t see the paid links I can. Although saying that Google has been investing in other areas for a while and possibly this area has been neglected in recent months
  • Google will not penalise sites unless there is an overwhelming amount of evidence – it’s a possibility that a certain amount of spam reports need to be submitted before Google “investigates” but this would be a very dated way of approaching such a big problem
  • Google does penalise against paid links but the negative value is significantly less than we thought it would be and are represented in simply dropping 1/2 positions in SERPS – Too few websites are actually removed from Google for buying links in my opnion and we know many many sites buy links so perhaps there’s some truth in this
  • Google cannot penalise all sites that buy links as a lot of the big brands and house hold names actually buy links and by doing so would render Google results sub-standard – I would like to think this couldn’t be true and technically this shouldn’t happen but you do have to wonder that if Google did remove all sites who bought links then we’d have very little “big names” left in the results.

These are of course my own opinions and we may never know why Google chooses to ignore some of the brands online who continue to abuse the guidelines. We have seen signs that Google may be about to cause a big upset to a lot of companies by recently updating their spam reporting system:

Anyway, hopefully Google will start rewarding sites that produce good social/linkable content as they say they do and start penalising sites which clearly break the guidelines.

There is a poll over at SEOptimise on what your stance on link buying is 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.

2 Comments

  1. It’s the ongoing problem. As it’s is possible to buy links or create spammy looking links to anyone including competitors penalising sites too heavily for what look likes paid links is potentially damaging to the wrong guy. Identifying the link sellers and punishing these, or disregarding algorithmically, is less prone to abuse and think where Google has been going with this for a while. To really identify 100% genuine link buying needs a human element and judgement call on punishment IMO. Maybe this is where they are going with their new webspam reporting.

  2. Isn’t the point that buying links simply wastes the buyer’s time and money. Google knows where they are and simply devalues them, for the most part.

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