Does Google penalise paid links?

SEOs have wondered for years whether buying backlinks always results in a Google penalty.

What’s wrong with buying backlinks?

Why would Google want to penalise a site with loads of paid-for inbound links? Because they prefer websites to climb their way to the top of the search results through merit, via quality ‘natural’ SEO, rather than cheating by buying their way up the ladder.

Because Google’s search algorithms are kept secret, the paid link jury’s still out.  But here’s a couple of things to think about.

  1. One, if Google always penalises bought links, wouldn’t we see loads of unscrupulous black hat SEOs buying links to competitors’ websites and sabotaging them? We don’t, so…?
  2. Two, there are paid links and paid links. Most directories ask you to pay for featured links. Which is fair enough because there’s a level of manual admin involved. And you’re paying for higher visibility within the directory. Paid links like this are relatively ‘natural’ compared to buying ten thousand backlinks in one go.

My theory? I reckon Google exercises common sense. It probably ‘notices’ bulk link buying but ignores or can’t ‘see’ low volumes of paid links.

What happens when you’re caught buying thousands of links?

The jury’s out on this too.

  • some say if you take link buying too far your site will be banned completely. One thing is certain – if you’re banned it takes a formal appeal to Google to get the ban lifted
  • others have experienced a subtle but distinct drop in their overall search positions. Or for the key phrases they’ve hammered with bought links. Which could indicate that Google simply turns off the link juice flowing from dodgy bought links so they have a neutral effect on visibility

Update for 2015 – Negative SEO definitely happens. But Google’s algorithm is usually pretty good at spotting it. Otherwise we’d all be sunk by links other people buy to our websites.