Most of the discussions about paid links focus on the issue from a webmaster or SEO’s point of view.

In this post I want to have a think about the issue from Google's point of view.

The reason Google doesn’t like paid links is obvious and understandable from its point of view.

Google quite simply doesn’t want websites to be able to buy their way to the top of the search engine rankings.

It isn’t a question about relevance because nobody buys their way to the top of the search results for a phrase that isn’t related to their site.

Once Google has made a stand and said that it doesn't like paid links, the next issue is to take action against the people who are buying and selling those links.

In the past year we have seen Google handing out penalties to link brokers, link buyers and link sellers but so far we haven’t seen Google exhibiting an even hand against any of these groups.

Why have some sites been given minus 50 penalties while others are left alone?

The main issue Google has here is that the abuse is so widespread that it is totally powerless to fix it.

Imagine if Google was to hand out penalties to all the link buyers in the UK finance industry – the result would be the top 20 sites for each niche all being removed from the index.

This mass removal of sites would mean that searchers wouldn’t be able to find the sites they see on TV every day and the high street banks they walk past on the way to work.

In short, it wouldn’t make the search results more relevant - it would just make them different.

Google has to give out the message that buying and selling links is a bad thing -but in reality it is powerless to give penalties to people who are rumoured to sell links and the major finance houses who think that SEO involves buying as many links as possible.

From our point of view, we don’t often buy links for clients for the simple reason that it’s not cost effective in the long term.

Link buyers face a continual battle to find new links that haven’t been devalued and take the risk that the links they buy today won’t work tomorrow.

We know that every single natural link is going to work today, tomorrow and next year.

Why pay £1000 for a permanent link when Google can devalue it at the drop of a hat?


Published 29 April, 2008 by Patrick Altoft

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Comments (6)

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Warren Cowan

A quandary it is, but not cost effective it isn’t, and I think that’s certainly what's led to its pervasiveness.

Google has made a rod for its own back with link analysis, and it isn't helped by the fact that its algorithm doesn't do what its claimed it should be able to do. For all the computerized superiority, it is still largely a link text oriented algorithm, with a series of amplifiers and dampeners to try and help it do its job.

Which it has to do in a world where access to publishing tools and the explosion of un-monetized content, has devalued web real estate, and has made links cheap and easy to pick up, to achieve something that is in many cases, disproportionately more lucrative, even in the face of risks like penalties to strip you of your positions.

I’m not inciting the activity here, but there’s a line in Monty python’s life of brian , where they’re all singing always look on the bright side of life, that sums up the attitude quite roundly.

“I mean - what have you got to lose? You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!”

I think until Google becomes impervious to commercially motivated linking (because commerce isn’t going anywhere), or about faces from looking at links, neither of which look viable in the short or medium term, I think Google will be limited to saber rattling, and coming out every so often for a random witch burning, to remind people that next time it could be you. Kind of like the reverse of winning the lottery.

We’re actually holding a webinar on link building on May 21st (Link Building. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), where we’re going to be discussing link building strategies in depth.

So if you’re trying to navigate this area, and want to pick up some tips, advice and some of the more honest, straight talking and discrete knowledge on the topic, please feel free to register.

Warren Cowan, CEO

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over 10 years ago

Richard Hartigan

Richard Hartigan, Industry Manager at Google

It is rare to find a link that is not paid? Perhaps the payment for the link does not happen explicitly from an online point of view but if I phone company X and offer to pay them cash for an untracked link from their site to ours, how can a search engine recognise this?

In my opinion effective link-building cannot occur for free. The costs may not be tangible but they will be imbedded within general business costs. If I link to company X as I believe that they have a good website then they have paid for that link through resource and development costs.

Google themselves have recently been accused of hypocracy by promoting the website within their onebox results when domaintools openly sold links via the sponsor us section of their site. Although this has since been resolved, it highlights the attention that Google are really paying to this.

I have always promoted organic growth but am now resigned to the fact that even if link purchasing works in the short term, it could be worth it. Sites that i know have adopted this strategy have achieved a fantastic returns. To use the Monty Python line again, if you come from nothing, invest £10K in link building and go back to nothing, you must evaluate the return on investment from the period where you believed the link building was effective, otherwise you've just lost £10K.

over 10 years ago


online shopping

pls somebody can let me understand the difference between buying links to get 1st page ranking and buying adwords?

in both cases u want to get 1st spot in serps, but the second case u pay google for it, this is what google really likes...

u can tell me that buying links from high PR sites is an artificially way to get top rankings, but is't not artificially to get a 1st page spot buying some word to google?

well, it's on users' mind...

only my 2 cents...

over 10 years ago


Barry Welford

Poor old Google really has got itself on the horns of a dilemma here. After all Google is really a publisher. It publishes its search results. It adds paid advertisements and the more you pay the more visible your Adwords will be.

It is trying to maintain that the non-Adwords content is commercial free. However it realizes that big advertisers may well spend money to get higher in the organic results ( the publication side of the business). It needs to be visible in trying to preserve the integrity of that noncommercial content.

If the New York Times was wrestling with this key question, then everyone would be jumping into the debate. Somehow most people seem to like Google, so there is little public debate on Google's stance. Perhaps it's too complex for most people to understand. Given Google's increasing dominance of search, I wonder whether this debate will stay so hidden.

over 10 years ago


Robert Dogg

It's interesting someone from Greenlight should comment on this article considering they are buying links for their clients. They know it's proper spamming as well, because they insist there is not mention of Greenlight on the pages they supply - not even hidden in the page comments. I wonder how long it will be before they are found out and their big name clients are in the s**t.

over 8 years ago



Hi Patrick Altoft,

Great Explanation,

Moreover, i agree with you,

why we waste thousands of dollars which is useless and risky as well ,

anyway . great effort .

over 7 years ago

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