The
Bribery Act 2010 comes into force this Spring and this could land paid linking
strategies in even more hot water than they are already. 

With the J C Penney problems and the Google Farmer update that attempts to discredit links from link farms, it is time now more than ever to get away from paid linking.

The bribery law states that an offence is committed by a commercial organisation when:

  • A person “associated” with the commercial organisation (i.e. performs services for it) bribes another person;
  • The bribe is intended to obtain or retain business for the commercial organisation or retain an advantage in the conduct of the organisation’s business.

Importantly, it is a defence for the commercial organisation to show that it had adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery being committed by those associated with it from undertaking such conduct. Taylor Wessing has a really good microsite on the topic.

It is a complex area, but my summary of the law is that it is an offence for an organisation to knowingly allow payments to be made to gain competitive advantage

The distinction between what is a normal payment for a service (such as paying ITV for an advertising slot) and what is a bribe lies in the definition of the normal services of the supplier.

Therefore if I pay for the advertising slot, this is a normal service for ITV. However, if I pay an individual, or pay ITV in order to win a bid for this slot (or if they pay me), then this is not the normal service of the supplier and therefore would be classed as bribery.

In relation to link building, consider the following approaches:

  1. “Dear website owner, please place a link on your site to my site, for which I am prepared to pay you £1000”.
  2. “Dear website owner, please place a link on your site to my site, for which I am prepared to pay you the reasonable expenses (this will take you some time and I am prepared to pay for that time) of £50”.
  3. “Dear webmaster of large corporate website, please place a link on your company’s site to my site, for which I am prepared to pay you personally £50”.

Which of these approaches amount to bribery?

Approach number one would seem to be an excessive price for a simple link. The level of payment is probably representative of the popularity or power of the site (mostly in the eyes of Google). 

However, if this link is considered as advertising and termed that way, I am not sure how the Bribery Law could be applied. This does not mean it is a good linking strategy!

In case number two, the payment of reasonable expenses would seem appropriate in the eyes of the law. The link will benefit me but not the site owner so it is surely reasonable to offer expenses for the work involved.

The third case would seem to be obvious bribery. The approach is to an individual who is expected to abuse his/her position in order to perform the service.

Conclusion:

The Bribery Act 2010 was not created to combat paid linking and while it can be seen to be applicable, paid linking it is probably under the radar of anyone looking to stamp out bribery in the UK and elsewhere.

Regardless of that, you should not use paid linking as a core strategy in your SEO. Google is onto it and you don’t need to do it. A good mix of other techniques such as quality content, blogging, link baiting, social and PR is much more effective. 

It requires strategy, planning and work, but:

  1. You will build links that are natural and will not be devalued by Google.
  2. The links will be long-lasting. If you are paying an SEO company that is buying or renting links, prepare to drop like a stone the day your contract ends.