Link buyers get slapped by Google

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Last summer, I had a bit of a discussion about Text Link Ads, link purchasing, and spamming search engines.

The only difference between this and blog comment spamming is that Text Link Ads is paying the bloggers for polluting their space.

I predicted that Google would eventually take steps to devalue paid links and penalize those who sell them.

Google considers buying plain text links to be a violation of their policies. They aren’t yet docking sites for selling text ads, but if they can’t contain the problem they likely will.

Danny Sullivan noticed that a Stanford site had dropped in PageRank from a 9 to a 7—a substantial drop. He asked Google about it and was told that they have begun penalizing sites that sell links by reducing their PageRank.

I pinged Google, and they confirmed that PageRank scores are being lowered for some sites that sell links.

In addition, Google said that some sites that are selling links may indeed end up being dropped from its search engine or have penalties attached to prevent them from ranking well.

Google may also be lowering page rank for site networks that heavily interlink. When TechCrunch first noticed the PageRank devaluing, Duncan Riley poked around and found that several large blog networks had been affected.

There is some suggestion that the changes may be related to the sale of text link ads, but at this stage this is not backed by evidence, and a range of sites I checked that are selling text link ads were showing no change in page rank.

It’s possible that Duncan’s theory is correct—Google has started slapping down link farms and big blogrolls are getting caught in the process. But it’s important to note that Google has said they’re only slashing PageRank on some link sellers. Danny Sullivan notes that to keep link advertisers guessing, "Google is only decreasing the PageRank for a subset of the sites they actually know about." The rest are presumably being dealt with in other ways, such as delisting from the index entirely, like Text Link Ad’s corporate site.

Bottom line is, if you’re attempting to game search engines, you’ll probably regret it later. As I said in a comment to my original discussion on link buying,

Search engines, especially Google, have shown an eagerness in the past to de-list sites who choose to particpate in link gaming. The coin that you’re making for TLA now won’t seem nearly as attractive once Google knocks you from their listings.


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