Reporting Paid Links To Google

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As one of the most important focuses of search engine optimization and a determining factor in ranking position and traffic levels, the temptation to take short cuts when link building is immense. There are lots of way to try and beat the system but few actually work. One of the most persistent shortcuts on the path to inbound link acquisition is purchasing paid links.

The option to replace the sometimes tedious and always time-consuming practice of seeking out good quality, relevant and high profile links with a blank check can be overwhelming for some and many will break out their wallets and sign up for an easier ride.

But while buying and selling links is part of the internet commercial cycle, some paid links are more frowned upon than others. Buying a link off a site as part of an advertisement package because your demographics matchup is one thing, while buying links off sites with higher PageRank regardless of their audience and topic is quite another.

As with spam and other black hat SEO methods, Google takes a dim view of websites using paid link acquisition as a shortcut to a better PageRank and better search positions. While you hopefully know enough to steer clear of such a grey area of internet marketing and see the benefit in taking the longer road for more long term pay offs, it may well be that one or two sites competing for the same keyword placements in the organic listings have succumbed to temptation.

Google states that “Google and most other search engines use links to determine reputation. A site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it. Link-based analysis is an extremely useful way of measuring a site’s value, and has greatly improved the quality of web search. Both the quantity and, more importantly, the quality of links count towards this rating.”

With such a weighting on links, it’s easy to see why buying and selling paid links thrives in the underground of search marketing. But if you’re spending time, money and resources doing things the right way, it’s frustrating to say the least when you come across a site buying paid links as a means of shortcutting the system.

As with other black hat SEO techniques, Google has safety nets in place to alert them to possible problems. One such way is by providing a paid links report form, which you can fill in if you come across a site buying or selling links that pass PageRank, regardless of whether buyer / seller has synergy in quality of site, source of link or theme of the pages in question.

Before you fill in a paid links report, remember that not all bought and sold links are a bad thing. Some links that are sold have a no follow attribute which means page rank isn’t being passed on. This is denoted by a rel=”nofollow” line in the source code.

If you come across a site not using this attribute and buying and selling links purely for ranking manipulation, Google provides a tool in the Webmaster Tools interface.

To submit a report, log in to Google Webmaster Tools and then visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/paidlinks. The more information you can provide, the easier it is for Google to take action. The form includes a field for the web site you suspect of buying or selling links and a further details form. If the links are concentrated on a specific page, it helps to include the individual domains in the more details form. More often than not, intelligence gathered from these reports helps the search engine to tweak their algorithms and recognize patterns so don’t expect the immediate disappearance of the site buying or selling paid links and falsely trying to establish reputation and quality.

And what if you’re on the other side of the fence?

If you’ve been caught by Google buying or selling links for PageRank purposes, you’ll likely have had your site removed from the listings. This may have been an honest mistake – you may be an advertiser who simply neglected to use the rel=”nofollow” attribute but if you were trying to manipulate the SERPS and want to get back into the engine’s good books, the only course of action is to hold your hand up, recognize you have been caught and resolve to put the situation right.

You can either remove the paid links, ask the website you bought the links from to remove them or add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to links on your site that were purchased by advertisers. Only when you are sure that these measures have been followed for each inappropriate link, submit a reconsideration request to Google. Good luck!

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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5 Comments

  1. This may have been an honest mistake.... exactly. For this reason, even with no follow tags, I no longer take guest posts.

  2. Good luck

    Reported several, yet to see any action taken on a majority of them. Anyone have better luck.

  3. I agree, when you purchase an advertisement on a niche website that links back to your site with a do follow that is one thing but just purchasing links for the sake of link building across sites that do not pertain to your business is a foolish move.

  4. Link

    I've privately reported some egregious paid links on a website, and later I had the opportunity to speak with the somewhat clueless "webmaster"...here's my understanding of what happened: 1) The website accepted money in exchange for links on their valuable domain (without rel=nofollow), and posted the details of this on their website, including exact prices for various placements. 2) I reported this to Google through the online form. 3) Eventually, Google sent emails to the website (I'd assume to the standard abuse@, webmaster@, admin@, etc) telling them they needed to fix their paid links 4) The webmaster consulted with the company they have paid to handle their website. This company told the webmaster that "it was probably a problem with the meta descriptions or meta keywords on their pages". (This is completely ridiculous to me. Unbelievable.) 5) Google eventually blacklisted the reported website. It is -gone- from all Google listings. It appears that the companies that bought the ads were not penalized, and still show up easily in the rankings. 6) I ran into the "webmaster" and asked him about the site being blacklisted. He told me what their company told him, and I told him that that was offensively and irresponsibly incorrect. I told him it was relatively easy to correct (with rel=nofollow), and offered to help him do so and to help him report to Google that they should reindex. 7) Months later, the website still has the paid links. I was conflicted when initially reporting the first site, but now I'm not. Google gave them ample notice and opportunity to correct the problem before there was a penalty. In most cases, the web admins would take that opportunity and fix the problem, there would be no penalty, and the quality of search results would improve for everyone. (In this bizarre case, it seems like they don't care about being in Google, because after months and months and months, they have made no changes or efforts towards fixing the problem.)

  5. So buying/selling link based advert is considered a black hat technique? Clarification on this would be interesting.