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What Exactly are "Paid Links?" Should I Use Paid Links?

2011 was certainly a game changer for search engine optimization. Gone are the days when content farms could pump out keyword rich content in order to manipulate search engine results. Google's Panda updates changed the landscape on how content is measured and most importantly, valued. By the end of 2011, every website had been affected by these Panda adjustments. These changes leveled the playing field by favoring sites that continuously provide valuable, useful and engaging content versus those sites that have constantly gone outside the system in the hopes of gaming Google's algorithm. One of the immediate impacts of these changes included Google's assessment of legitimate page links, versus those garnered through purchases & link exchanges. Unfortunately, these link exchanges do nothing more than manipulate PageRank by speeding up the process of securing a higher position. So, for those websites looking to upgrade their PageRank, what benefit, if any, can page links play and what should website owners be cognizant of when considering paid links?

How Does Google View Page Links?

When thinking of links, think of the type of websites that link to a blog or website's content. These links determine the value of the content itself, provided those links are coming from a quality, relevant site in the same or similar niche. Google assesses the validity of these links in order to grade the value of the content. Relevant links to relevant websites imply that the content itself is valuable. Irrelevant links imply otherwise. It is these links that negatively affect the website's PageRank. Google values link popularity because they aim to improve search results by distinguishing between valuable content and non-valuable content. The ultimate goal is to use these links to continually improve search results.

What is Google's Position on Paid Links?

Paid links are something else entirely. SEO professionals that engage in link exchanges, and paid link purchases, aim to manipulate search engine results, something that Google understandably frowns upon. What are some of the consequences of relying upon these exchanges? To answer this question, it's important to reflect upon what happened to retailer J.C. Penney at the beginning of 2011. The retailer used a link exchange to catapult itself to the top of search engines for a myriad of keywords such as skinny jeans, home decor, little black dress and furniture, among many others. The retailer reaped the benefits for months and had a fantastic holiday season. However, those keywords were linked to low quality sites and were purchased through a supposed "quality" SEO firm. What was the end result? Google downgraded the retailer and knocked J.C. Penney down on all these keywords from their top positions, all the way down to an average position of 75!

So, does this mean all paid links violate Google's terms of service? Not really. Text ads are essentially links themselves. These ads are fully endorsed through Google's PPC campaigns. Not only do they play a vital role for Google, but they are an important part of the online economy. Online advertising will never be a target of Google's algorithm, provided they're done correctly and professionally. Advertising paid links need to be designated as such and webmasters must be specific in designating those links as advertisements. How important is it to follow Google's guidelines? Well, when you consider that they have the largest market share in search results, largest market share in online advertising, and that they actively reward website owners for finding irregular links sold through link exchanges, then it's a pretty fair assumption that it is important.

Reference - J.C. Penney Link Exchange
The New York Times "The Dirty Little Secrets of Search"

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