Google’s Take on Buying Links For PageRank

    September 2, 2005

Link building is one of the more debated topics when it comes to search engine optimization. Topics of discussion range from the best way to attract natural links to the subject of link buying, which is probably the most contentious subject.

At the heart of the matter, it appears as if you have two opposed viewpoints. Many SEO providers believe link buying is good business and can benefit a search engine presence, as long as it is a legitimate link. Google on the other hand tells web owners to avoid the buying of links in favor of natural link building. The search engine reps feel quality content will aid a great deal when conducting a link building campaign.

A recent Internet flare-up concerning computer book publisher O’Reilly and their use of text links for ad spots brought this subject back to the forefront. Some feel that the buying or selling of links for advertising purposes is wrong unless the ad is completely contextual with the rest of the site, a notion others and I disagree with.

While the level of disagreement over link buying may never change, reading what actual search engine employees have to offer about the subject can clear up some confusion, although, it can also make it worse. However, because of his appearance on the SES conference circuit, whenever Google’s Matt Cutts addresses a subject like this one, the search engine crowd takes notice.

From Matt and Google’s perspective, buying links for PageRank purposes is something to avoid. Matt also points to the Google quality guidelines to support his point. From Google’s point of view, because Google places a great deal of emphasis on links being able to provide some insight into a site’s reputation, Matt says, “Selling links muddies the quality of link-based reputation and makes it harder for many search engines (not just Google) to return relevant results.”

To illustrate his point, Matt pointed to the UC Berkley online newspaper, the Daily Cal. Apparently, the site was displaying a number of gambling links and Matt feels these are hard for Google to trust. In his post, Matt quotes an email that asks why Google can’t just ignore what it considers bad links, to which Matt responds:

Yes, Google has a variety of algorithmic methods of detecting such links, and they work pretty well. But these links make it harder for Google (and other search engines) to determine how much to trust each link. A lot of effort is expended that could be otherwise be spent on improving core quality (relevance, coverage, freshness, etc.)

It appears as if the Google engineers don’t want to be made to wade through a bunch of potential link spam. They would rather use this time to deliver better all around search quality… Matt goes on to offer Google’s stance on buying links and sites that sell them:

Of course our link-weighting algorithms are the first line of defense, but it’s difficult to catch every problem case in adversarial information retrieval, so we also look for problems and leaks in different semi-automatic ways. Reputable sites that sell links won’t have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized-a search for [daily cal] would still return However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext).

When translated, it sounds like Google is targeting link farms and link brokers and will remove or penalize a site’s PageRank (and the ability to pass it to another site). However, if a reputable site (O’Reilly) sells links for advertising purposes, they will not be penalized by Google.

Making use of the “nofollow” attribute is also suggested if you are worried about potential penalties. These attributes are added to a link’s HTML structure and informs a search engine not to pass any editorial benefit to the site on the other end.

As usual, whenever a search engine insider discusses a topic like this, some in the SEO business take their information to task, much like Dave Naylor did (hat-tip to Rustybrick). Dave points to Yahoo’s first-position Google ranking for the keyword “auto” and how Yahoo purchased text links in order to accomplish this goal. Is Google going to ban or penalize Yahoo because of their actions?

Chris Richardson is a search engine writer and editor for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest search news.