It has now been over two years since Google started their crusade against paid links. I first understood this crusade back in 2005. It was the first time I’d met Matt Cutts, and we were sitting at the hotel bar during the New Orleans WebmasterWorld PubCon with a handful of SEO folks. I asked about the practice of paid links. “Don’t buy links”, he said. Matt was a bit vague about the consequences and other details, and the the Google guidelines back then were not very clear on this point. In fact a substantial paid link economy had developed and continues today. However over time Google has become very clear about paid linking.
In my opinion this this recent post from Matt Cutts, Google’s uberMeister of spam tricks and SEO, should sound the death knell for this strategy even for those willing to take the risks that have been associated with paid linking strategies for some time. Clearly Google is dedicated about this, and will continue to crack down severely enough that the risk outweighs any likely gains. Certainly any of the sites and folks I’m familiar with in Travel and Tourism should *not* use this practice to raise their pagerank. I’ve been advising this for some time, but I knew the practice was still fairly common among some elites in the SEO community which meant it was still working. I’m sure there are some exceptional cases but the basic advice here is easy – don’t buy links.
Like Graywolf, one of the most vocal critics of the Google anti-paid-link jihad, I have a lot of concerns about fairness, best practices, and how much pleasing Google has come to distort the production of good content. But jousting at Google’s windmill has probably become a waste of time, especially given that many of their concerns about buying and selling links are legitimate. That practice certainly did distort the relevancy of rankings in a significant way. In fact Google’s core brilliancy – the pagerank algorithm – put in motion a variety of online linking practices that have reshaped web content in dramatic, mostly negative ways. People used to link freely and often as a matter of course because links are the heart of the web and commercial concerns were not in play. Now, free links are doled out by many very sparingly in an effort to preserve pagerank at their own websites and to deny others a competitive advantage. I hope Google is considering this factor as they revise the algorithm. e.g. linking out to other sites should tend to *boost* ranks for a given term more than it lowers the rank due to leaked pagerank.