Thinking about buying or selling links? Think again…

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Not to give up the topic of this week’s SEO Audio, but an article by Matt Cutts this weekend progresses the issue of buying and selling paid links debate to one more degree with very strong evidence to support Google’s position.

Webmasters have been aggravated for weeks because of Google’s more aggressive policy, with most of the drops in PageRank a few weeks ago blamed on a penalty to sites perceived as buying or selling paid links. That net-wide rumor let to a huge number of irate webmasters crying foul, while Google maintains that the drop in PageRank was as much related to a re-calculation of the PageRank algorithm as to greater policing.

So, if this is all new to you, here’s the recap:

  • Google has said not to sell paid links that pass PageRank for a while now, but only recently has taken a more aggressive stance towards penalize sites that are selling links.
  • People are angry, especially small-time bloggers and some search marketers who rely on paid links as a source of income. Their argument is that a webmaster has the right to do with their website as they please.
  • Google’s argument is that buying or selling links that pass PageRank effectively skews search results to favor sites that may not be relevant and with a budget sufficient enough to buy those links. Google is OK with links with a rel=nofollow attribute that keeps the link from passing PageRank. The reasoning behind their position was well explained by Matt Cutts in the article mentioned above.
  • Google is definitely taking action, though the extent of which and methodology is largely unknown. Penalties include everything from stripping a site’s PageRank to de-indexing a site altogether. Obviously that takes a tremendous toll on a website, beside it it being quite a pain to get back into Google.
  • Some people are saying they just don’t care while others are reluctantly bowing to Google.

There are strong arguments on both side of the camp, which really highlights how ambiguous this issue really is (is a link traded for a service “paid”? How about donations? Don’t I have a right to make money with my site? It’s not fair to allow paid product listings to get a competitive advantage to sites who can’t afford to buy links, right?).

Regardless of your stance on the issue, the possibility of a Google penalty is just too big a risk to take. We strongly recommend that if you’re currently buying or selling links or paid reviews on your site, you phase them out or put a “nofollow” on them. And if anyone proposes buying links from you, well… How much is the risk of a Google penalty really worth to you?