Are paid links always a bad thing?

Are paid links always a bad thing?

Whether paid links can hurt your rankings has been an ongoing question in every SEO agency in London for years. For a long time, Google reassured everyone that, no, paid links from the darker corners of the web or from link “farms” won’t actually hurt your site rankings, but that they won’t exactly help it either. But, over the years, those active in SEO have discovered that, yes, having paid links, or too many paid links compared to non-paid links, really can quite badly damage your site’s showing in the Google rankings.

So, you may think that if you simply don’t pay for any backlinks, you’ll be fine. Right? Well, no. Paying for links is an artificial way of boosting your Google search results and is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google want backlinks to reflect the internet’s opinion of your site content, they don’t want you to simply buy your way to the top of the rankings. And, to be fair to Google, their algorithms are very sophisticated and can usually recognise paid link farm directories and ignore any value in linking to those sites, thus eliminating any potential benefit from those paid links. But herein lies the problem. If Google punishes sites for having paid links pointing to them, and actually lowers their ranking as a result, then all a black hat SEO needs to do is to buy links not for their own site but for that of a competitor. If an unscrupulous SEO company pays for links to a competitor’s site, they can get their competition blacklisted. Job done.

But what do Google have to say about this? Well, they have recently slightly shifted their position on the subject. Whilst they used to reassure that everyone that, no, bad links won’t hurt a site’s position in the rankings, they now say it “probably” won’t. Their webmaster quality guidelines are quite specific: “don’t participate in link schemes designed to help your site’s ranking”. A quote from a Google analyst recently, however, stated that the Google algorithms have a lot of safeguards in place that evaluate sites in many complex ways and that it would take more than a few bad links to fool them. This seems to imply that if you aren’t doing anything wrong then Google aren’t going to punish you for someone else doing something wrong on your behalf.

However, any good SEO company is aware that not all paid links are bad and not all directories are bad. Google recognises industry-specific directories that provide a legitimate service to users beyond just a collection of links. Listings and even paid ads in legitimate directories can indeed have a beneficial effect on your site’s strength and ability to rank well in Google. If you ensure that you have a strong site, with many quality backlinks and plenty of good content, then your competitor is welcome to contrive whatever paid links they like as such links will simply be ignored rather than cause any harm.

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