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SEO Website Audit

Penalized for Buying Links?

November 19, 2008
Dear Jill,

In Google's Webmaster Tools there is a section where you can submit someone you think is buying links. Here is what I don't understand – can Google really penalize you for purchasing links? The reason I ask is because if that were the case, couldn't we all just purchase a ton of crappy links to our competitors to knock them out of the search engine results?

What are your thoughts? Can Google penalize for purchasing links, or would they just discount them?


J. Knox

++Jill's Response++

Google can do whatever they want, it's their search engine! So yes, they most certainly could penalize those links if they felt like it. But you are correct that if they started penalizing for things that were out of the site owner's control, it could cause big problems – both for websites and for Google's search results. I think they typically try to avoid this scenario.

What I believe happens in cases like this is that Google probably reviews the site's overall linking profile as well as what they're doing on their actual pages. If they find a decent amount of high-quality links from relevant, reputable websites and nothing spammy on the pages, then they probably just discount any links that they can confirm are paid ones.

By the same token, I imagine if they review a website and see that it is doing lots of spammy things hoping to get a leg up in the search results, perhaps the purchasing of links could be the last straw for that website. I'm just speculating, however, as I don't work for Google and don't have access to their inner circle or their algorithm!

You may want to read my previous thoughts on buying links:

Buying Text Links

Google’s Paid-link Smack in the Face

Also, this week Rand Fishkin wrote an interesting article providing some tips on buying links without "buying links" – it's worth a read.

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Agency.

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