Paid posts should not affect search engines

Normally I wouldn’t weigh in on “sponsored conversations,” because I’ve talked about similar subjects before, but it’s worth reiterating Google’s position on paid posts that pass PageRank and why we feel that way. Here’s the short version as a comment that I left on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog:

Clear disclosure of sponsorship is critical, and that includes disclosure for search engines. If link in a paid post would affect search engines, that link should not pass PageRank (e.g. by using the nofollow attribute). Google — and other search engines — do take action which can include demoting sites that sell links that pass PageRank, for example.

My bottom-line recommendation is simple: paid posts should not pass PageRank. I’m not going to pay $750 to check whether the Forrester report mentions this important point. But I will mention something that the Forrester report probably missed, and I’ll do it for free. 🙂 The Forrester report discusses a recent “sponsored conversation” from Kmart, but I doubt whether mentions that even in that small test, Google found multiple bloggers that violated our quality guidelines and we took corresponding action. Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.

We do take the subject of paid posts seriously and take action on them. In fact, we recently finished going through hundreds of “empty review” reports — thank you for that feedback! That means that now is a great time to send us reports of link buyers or sellers that violate our guidelines. We use that information to improve our algorithms, but we also look through that feedback manually to find and follow leads.

I wanted to talk for just a minute about *why* we dislike paid posts that pass PageRank. Let me go back to an example I’ve given before about how they can be bad. I believe these were paid posts:

Brain Cancer paid post

The paid post at the top happens to be about brain tumors, which is a really serious subject. If you are searching for information about brain cancer or radiosurgery, you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines. Other paid posts might not be as starkly life-or-death, but they can still pollute the ecology of the web.

Marshall Kirkpatrick makes a similar point over at ReadWriteWeb. His argument is as simple as it is short: “Blogging is a beautiful thing. The prospect of this young media being overrun with “pay for play” pseudo-shilling is not an attractive one to us.” I really can’t think of a better way to say it, so I’ll stop there.

98 Responses to Paid posts should not affect search engines (Leave a comment)

  1. matt great post, i think its a pity that they didnt provide a link through for some quality medical organisations who are looking at increasing people’s quality of life who have brain tumours and also quality organisations such as

    The question is if the requested and paid for a link how would it impact on the blog’s quality score, its a quality link, from a related article that is providing useful information and for a good cause?

    Should there be a grey area around implementing nofollow tags as it can be beneficial to people using google search if is ranked about

  2. I completely agree. I do not blog for my health. I do not blog solely for pagerank. I do not blog because it necessarily makes me money. I do not blog because it strokes my ego seeing site traffic (okay, perhaps a little). I blog at least 90% because I personally enjoy it. That’s why I agree: blogging is beautiful!

  3. Matt,

    What is wrong with the Holiday Hoopla Contest example?

    You start to sound like xenophobic politicians in my country 🙁

  4. Dave (original)

    If you are searching for information about brain cancer or radiosurgery, you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines.You probably don’t want wikipedia in the top spot (for Brain Tumor) either.

    I often find wikipedia results in top spot for serious medical issues and this makes me lose faith in Google.

  5. Once again, leave it to mainstream media sources to take what has always been a ridiculous idea, blow it way out of proportion, distort it, and charge the unwashed masses for the privilege of reading their claptrap. All hail so-called journalists.

    Just a thought, Matt, and one that almost never gets brought up in the paid post hoopla; paid forum post(er)s. When we think of paid post, we think of them as paid blog posts in context; but there are forum posters who are making as much, if not more, than paid blog posters in direct and indirect ways.


    I know of one particular case that negatively affected a client of mine for over a year whereby a competitor would slash prices for specific customers in exchange for positive reviews on topical boards. A couple of the boards eventually caught on and the competitor has since been banned (along with the shill posters looking for cheap product) but this really cut into my client’s bottom line.


    The other examples are the paid forum posting pseudo-companies. Even though they only “make” $0.10 a post or whatever the going rate is, a five-word shill post doesn’t do anyone any real good. Most forums have become nearly impossible to read simply because the shills are so prevalent.

    Now, how does this affect big G? Quite often, a forum topic will show up within the first SERP, especially since people will search for just about anything under the sun now. Therefore, it would stand to reason that at least some of the focus should be devoted to this area as well. I don’t blame Google for this problem; if it didn’t exist, the shill posters would be just as likely to continue down their paths. But it would be nice if they got a little less reward for it.

  6. So here’s one: when talking about this back in late December, Allen Stern asked me if I’d used nofollow links in my post. I said I don’t even know the syntax to write a nofollow link. At that point, I knew roughly what the link type was, but didn’t (and still don’t without googling a cheat sheet) know the syntax.

    My question is this: in situations where someone screws the pooch on your official terms (as listed above), and they lose rank, is there some kind of probate court where they can regain it, once they tidy up their links?

    Not asking for me, specifically, but it raises the question that not everyone is a Google link master. How would the average Bob get back their rank, should they run afoul?

  7. Dave (original)

    The well run forums (with dedicated Moderators) delete anythinng that looks like spam within minutes.

    IMO, it’s the forum owners job, along with the Moderators, to keep their forum spam free.

  8. I just wonder how are you going to differentiate a post is a guest post or a paid post. Both paid post and guest post can be as relevant as the blog theme, wouldn’t it be unfair to those who guest post (which i consider them genuine content/poster) on people’s blog?

  9. If you are searching for information about a colon cleanse, you want sh!**y results..
    Matt, I think you are just trying to bait Michael Gray into making some sort of smartass remark. Damn, at this hour, all of those posts seem like craphats..

    Geez, I think I need to go to sleep now:)

  10. Dave (original)

    Matt, you deleted the wrong one. Could you add quote tags to my post you didn’t delete, thanks.

  11. Michal, some of the bloggers who participated in that contest were receiving money for posts on their site, then sending PageRank through those links.

    “I often find wikipedia results in top spot for serious medical issues and this makes me lose faith in Google.”

    Dave (original), I think other search engines show Wikipedia even more than Google does. Tried to put some blockquotes in there too.

    Chris Brogan, good question. The short answer is that you can correct the issue (remove paid links, or correct any other spam issues such as hidden text) and then request reconsideration from Google. Read more at or you can watch this video: . Wait a second–let me see if I can embed it:

  12. Wikipedia Results shown on almost all topics on the first page of search engines, the only one that I noticed that the blank pages in many other languages. But I see no problem in wikipedia, because when you receive a quality site, it moves down.

  13. So how would you differentiate a normal blogger making a non-sponsored unpaid post that looks like a sponsored post based solely on an algorithm? I can write about software that I like including screenshots and affiliate links – of course you dont expect me to write about stuff taking my time without anything in return for it. Those days of blogging are over, whether you like it or not. In this case I am unpaid to write about that software, But I hope to sell that software using my affiliate link. What happens in this situation?

    Also what prevents a competitor from falsely reporting his competitor is buying links? What mechanisms do you use to verify the factual correctness of such paid links reports?

  14. Hello Matt,

    Interesting post. However, have a doubt I’d like to have explained a little bit more in detail; I still can’t understand why sellers of paid links are also penalized. IMHO, this leads to potentially good content becoming unreachable from google users. I believe Google’s interest is providing the best possible search results for users, right? In the case you mention in this post, about brain tumors, users using Google search might get to that post paid by X company, thus getting in the way of Google’s interest – then X company violates the quality guidelines and gets penalized. Also does Y publisher for accepting that deal and publishing that post for money. All is clear till this point, but let me present a hypothesis: What happens if the Y publisher actually has a website worth finding? Sometimes, it’s not a post, but a banner in a corner of the site, what links without using nofollow. The posts, might actually be very valuable, and definitely useful for users searching for it in Google. However, as the site is penalized, it might get buried in the results, whilst other sites with less useful (quality) content get up in the list. Isn’t this against Google Quality policy? If Google actually knows who is buying links (as it can penalize the sites involved) why doesn’t tell its spiders not to follow that link without the need to use the nofollow parameter?
    Isn’t the cure worse than the illness to damage the trust of a website because of a paid link, without taking into consideration other aspects of it? Many sites can have a very deep content in many ways, despite accepting money for links, and I find it unfair, and also unuseful for everybody to penalize without warning, or more in depth review of each situation.

    All this arbitrary decisions only leads to sites made for Google’s (not their users) sake, which might be something as influencing and negative as paid links long term talking.

    Sorry for the long coment and thanks for reading 🙂

  15. “The prospect of this young media being overrun with “pay for play” pseudo-shilling …”

    Ha! That horse left the barn the moment someone found they could make a buck monetizing attention, which was likely nearly immediately.

    Blogging is already full of shilling – the argument is only about how direct is the pay.

    See my _Guardian_ column on the class-warfare between blog A-lister “influencers” and the pay-post services which “disintermediate” them:

  16. How cool is it for Google to not play by their own rules?

    We can’t sell or buy links “you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines” and the top 3 spots of results can be bought via Google AdWords. How great and “Do no evil” of you Google.

  17. Matt – I can see Google’s stance on paid post and passing page rank – however, what about ‘unpaid reviews’ – how do you tell the difference. There are probably 1000’s of mom & dad sites out there that discuss products they have used – both negative and positive – that include links back to the seller or makers sites. Surely you don’t penalize these sites as well? If not, how do you differentiate them. It seems to me this is a growth area of the web. I know I want to read reviews from other bloggers before I spend my money.

    On a Q&A session a little while back I seem to remember you saying that mom and dad sites needn’t concern themselves too much with the ‘nofollow’ attribute – it is a little confusing for us small time mom and dad sites.


  18. Matt,

    As a viral marketer, we use top blogs to review our tools and other widgets. We always ask for the posts to nofollow any links, but we view using high traffic blogs as a viable way to get traction on something that requires a big impact at the start to spread, whilst staying within the parameters of play.

  19. Your sense for logic is a bit bended here. If you REALLY think that particular blog is a matter of live and death, you should ban that blog because of that, not because of selling links. Would you?

    You can never win this war with just a rel=”nofollow”. This way more and more sites will do the same as Wiki did and will just add nofollow to every single link right in their CMS. Later, Google will just have to ignore nofollow as it will no longer add any value.

  20. I am not opposed to the stance against paid posts at all, but as I mentioned on Twitter the other day, I find it slightly strange (mildly put) that Google makes such a big deal out of cases like this without first getting their own house in order. Google Knol for example is quickly becoming infested with posts *solely* made with the intention of passing link juice. It’s no wonder it’s growing quickly; it’s easily exploitable and the links valuable. And that’s without even getting started on Blogger and the mountains of spam there.

    Are you doing anything about that?

  21. Hi Matt,

    Matt, links from paid posts, should not affect SERP… right.

    Links from paid posts should not affect PR or SERPs. I know this and that is why, I never bought or sold links.

    Paid links are like manipulating PR and SERP, but Matt, why reciprocal links are not considered this way?

    You link to my site and I will link to your site. Then people have a separate section that is called, Link Directory or Link Partners. Such sites rank high in SERP and they have high PR too.

    Why Google thinks that reciprocal links are ok? I personally think that reciprocal links are also kind of manipulating PR and SERP.

    This is what I think the definition of natural links is:

    “Write excellent, useful, information rich content and add it in your site. People finding that content useful will link to your site”

    But, Are reciprocal links natural?

    Thank You

  22. Matt,

    I’ve got to be honest, I somewhat disagree with you on that one. While some of the posters here do not blog solely for money, others do – and I, for one, see nothing wrong with paid reviews, so long as a clear disclosure policy is in effect.

    Yes, some would call it selling out to the big corporations and traditional media. But in the final analysis, it’s all about the bottom line. If a blogger is just starting out and his best shot at earning money is to write a few paid reviews, and if the product is genuinely good quality, then I don’t see much of a problem here.

    In short, I honestly believe that the negative reaction towards paid review bloggers is somewhat overblown. You can debate the morality of it, sure, but you can’t beat the bottom line, not when you’re still struggling to get more than 50 unique visitors to your blog a day and when your CPM would be about $5 for a 125×125 ad.

  23. Pete Gronland

    Following on from this contentious discussion, one thing I have not seen (AGAIN) is the word relevancy.

    Inrellevant paid links should be (quite rightly) penalised, however I struggle when they are relevant. Yes someone may have purchased the link but if the anchor text and site linking all have relevancy to the site being linked too, what is the problem??

    Are the results assisted by this paid link going to be irrelevant to the searcher….errrr no….again then what is the problem??

    Embedding links through free software, utilising link farms, do not provide relevancy and compeltely spam the engines.

    Surely it would make more sense to penalise links on relevancy and content, rather than if the links has been purchased or not.

    Or is this just too much common sense for 2009, maybe next year?

  24. Pete Gronland

    So – how do you spot a paid blogger??

    Also how do you spot a natural blogger from a paid one?

    I know plenty of Blog sites that have been set up purely to drive inbound links to one company site. However, these blogs have been set up through an SEM contract and are not being charged per the article, therefore appear totally natural.

    All of these blogs make it totally clear that they are the “enter name – company blogsite” and they have suffered absolutely no penalties at all. Many of these also have “Company – Press Centre Blogs” which replicate the articles in the Company Blog but are re-wriiten, then posted to Online Pr engines too. All of this, is manipulative behavior and is NOT natural however it is all going unpunished.

    As per my earlier posting to this discussion, if relevancy and content were the major parameters then it would not matter whether the links were purchased or not, it would just mean that the searcher would be confident that the content would be relevant to every search query.

  25. @Dave (Original)

    “I often find wikipedia results in top spot for serious medical issues and this makes me lose faith in Google.”

    TBH, if I had a serious medical issue, I’d probably go to the doctors, rather than use Google/Wikipedia.

  26. Hi Mr Cutts,

    Your example is a good one, however, how can you with anything above 70% of accuracy decide what blogs are writing paid for reviews and what blogs are genuinely writing an article about something which the author finds interesting?

    First port of call of course is relevancy. My concern is that some authors may wish to write about something a bit off-peast as it were, and they may wish to drop a link not because they have been paid, but because it interests them or perhaps because they want to “spread the word”. Take Mr Naylor’s post on the Leaked Oscar winners list as mentioned, this is off peast a bit as its not really about SEO, well it is sort of, but lets me fair it’s a bit tenuous (no offense Dave). No link in this post, but assume for a moment there was a link, would this be considered unorthodox?

    My point is, there doesn’t seem to be any accuracy in this process and there fore as a blogger my self this comes as a deep concern that actually STOP’s me and potentially other bloggers from writing what we want to write about, linking to what we want to link to, in fear that we will be labelled as spammers or money making tyrants capitalising on Spammers attempts to pollute the blogosphere.

    Can you please confirm or deny whether the blogging community should indeed be filled with fear?

  27. Matt,
    are you saying definitively, that was penalized on this level:

    “Google found multiple bloggers that violated our quality guidelines and we took corresponding action. Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.”

    from the Kmart post?

  28. “My bottom-line recommendation is simple: paid posts should not pass PageRank. ”
    Aren’t Google just ensuring Bloggers can’t make as much money as they might otherwise earn, especially given that Google is giving greater emphasis to brands – you’re giving the people with the money a leg-up at the same time as hampering the less well-off bloggers.
    Many of us love Google as a search engine and a brand; many of us are far less sure about Google being self-appointed police of the web…

  29. Good Morning Matt,

    It’s a nice discussion today. Friends i believe that where ever a word Paid is used it’s the part which comes after a desire of being at certain position or to have anything because of some special purpose.

    Same is the scenario in Paid Links. Most of the business owners have money but don’t have time to do some RnD to build a special thing to get a link through. So they prefer paying some bucks to get a link from a place where they believe Search Giants will select them as being on higher level and on high PR positions to grant them good page rank, good serp’s etc.
    It’s totally bullshit. Because a person who is looking for Cancer has no interest in buying a car as well. Will he go to hospital on that car ? 😀

    Matt i know that today the war is of Quality over Quantity, which is good. So if someone will write good content and would prefer to find a suitable place for his/her website to link, i agree that its good. Because if we talk from end user perspective, i would prefer if i find a thing which i am looking for instead of viewing other items that are not of my use.

    So i recommend, that Paid Links, Paid Comment links, Paid Posts should be banned and should be processed under modified search engine algos.


  30. Thanks for bringing this topic up again Matt. I have seen many ask these certain questions in your recent previous posts. Great job on re-educating everyone on why paid links are bad for Google and bad for the search engine users.

  31. @seth as oposed the “survays” provided by pr agancies that are used by lazy hacks to write stories

  32. Matt, I have to say that I’m torn. I feel that writing paid posts diminishes the integrity of an independent writer or press–indeed, blurring the line between information and alleged advertorial even got Google in trouble a few months ago (

    But it seems that your position has consistency challenges. Is the rule only against paid links or paid content in general? How does it handle press releases and advertising–are those OK as long as the site wasn’t paid to post them? What if the authors are paid, but the sites are not?

    I understand that “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,” but this issue is so core to the Google ecosystem that I think the rules need to be clear, principled, and easy to find.

  33. Dear Matt,

    I seldom post comments so I usually take the time to give credit when credit is due to. Your blogging makes me, as a webmaster, enjoy Google more and more. Great work.

    Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more. when you say this you make it sound as if these sites were manually put into a Google blacklist which I believe there isn’t – nor should be – as Google nor any other company will ever have the needed manpower to manually override web spam.

    As fair as I am concerned Google PR just plotted that new data into its signals – that took credit from every single blog – site – whatever – that falls into this sort of spamming trend. You probably have computed a ranking that when a site mixes signals from a list of known appetizers credit is taken out.

    I wrote this in the event someone read your post and got mislead but your sentence. If this is not so, and Google really has a black list of individually categorized sites, please let us know.

    Keep up the great work,

  34. Thanks Matt!

    I wrote a lengthy blog post (in Swedish) on the same subject yesterday, describing a situation where free blog services are used as complimentary sites for this kind of linkbuilding by SEO companies. It’s massive.

    We now have a situation where the clients actually know what they are buying. However, I’m not sure they actually understand what the consecvences can be.

    I’m really glad that Goole seems to take this seriously, because it’s a growing market.

  35. If an advertiser or exhbitor buys an ad in a print publication or a booth at a trade show, does the publication or show web site have to link to the advertiser or exhibitor with “nofollow” since the link wouldn’t be there without the payment? Or are links to companies with which you have a non-web business relationship allowed without nofollow?

  36. Hi Matt,

    Sometimes, I do article marketing to promote a product or a service.
    I do submit the article to 100-200 dirs, some link to me with nofollow, and some do not. We do not have control on them.

    And, Yes, article marketing works. It sends 50-100 visitors per day when you have 100 articles on strong sites..and they do convert WELL

    My question to you, is Google against this particular form of marketing? Will Google ever demote a site that used article distribution on any articles directory?


  37. Google isn’t the only search engine and Google doesn’t run the Web.

    Once again, Matt, you have crossed the moral and ethical boundary with another bullying post.

    People do NOT have to disclose anything just because Google wants them to.

    If you want Webmasters to comply with your guidelines, ASK POLITELY. Stop ordering and dictating. This is getting really, really old.

  38. really … again … aren’t we tired of this yet?

    the best thing to come out of this discussion is learning you can embed youtube videos in comments 😉

  39. Last spring, our clean, news-provider site was suddenly overtaken by a thin, paid-backlinks affiliate. (Disclosure: We also provide affiliate content, but wrapped in objective articles.) The backlinks were obvious–in some cases laughable–so we reported them through Webmaster Tools. In late summer, this affiliate was bought by our direct competitor. This competitor spent a lot of money for–by their own admission–the affiliate’s rankings. This competitor is no stranger to SEO: it has a history of buying smaller sites, and SEO is a strategy they’ve used for years.

    In the fall, the site suddenly dropped from the rankings. But after a few weeks the site returned, at almost the same strength as before. The site was unchanged, possessing the same backlinks and the same thin content. Why did it return? Based on what we know, only one theory prevails: A loophole in the reconsideration request that says, “If you recently acquired this domain and think it may have violated the guidelines before you owned it, let us know that below.”

    Knowing what we know about this company, this shouldn’t apply because 1) their history of acquisitions, 2) their SEO resources are vast and should have easily spotted these violations during due-diligence, and 3) they own the purchased site’s affiliate network, i.e. they write the check that the affiliate cashes.

    This loophole’s verbiage is vague, but it’s clearly intended to protect from damaging black-hat tactics. This isn’t the situation with this company, calling into question the level of Google’s scrutiny of these cases.

    There is evidence that the site has made small attempts to clean itself, but those efforts have ceased. All in all, the site in question has suffered little compared to the benefits it continues to reap. An honest effort to come clean should be rewarded, of course, but those with a history of deception should periodically have their honest efforts scrutinized. Except for the paid-linking reporting tool, is there another level of recourse available?

  40. “Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.”

    If that had any punch then maybe we could start kicking this dead horse again but until it is raised to the level where real people start caring, I don’t see the movement going forward. Anyone familiar with Matt Cutts is already familiar with this. Anyone subscribed to this feed knows this, anyone who even knows what an SEO is knows this. Problem is, those aren’t the majority of site owners, and all the jumping up and down in the world here, on sphinn, in tweets, and at conference sessions isn’t getting the word out. That would require some real action, some major delistings of real sites, not just a PageRank dump of an seo blog here and there, but real life sites. I just don’t see that happening any time soon. I try to help real site owners and small time operators every day and I’ll be happy to tow the Google line as I truly believe it’s your search engine you can do what you want, but really, give a guy a little ammunition. Saying, “are not trusted in Google’s algorithms” may scare the pants off of some people in the know, but it just doesn’t mean anything to real humans who don’t live and breath this stuff everyday.

  41. himynameis john

    You know Matt, I’m forever racking my brands about this subject as a SEO – not in the sense of how I can get paid posts out there, but for the IMPORTANCE OF THE WEB ECOLOGY!

    However, let’s face it; you’ll never catch the smart guys & gals out this way – algorithmically and looking at patterns of SEARCH USERS etc however I see as a much more important thing. Never been a fan in “grassing people us”, even if it is a competitor that I damn well know who is doing it – I just keep my fingers crossed that they will get stung.

    Say for example I have a music band (unofficial fan site (personal site made in own time) – I’ve changed my email to post this so it is obvious to you the site in question without naming it here). Now… I won’t deny it, but as a SEO/online marketing manager, I have quite a bit of cheek in asking for stuff from people – and I do this on my personal sites to, like I have this one. Now…. this example, I’m running a competition (post goes live this Saturday) to win official band merchandise – I’ve called/emailed around some of the distributors and out of the 10 I had conversations with, 7 of them were willing to do a deal with me and give the merch for free and in return, I’d advertise them as the distributor on the competition page.

    That’s now kinda made it a paid post in a long about way, hasn’t it? But I can’t see why I should put a nofollow on the link though. The distributor I’ve decided to use, is also a brand that I’ve been using for years to buy from, so I can’t see the harm in putting a follow link out there for them. Again; it’s giving my viewers what they want – a quality, related link. If someone clicks on link from my site and goes to brand, to only bounce right out again then I can UNDERSTAND THAT being a negative tick in the box – I’m obviously not supplying what the user wanted, but should I be penalised? I don’t think so. Should the brand be penalised? No, again… i don’t think so. What I do believe however, is that the link ‘quality’ is adjusted.

    Am I totally missing the point?

    Also, in the band online community that I’m a part of, there are other bloggers out there, without any knowledge that I do that will be like “what’s no follow?”. Eh.. eh… eh… I feel for you Matt, this is certainly a tough cookie, but an interesting one to dive in to none the less!

  42. Would people who affected by this “not trusted anymore” know how to deal with it or is this something they will have to figure out on their own? Would anything be communicated via Webmasters Tools? Is there a way to get any kind of feedback if any of the sites I own or maintain are affected? Would people who’s web sites are falsely filtered out have any chance to restore the faith?

  43. Yes, we don’t want health related sites buying links to rank in Google, we want them buying clicks on adwords to rank in Google.

    Is that the gist of it Matt?

  44. That makes me feel a bit sorry for Google, are you guys really not able to detect such obvious paid posts like that example you gave?
    There are heaps of different topics that are completely unrelated to each other, and then there are (from a SEO point of view) perfect links with perfect anchor texts to commercial sites.
    Most of the keywords on this blog surely match the ones on the corresponding commercial landing page.

    Sounds like the blackhats are still far ahead of Google…

  45. Dave (original)

    RE: “Dave (original), I think other search engines show Wikipedia even more than Google does.”

    So long as you can still point the finger to worse, everything is fine?

  46. Dave (original)

    We can’t sell or buy links “you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines” and the top 3 spots of results can be bought via Google AdWords. How great and “Do no evil” of you Google.

    You sell advertising links with nofollow in them, or any other of many methods. The top 3 paid results do not pass PR and they are clearly identified as “Sponsored Links”. What you cannot do is sell PR, which is what most link sellers base their prices on.


    TBH, if I had a serious medical issue, I’d probably go to the doctors, rather than use Google/Wikipedia.

    Brilliant! All these people dying because they refuse to see a Doctor and use Google instead. I’m so glad you turned up, else I would kept using Google and not my GP and Neurologist

    It’s called research, Rhys.

  47. Matt, I have to be very straightforward about this issue: I don’t really care about Page-Rank. It belongs to Google to do whatever Google feels like with it. I never say things like “my PageRank” or “my site’s PageRank” because it never belonged to neither. So it is Google’s decision whether to penalize or not my sites for selling links while dozens of others do the same without ever seeing a penalty.

    What really infuriates me is to see unpenalized old school spam like invisible text and keyword stuffed pages still ranking high for very competitive, high AdWords CPC keywords in Google Brasil SERPs and having my spam reports repeatedly ignored.

    Let me put this issue into context. In the last two years Brazil has been taken by the “SEO Fever”, with almost everyone willing to rank high in Google at any cost. The combination of disinformation with hot demand led to the widespread adoption of the worst possible practices imaginable. While many of us want to compete fairly with white hat techniques, most of brazilian “SEO experts” are simply selling cheap tricks for astonishingly high prices.

    The problem is: their cheap tircks are working! Their client’s sites are ranking high and no one seems to ever read those spam report forms.

    Some cases are grotesque. There is a website which has more than 100,000 indexed pages, 99,999% of which are just crappy, random word filled pages. Another site I know has their black-hat keyword stuffed pafe clearly visible in Google’s cached version.

    The problem is not that they do it. These webmasters are just selling Google Brasil’s lack of response to spam reports. They are still there, top in the first page, saving loads of AdWords money while their honest competitors have to spend a fortune per click.

    What’s going on with Google Brasil? Why don’t they respond to spam reports?

    Many serious people I know are becoming suspicious of plain old corruption in Google Brasil, because the other possible explanation for ignoring spam reports is incompetence, a possibility in which people don’t want to believe when the conversations concerns Google.

    One case that reinforces this impression is from a site that was reported by many different people for months and nothing happened. Then, the very day I came public and published an article showing their black hat techniques, their site was deindexed.

    Justice was made? Not for sure. Three months later this site returned to Google’s first result page for a very competitive keyword using a keyword stuffed cloaked page. Again, no response from Google Brasil, even after sending four spam reports.

    Having said all that it is time to ask you: Are you sure selling links is really THE problem?

    I am not.

  48. Totally agree with graywolf — didn’t know you could embed video in comments 🙂

  49. @graywolf @Arnie K

    What ? You can embed video in comments ?


  50. Affan Laghari

    “Let me go back to an example I’ve given before about how they can be bad. I believe these were paid posts”

    Seriously, you need to hire some low-level SEOs and know what tactics are being used in the market. The example you’ve given, there are tons of these and they are NOT paid posts mostly. These are, in fact, guest posts where the blog owners are given some posts and they publish them if they want. Yeah, it’s free content just like the tons of article directories Google supports with Adsense. The only thing is that they don’t solicit articles like article directories. But you BELIEVE these are paid posts because there is mostly one link, anchor-text optimized and doesn’t really fit the context of the blog. So this automatically means this is a paid post.

    If Google keeps adopting this bullying approach, you will be into a PR (not pagerank) dilemma pretty soon, believe me.

  51. I am so glad you posted this, as I recently brought up this topic in an SEO session at a conference that was primarily for mommy bloggers.

    I was really surprised by the fact that most of these moms were very misinformed regarding this issue and felt that they were “safe” due to the fact that they we just “Little Old Mommy Bloggers” I actually wrote a post regarding this issue after leaving the conference to give my thoughts in the hopes that it may help and or educate some of them.

    Thanks for giving me a great post that backs up my recommendations. Looking forward to sharing it with all these great mommy bloggers.

  52. Some of this seems pretty backwards to me. I have a website which sells repair parts and offers repair instructions. I have hundreds of inbound links from forums. No shills, just customers discussing what I offer or my solutions to their problems. I get no page rank from these forums as they are all “nofollow”.
    If there was anything which should indicate I have authority in my area it is all the posts by customers linking to me.

    Find a way to give some pagerank pass through from authoritative related forums and all these “paid link” folks can’t compete with me. It would be way to expensive for them.

  53. Here is an example
    A very popular ecommerce platform requires that their keyword link is included on the front page of every website using their software. The user gets a $25/month savings on their software for including this link. This amounts to a paid link from all of their customers.

    It seems to me that if you simply apply a standard of relevancy to links when placing a value, this solves everything. Who cares if a related site links to a related site even if it pays for the link. The problem arises when an unrelated site links (paid or unpaid)

    Two sites, one for eyeglasses and one for used cars, a link from one of these sites to the other should not pass much page ran.. Two relevant sites should. (lets say for GM links to Saturn). there is a financial transaction which causes GM to want to link to Saturn, just like there is a financial reason GM does not link to Ford. All commercial entities link to others for financial gain.

  54. Dave (original)

    Matt, as blogs are the biggest abusers on the Web, why not omit them ALL from the organic SERPs and have a “blog” link that anyone can click IF they want blogs?

    Same goes for all *disposable* websites that are up and running is 3, or more clicks. Leave the organic SERPs for those who actually invest time and money in their content pages.

  55. This is the reason why Google’s ranking websites right is critical. I don’t really see the value given by paid blog posts to web surfers. The web is totally full of trash right now that companies like Google are having a hard time cleaning things like this off our search results. Even the most advanced semantic analysis spewed out by the super computers at Google need some tweaking to catch stuff like this which pass for good content to may people online.

  56. My only question is… how Google´ll really know that Blog is or not selling it´s posts? Anyone can just write a post about some issue and add it´s link… and the link target is one that usually buy posts… so my Blog will be penalized for ever?

  57. Google is entitled to as much disclosure as it gives. So from now on let’s see the following disclosures from Google:

    1) Every blog comment and private communication posted by a Googler asking people to use “rel=’nofollow'” for paid links, paid posts, or any other link should include language similar to the following: “This suggestion or request is being made by a company which indexes, organizes, and presents data for its own commercial gain. The process relies on links and is founded upon the assumption that all links are votes and that all links represent editorial choice regardless of their actual purpose. This suggestion or request is being made to help propagate the illusion that the assumption is correct.”

    2) Every search result page should disclose which listings are Supplemental and why the Supplemental listings are not shown first when they are clearly more relevant than the non-Supplemental listings being shown.

    3) Every Webmaster guideline page should include the disclaimer that the guidelines are intended to improve Google’s profitability.

    4) Every news interview Google gives should be accompanied by a full disclosure statement that points out Google’s link analysis methodologies are not the standard determining how Web sites should promote themselves, obtain revenue, or engage with other Web sites.

    5) Every statement by Google regarding Web site behavior should include the statement that Google is only seeking to modify Web site behavior for its financial benefit and that any and all such requests should be considered in that context.

    There is plenty more room for disclosure on Google’s part in these discussions. In fact, I think it will be a useful exercise for the SEO community to remind Googlers (and the people to whom Googlers communicate Google’s priorities and demands for compliance) that Google is acting out of self-interest in a commercial manner.

    I’ll do my part. I look forward to seeing more disclosure from Google on these and other matters.

  58. Some Directories like Yahoo and Business are paid. If i put my website there can i be punished? Can the directories be punished?

  59. But Matt, what about the bloggers who have no idea that such a thing as no-follow even exists? There is a large contingent of mommy bloggers that thrives on reviewing products and hosting giveaways from product sponsors, and most of them have no idea what no-follow means, let alone that they should be using it when linking to their sponsors. If they don’t know the rule exists, how is it fair that they’re penalized for it? I’ve been trying to spread the word to my fellow bloggers, but I had to explain what an anchor tag was to one woman before I could even begin to tell her how to add rel=nofollow to it.

    Or am I missing something here, and Google DOES differentiate between real product reviews and the type of brain tumor/car loan/colon cleanse ads you depicted above? Is there a difference if a do-follow link uses the brand name of the sponsor as anchor text, which wouldn’t pollute the SERPs for keyword phrases? If Pillsbury sponsors a giveaway, and the blogger do-follows a link using “Pillsbury” as the anchor text, what’s the harm in that? Nothing is being manipulated. (I use this as an example because I participated in – and one – a Pillsbury giveaway.)

    I’m just trying to look out for the majority of bloggers who don’t know these rules exist, but who may end up getting demoted anyways because they only know how to use the visual editor on their blogging platform and have never touched a line of HTML code. Their blogs aren’t any less valuable to me as a reader just because they know how to write but not code. Their content is still good. They just don’t know all the rules to the game.

  60. Hi. The main culprits with paid links are the big players. I often do a check on backlinks of the top positions in my area of interest and its easy to spot the ones who pay for links. It’s often the brand names with big budgets. If you penalized all sites that bought links you would decimate the big brand names rankings and at the same time provide poorer search results. I regularly see “big names” with tens of thousands of paid links. I have even been called by agencies who want my business who brag of the big names they have got to the top and they explain how they get the links. Non of these techniques they offer are natural. I have always declined their services, but maybe thats why I can’t get top rankings. In the meantime I continue to churn out good content which attracts some links but not enough to make a difference.

  61. We all know PAID POST is a big problem and its like forcing someone to win the race that too without taking part in it. Its the duty of all search engines to take active steps toward it, as a normal user is never aware of this fact and he considers the top link as the best one and ends up getting a bad experience.

  62. Hi Matt,

    I’ve been reading your blog on “Paid posts should not affect search engines”. Very interesting. I am not clear on how this policy applies to banner ads that click-thru to an advertiser site….Given the example you used for the brain tumor article, my question is:….What if someone wrote this same brain tumor article (just as you detail in your example above), but didn’t use any text links within the page article text?….Instead of having text links (like your example has text links to a “radiosurgery” treatment), what if the page featured several banner display advertisements that link to a radiology advertiser site? Would this site also be in violation of Googles “Paid Posts” policy? I realize brain tumors are a sensitve example, but what if the article was about “the benefits of owning a plasma TV’, and there was no brand mention in the text body, nor any text links to a brand site in the body of the article. What if the page had banner display ads about a brand name plasma television and the banners linked to a name brand plasma television .COM site? Would the article host site also be in violation of Googles “Paid posts” policy? If so, what changes would have to be made to the page? Would the situation change depending on if the advertiser paid, or did not pay a writer for the article to be created?

  63. I wish you’d just be honest and state the truth:

    The only people allowed to make money from YOUR content is Google. As well, whatever money Google does make from YOUR content is theirs, save the pennies sprinkled out via Google Adsense.

    Without Google, I may not have as many visitors. But without our content, Google wouldn’t be here. It’s time that Google started rewarding for good behavior rather than penalizing for bad.

  64. Dave (original)

    Cassiano Travareli, paid directories are fine as they *say* the money is for reviewing the site before inclusion. IMO, I don’t see how that makes one iota of difference as simply means one can buy PR and links. Those with the deepest pockets win again.

  65. Ok, Matt. Let’s suppose that I have a personal blog about marketing (because that is what I do) and I dedide to talk about my marketing strategy with one of my clients, linking to his webpage. No direct selling of my pagerank but there is obviusly monetary relationship involved.

    But not only that. I convince a lot of my marketer friends to talk about it in their blogs too. I don’t pay them but could be other non-monetary ransoms involved (perhaps I will talk about heir job in the future).

    ¿Are these paid post? ¿Should I be worried about being penalized in any way? Why? Internet strategy is what I do and what I talk about.

    Could such posts be identified as paid post by google and therefore banned in any way? Have I any way of identify such penalizations?

  66. Alexis Kauffmann

    Thin content pages supported by paid links, expired domains, PageRank hoarding, hidden text.

    And yet the site is at the top for “hoteis”.

  67. I agree with the guy above who said the only people who get penalized are those who don’t know what they’re doing and have very little understanding of SEO – the professionals will always find devious ways of getting their sites to the top

  68. And what about “no follow” for every backlinks ? It would be very convenient for Google’s core business. Don’t you think ?…

  69. As the post says “Paid Posts should not affect search engines”, but they do. Money is what helps create a brand. With money companies buy their way to the top rankings and premium advertisements. And that influences people’s perception of a product or service.

    If you really want to crack down on paid posts/paid reviews, then you’d better create your own system to monetize that channel a la adwords. Then you can decide what is good or bad, ethically and morally speaking.

    Plus, this concept somehow goes against what your CEO mentioned in terms of:

    1. Brands are the solution, not the problem
    2. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool

    Isn’t that what those bloggers were trying to do? help build a brand for monetary compensation. Let’s not forget that this happens not only in the English world, but anywhere.

    It will take more than 30k manual raters to fix this issue on the web. Better yet if the algos are improved.

  70. After reading this post, the conclusion to me is, every business marketers need to act responsibly towards their industry, services to people. Is true that if make full use of the paid post for the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings reflect their search ranking position higher on SERP, thats going to be big problem to society and those consumers who are fully trusted in search engine result. They might getting into some faults by those non-ethical marketers. I believe this is also why Google so strictly control and against business like these to ensure best search experience by presenting equitable and accurate results to the searchers.

  71. Is nofollow (and penalisation) really the best way to handle this (ie paid links, pay-per-post). Surely its more a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater

  72. Hi Matt,

    I was one of the Kmart bloggers, and because I’ve had my site slapped by Google in the past, I had nofollowed my links in the Kmart post when I first put it up. *phew*.

    But what I don’t understand is why I would be expected to put a nofollow tag on a tracking link provided by DART? That link wouldn’t pass page rank anyway, so to add nofollow is completely redundant.

  73. I get the “paid” blog post perspective – but I am curious about product reviews. Here is an actual scenario I would love to hear if it is google approved or not – seems like it is in a grey area from what I have been reading but want to make sure. My company makes various specific baby products – we have started a “blog outreach program” where we send our products to prominent bloggers in hopes that they do a review – we dont pay, we dont ask for any creative control – we just say if you like it we would love it if you wrote about it on your blog…they dont have to – it is up to them and they can keep the product either way. Of course we ask (but not demand) fir link back to our site for sales purposes. we do not ask for it to be no-followed. Is this breaking the google rules?

  74. what about product reviews that are un-paid? Are those treated the same in google’s eyes>

  75. Hi Matt, Please would you reply to this comment.

    We are a group of people that includes two doctors and Nurses that publish medical news, daily. We had subsidized ourselves by Adsense and banner advertising. We have been in medical news publishing for 5 years already.

    We had about 5 paid links from relevant pages, and now immediately removed them because they were passing a page rank, in other words they did not have NO FOLLOW on them. Not every webmaster or honest person can know about these things as we don’t do SEO but just publish medical news based on research.

    QUESTION: Let’s assume that our site may have been demoted in ranking because of this and may have lost trust. WHAT things we can do to communicate to google that we did not know that NO Follow was necessary. But we have removed everything and are “clean.” What can we do to regain trust?

    Because if a doctor generated good content has lost trust because of not knowing about No Follow it’s not in search engine’s interest either.

    So, what actions can we take to let Google know that “look we did not know anything about these things, but now we do, and removed them and what can we do to regain trust.

    Thank you for your reply.

  76. Matt,

    I found your article very interesting but also somewhat contradictory.

    If I do a simple Google search for the keyword ‘medicine’ the first result to appear under the ‘Sponsored Links’ section is –

    Now, why is it different for site owners to pay Google to appear at the top of the ‘Sponsored Links’ listings even though their site as in this case is obviously an affiliate offering little if not NO value to the web surfer?

    As you say above, “you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines.”

    Well, this is true when it comes to medicine also, so why have you allowed it in this instance?

    I think the real issue is simply that Google is losing out on revenue from people buying and selling links as you don’t have your hand in the pie.


  77. Hi Matt,
    This tool seems really cool but Turkish translation in your example screen shot is a bad, very bad translation (I’m from Turkey). I hope it can do better than that!

  78. The “Alexis Kauffmann” who wrote about a site is a fake. I know nothing about the site mentioned there.

  79. So when will Google end their AdWords project? Considering people can “purchase” high rankings in Google SERPs on life or death matters…

    In fact, I constantly see fake “weight loss” blogs at the top of the results in the AdWords slots pushing questionable weight loss techniques and pills which could potentially lead to death or serious health consequences. These “blogs”, who use AdWords as their main source of advertising, exist solely to bank on affiliate sales from shady diet pill companies…

    Where is your sense of corporate responsibility Google?

  80. What can I do if 1 of my competitors spent a few thousand dollars on paid blog links that had my site url on it, then reported me to jump to number 1 in the rankings. Our old SEO now works for them (We let him go), & I know something is severely wrong. This penalty just happened about a week ago, but has cost our company its top landing page (80,000 views a month). We have always been ranked number 1, before this competitor even existed, and now are on the 30th page.

    The owner, asked me not to say what our site is, until he speaks to a few other people (I think he even spoke to our local congressman), but our company is always on those duracell commercials with the missing kid. If anyone had advice on things I can do, I would really appreciate it.

    I found some links by google searching and asked them to remove them, but there is no way I can find them all.

  81. Well said Odin!!!
    Rather simple…by Google…for Google = monopoly.
    algorithms my a**…they just want to be in charge of “promoting”.

    Why is it ok for google AdWords to push nasty images of cellulite while I am trying to read a blog about troubleshooting RAID configuration?
    Oh right, because someone paid Google vs. the blogger.

    I would be curious to see the stats on what blogs/sites have been penalized and when….I bet a good time would be when the competitor signed up for AdWords.
    People are getting tired of Google…soon enough this search engine will be getting the same reactions as they did for their browser…”Yet another..”

  82. Once again interesting discussions, I believe the real issues, are based upon the fact that the VAST majority of search results are based on paid links. Upon any real review of the top search results for nearly any query at all, a handful of SEO’s could pick out the paid links from a mile away.
    Google’s current strategy of selective enforcement is not working and is not fair. I have recently seen a website nailed by Google whom has nearly the same back link profile as the top 5 websites in their niche. Yet inexplicably they got a penalty. Imagine going around removing links from sites right next to your competitors links, your suffering from a Google Penalty, and they are rewarded by getting your traffic and they have done the exact same thing as you.
    That being said I do not envy Google because they have a mighty task, and paid links can have serious negative ramifications as Matt shows above.
    Possibly if Google permitted paid links, good sites would buy links and the spam sites would never rise to the top as they could not compete with the legit sites.
    Possibly even have Google review websites that want to sell links, and have these sites go through an approval process prior to being approved to sell links?
    I do think Google is right at their peak now much like Alta Vista and Yahoo were, they are coming to a cross road They need to embrace the people who got them here, that being the internet geeks from 1995-1996 (me), if they lose this base of people they are going to struggle. The next generation is already waiting for the next great thing.

  83. I am not opposed to the stance against paid posts at all, but as I mentioned on Twitter the other day, I find it slightly strange (mildly put) that Google makes such a big deal out of cases like this without first getting their own house in order.

  84. I agree with this sites look on it. You should check it out.

    They say google should form an agreement with the advertising firms so that companies can use this as a way of advertising and the bloggers can make some extra cash. I think it’s great all around.

  85. Well, this is the nature of the web, where any thing goes.

    What if someone pays to sabotage my site? The algorithm Google develops should factor in this nature of the web – where anything goes.

    My 2 cents

  86. Devil's Advocate

    That’s fair, but what if I buy my competitor a bunch of fake reviews ? Or if I buy him a $20 link package from hell on Digital Point where some guy from India will spam every forum ever created?

    If I’m the blogger, short of being hacked, i did it, but the link buyer might not always be the person.

  87. So if buying backlinks decreases your ranking in Google, does this mean a competitor could spend $x to get me completely sandboxed by Google?

    I think this goes to show that the backlinking method is long outdated and needs to be revised. Maybe once Google starts looking at Diggs, Tweets etc we may get a better ranking system, however this will too become saturated with paid for Diggs, Tweets etc and the cycle of finding a new ranking medium will start again.

  88. I think that is very hard to get natural backlinks today because of the duplicate content. Webmaster should link in stead of copying the content of other websites. That will be valuable for everybody.

  89. Nice post MATT. i am definitely against paid blog posting. I will never sell my blog space for advertising that does not meet my norms. However what’s wrong in promoting a product that is of good quality?

    Do you consider paid posts and affiliate links in the same genre? I read somewhere that Google does not like sites having affiliate links. What if the links are only in a very few posts and majority of the site has good quality informational content? Does attaching a no follow attribute help?

    Everyone runs a website as a part time or full time business. I wouldn’t argue that gaming the system is good, but sometimes it is really necessary. Do you not think? For e.g Your site ranks for the term “buy cheap viagra online”. it is a totally unrelated site and since your site has such high authority, it is difficult to beat your site. So naturally people need to buy links to gain an edge.

    The olden days where people lavishly linked to you are over. People consider everyone a competition. See how sites like wikipedia, techcruch, ehow etc limit linking to other sites? SO what do you suggest as an alternative? Unless Google stops using inbound links as the major criteria there is no way a webmaster can get his site ranked unless they buy links or is a celebrity!!!

  90. Why does Google assume I’m not intelligent enough to differentiate the bad listings from the good ones? It’s what life is all about, making decisions, it’s a skill , a skill you develop further by making bad some decisions every now and then. This is simply part of our education and becoming smarter.

    I can sort of agree on the medical issues though, but the internet is a bit bigger then just a few medical spammy related posts. You got millions upon millions of blog articles that are related to a service/product that might be of interest to the reader and the reader can decide themselves whether they like it or not, it’s not up to google to police this.

    It was google that started awarding sites for incoming links including paid spammy links, so this whole issue is first created by Google, and now they are trying to fight it, assuming we need them to make our choices,

  91. I wonder what would happen if all links on the web became nofollow? What would the google algorythm do then? I guess it would have to adapt as google always does. I know this is not likely to happen but it is kind of an interesting hypothetical.

  92. I just saw this interview with a guy who runs an SEO company where among other things, he talks about how he pays bloggers to write articles for links without disclosing that they are paid.
    I wonder how long it will be until one of his customers is the next JC Penney or Overstock?

  93. If a human can’t even detect if something is sponsored or not, how the hell do you think google will be able to do it. I agree that nofollow is ruining the web. Personally I use nofollow even on legit links just because I don’t want to share my page rank with them. Call this stupid, but I want the best rankings possible.

    Also to Matt,
    Wikipedia is a scourge. You should just relabel google’s home page to say “Google (w/Wikipedia), since the worthless wikipedia shows up first for every keyword. If I wanted to look up the definition of something I would go to not

  94. Are nofollow links just as good as a followed link?

  95. I read so many times and at so many places that paid links harms the site in some ways. Now i got ideas about it. Thanks to help me out.

  96. @ David Thomas nofollow links are not just good as dofollow but it depends from where you are getting nofollow links. If you are getting nofollow links from an website for the link juice purpose it’s totally worthless instead of this if you are posting comment on a blog or website with nofollow attributes here you will also not get link juice but from here you can visitor which is most important for you but your comment should be genuine.

  97. Talk about blogging – I must say I am impressed with bloggers who blog about what they love and yet are able to achieve a pagerank of 8, without much SEO investment. What’s their secret?