One of my clients (who has a very successful and busy site) recently asked me about selling text links on his site. He had been approached by someone (apparently a link broker) who was wanting to place a collection of links in the footer, sitewide. My client was asking me about format and location, but I didn’t even address those questions. I told him that before he decided to proceed down that path, he needed to know about Google’s stance on paid links and the nofollow tag.
I gave him some basic background information on the whole paid links/nofollow debacle. I explained to him that while we don’t know for sure if Google penalizes sites that sell links, they might, and even if they don’t they might start to in the future. His site performs extremely well in all the major search engines, including Google, and I suggested that he wants to be very very careful to avoid doing something that could harm his site’s performance in Google.
I recommended that he tell the link broker that he would be happy to sell the links but that they would be nofollowed — predicting, also, that the link broker would decline such links. He did, and they did.
It still irks me that after introducing the nofollow tag under the guise of reducing blog link spam, Google then expanded its recommended usage and then further expanded that to become essentially a “requirement” that paid links be nofollowed. With Google’s focus on inbound links for ranking pages, Google almost singlehandedly created the voluminous quantities of link spam that infests the web. Now they require that webmasters and website owners help them clean up the mess.
My client is smart and savvy, and has spent years building a very high-quality site that has garnered thousands of links from major universities, public school systems, Discovery, PBS, the History Channel, Fox, and many many other large, authoritative sources. But he doesn’t live, eat and breathe SEO, and he didn’t know about paid links or the nofollow tag. He was interested in the offer he received because his AdSense income has dropped this year, and he’s looking for other sources of revenue. I’m not typically the type to cry “It’s not fair,” because I know that life is simply not fair — but in this case I’ll make an exception. It’s not fair for Google to threaten dire consequences to his site simply because he didn’t know that an offer he received would violate Google’s policy on paid links. This man focuses on building a quality site; he doesn’t spend his time practicing black-hat SEO or poring over Google’s webmaster guidelines.