We have seen iAcquire being banned by Google recently. Running a site command in Google (site:www.iacquire.com) does not yield any results so one is sure that the site has been de-indexed from Google results. They have been accused of running a network of sites that buy links for their clients. Many have justified the move while others thought that it was harsh. I will try to analyze the whole thing from a logical point of view on why paid links could land you in trouble with Google. I will try not to have a Herd mentality and side with the popular opinion but rather see it from a logical perspective.
First, Google PR is an indicator to measure the worth of a site in eyes of Google. A few of the matrix that determines Page Rank is the number of inbound links a site has; the PR of the sites linking in; the amount of outbound links on the page that links to your site etc. It is believed that when you link to a site you are essentially passing Page Rank to that site. Google does not recommend buying or selling links as it is a deliberate attempt to pass Page Rank and increase the value of a site. So now we know why buying links is not allowed, because it passes Page Rank in a manipulative way. Google recommends that you use a rel=”nofollow” attribute when linking to a site so that PR is not passed on to that site.
Many people associate words like illegal or unethical with buying links. Some people went as far as branding them dangerous to the society.
Now I will list a few of the activities that almost all SEOs, webmasters, site owners and blog owners engage or have engaged in to promote their sites:
1. Mutual Link Exchanges: This is the most common of them all. The link is exchanged with mutual consent having the sole intent to help each other’s site by passing Page Rank. All link exchanges are “do follow” as otherwise there is no point in engaging in this activity. Most SEOs and experts have so far been of the opinion that if you are not overdoing this activity, then you are fine. It is a Legitimate activity to engage in. But why? It is true money has not exchanged hands, but definitely something has been paid in return for something. So if iAcquire ban is justified, then technically, all companies that have exchanged links on behalf of a client should also be banned?
2. Guest posts: If you have ever written a guest post or accepted a guest post on your blog in return for a link back to the writer’s site or the site they are sponsoring, then both parties are guilty too. When someone offers to write a guest post on a blog for links, aren’t they manipulating PR?
3. Blogrolls: Do you have any sites in your blogrolls? If yes, then you are guilty too. I am yet to see a blog that does not have any sites in its blogrolls. So, essentially all blogs are guilty of passing PR to other sites.
4. Directory Submissions: When you submit your site to a directory you are adding value to that directory, in return they list your worthy site and give you a “do follow” link to your site. Would you have still submitted the site, if they did not link to you? However, there are some directories for which the rule changes entirely. For example, you have to pay Yahoo to have your site listed in their directory and yet it is considered legitimate by Google. This is quite a contradiction in my opinion.
5. Credit links: All credit links with a do follow attribute should also be considered spam as it should be seen as a deliberate attempt to pass page rank.
In fact, the list can go on and on like blog comments, article submissions etc. Any activity that you voluntarily undertake to generate back links is unnatural links and therefore should be unethical.
If you have engaged yourself in any of the activities above and consider them ethical then what is wrong with paid links? How are they different? Money is being paid here in the form of compensation that you receive in some form or the other with any link building activity!
In fact, I see Page Rank as the culprit here. What is the use of showing the Page Rank of a website to the public? What purpose does it serve in improving results? Google could very well use the Page Rank as an internal indicator of the authority of a site and not disclose it to the public at all. This would automatically eliminate all the link building activities above and pave way for natural link building only, which will of course be next to nothing.
Google has been very wrong in its move to ban a site like this. As long as ranking decisions are made by machines using algorithms, there are not many chances of things going wrong. But when humans are involved they are bound to be influenced by emotions, popular opinion, their own biases etc and therefore make unavoidable mistakes, even if they work for Google; I am talking about manual spam checking here.
Search engines should concentrate on improving search results in terms of relevancy and not decrease relevancy in order to catch spam. Moreover, would you have seen such a move from Google if they had a very close competitor? Probably not.