paid linksRecently, Google made a change to their paid link recommendations and this has caused some concern in the search world. Matt Cutts revealed the logic behind paid links for a website. How can you evaluate paid links with respect to Google?

Webmasters always take the initiative of getting great backlinks that can contribute in better ranking of the site, but Google abandons this and focuses on identifying the paid links, which will finally help the search engine to rank the site.

You may wonder what paid links are and how Google samples them out determining which link is actually paid or which is not? Paying for links as an artificial way of boosting your Google search results is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google is very good at eliminating any benefit from paid directories. Their algorithm is very sophisticated and constantly changing, and it can recognize paid link-farm directories — or even free, non-industry directories — and completely devalue any links from those sites.

The Value of Material Received

You may wonder what if you give out money, but buy someone beer and pizza to get them to write about your site, will it be against Google Spam team guidelines? Technically, a paid link is one that has been purchased. Cutts says, according to web spam guidelines, anything that appears to be deceptive, abusive or manipulative Google reserve a right to take action on. It is quite the same for if a new technique is spotted exploiting people trust. Google code of conduct clearly states receiving something like a pen or free T-shirt at a conference will not change behavior compared to someone handing you $600 or more at hand in order to link to you. The latter is of greater value and the range between the two is one of the criteria used to detect a paid link. On the other end if it is an inexpensive dinner and 4 months later you decide to write on their site, the spam team will not suspect this step as a technique for paid links.

Loan or Gift

Cutts gives an example of the difference when you are loaned a car versus when someone actually gives the car to you entirely. If you are given a review copy, and you have to return it, it’s a relatively well-respected thing where people understand you are trying it out  to see if you like it and you eventually have to send it back. Whereas if someone sends you a copy of say a camera and said, “You know what, keep it”, that’s something much closer to material compensation according to Matt and his team. Loaning a highly expensive item can be a common practice and acts as a marketing piece, but it can also be a way of getting paid links.

Audience Intent

Cutts says that Google looks at the intended audience, noting it can be hard to judge intent, but the majority of the time the intent is crystal clear when someone is giving you actual money to buy links.

In a sales conference some usually have a one year free subscription for their products. The main intent is not so as to embed links on some blog post, but the intent is to try and sign someone up to see how well they like the product/ service offered to make the sale after the trial is over. The trial usually ends after 6 months in most cases and one has to convert and start paying money. In this situation, it is not about getting links for SEO value, it is so as people can help by telling another about the product/service. For instance, when issued with a Google Nexus 7 so as to write more Google apps for tablets or something close.“The difference would be where we’ve encountered people who are supposed to be reporters, who would say if you give us a laptop, then we will write a nice story about you, and it’s giving me a laptop not borrowing a laptop,” Cutts says. This is the time when the intention is quite visible as a paid link.

Expected Compensation or Surprise

If any movie reviewer is allowed to enter a theatre to watch movie for free, then it is quite an obvious matter and not a surprise, but if a tech blog reporter says that he wants a laptop to keep in order for covering of the news or an article for a particular website, then it can certainly be a surprise and another criteria for sampling out a paid link. If it is something people expect you to write about that is normal, but something completely off topic from your field will raise quite the suspicion.

Google reserves the right to take action against other manipulative or abusive techniques trying to exploit people’s trust that aren’t explicitly against Google’s guidelines. Therefore, before starting with link building, webmasters should be aware of FTC guidelines that talk about compensation and determining paid links.

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