The Future of Paid Linking

Gregory Ciotti

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Paid linking… Ever since Google’s recent batch of visible PageRank updates, it’s been the topic on every blogger’s mind. Sure, paid linking a great way to monetize a website, but is it worth the risk? What will become of those who defy the Google gods and continue to sell popularity? After the smoke clears, what sort of brave new blogosphere will remain? Here are some predictions.

Google will continue on the warpath against paid linking. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, since it’s obvious that paid linking is a big threat to Google. It undermines the quality of organic search and takes money away from Google’s own online advertising and website monetization products, AdWords and AdSense. It’s in Google’s best interest to keep fighting it. Their terminator, Googlebot, will only get smarter and more efficient as time goes by, eventually hunting down and penalizing any website that shows the slightest hint of paid linking.

Paid linking will go further underground. No matter how many penalties are assessed, bloggers who crave income won’t be satisfied with AdSense. They’ll hide their paid links within posts, brokering them behind the scenes and blending them seamlessly with ordinary content. This is already happening, so it’s more fact than prediction, but the practice will become much more pronounced. Googlebot will, of course, have great difficulty separating these blended paid links from their non-paid counterparts. In adapting to the new, signal-less environment, it will mistakenly penalize innocent websites, resulting in a backlash from webmasters that will prompt Google to ease off of its offensive.

PageRank will become meaningless. In Google’s attempts to kill paid linking by making PageRank an unreliable measure of link value, PageRank will be the ultimate casualty. Bloggers and entrepreneurs will sense the growing discontent and develop third party measurements to take its place. Eventually, PageRank will be looked down upon as inaccurate, uninformative, and frequently out-of-date, as it always should have been.

Google will demolish trust between link buyers and sellers. Just after the paid linking community thinks is has won a small reprieve, Google will unleash a secret counterattack in the form of voluntary disavowal of links (as they’ve already hinted). Within Google Webmaster Tools, a new utility will be developed that will allow webmasters to remove their own outbound links from ranking calculations, all without ever using rel=”nofollow”. Link buyers will no longer be able to trust that link sellers aren’t cashing in without providing value. Short of adding an unenforceable “You will not disavow paid links” clause to link brokerage agreements, all trust in paid linking as a useful SEO method will be lost.

In the end, Google will emerge victorious. Online advertising will continue and thrive as it always has, and some bloggers may be able to use traffic-based advertising for monetization. For the most part, however, paid linking will be reduced to a shadow of its former self. With the value of paid linking for ranking purposes being next to nothing, paid posting and paid directories will also take a hit. Dejected and crestfallen, bloggers will turn to other methods of blog monetization.

What do you think? Are these predictions accurate? What kind of a future should we expect for paid linking?

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37 Responses to “The Future of Paid Linking”

  • Dave08

    There are benefits, i don’t think its an accurate way to judge a site. A site could be really good and struggle to get backlinks, and another site could be poor and have many backlinks.

    The poor site will be higher in google. I hope google thinkings of a new way.

  • John Mark

    I dont understand why the people are denial the benifits of paid linking. its the short cut method to attract the search engine towards the site. and obivously when a high PR site points the low ranked site the PR should increases.

  • Daniel

    Interesting that some sites selling links are reporting an increase in demand :).

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  • Website Promotion Services – Frederrick Abrugart

    I think paid link industry will continue despite what migh happen. Sites still need back links to rank high in SERP. Besides subscribing in website optimization or website promotion services, buying quality links is still a must unless if you can offer superb information in your website that people will not mind throwing a link to your site.

    Directory submission is another “paid link” activity which I believe is totally safe.

  • Vishal

    hey! i zligged this post since it talks about making money online…
    if you’ve got other “make money online” posts – come zligg them,
    and see them rise in rank –

  • Frank C

    Google should exercise extreme caution if they continue to go after the paid links, particularly with little guys. Just ask Standard Oil, IBM, AT&T and Microsoft about that.

  • Staska

    You know, how some brilliant/dangerous/obvious in hindsight ideas can stay unrealized for years and years until someone thinks of them and articulates them?

    Web ranking based on backlinks, instead of keyword density, metatags and other esoteric measures comes to mind…

    So why the F!@#$%^ did you have to go out and articulate “the trust through webmaster console thing”.

    It’s so obvious, easy to implement and potentially effective idea, that will be implemented pretty ASAP now, that it’s out there (in Google cache)

    Congratulations, you just singlehandedly ruined the whole text link selling industry today! 😉

  • Dave

    That’s right. Google penalizes the little guys while paying them pennies. The big guys, on the other hand, have their own reputations. Advertisers do not consult Google and Pagerank when they look at advertising with the likes of the New York Times, CNN, CBS, MSN, Yahoo, USA Today, NBC, etc., etc. And New York Times, CNN, CBS, MSN, Yahoo, USA Today, NBC do not rely on Google for reputation or income.

    All Google is doing is hitting the little guy, which makes Google look like a little guy’s world.

  • Joe

    You’re right, a lot of us aren’t satisfied by adsense… settle for 0.01 a day or sell a link for $15? It’s a huge difference!

    I just wrote a post on my site challenging Google, so we will see…

  • Shashank

    The fourth point is really a cruel one if that happens advertisers will be left with nothing.

  • Travel Guy

    Paid linking will not go away – but it will get smarter – and it should. There will eventually be little choice but to make those ads context sensitive, by embedding them in posts or pages.

    Despite the thinking that Google wants to own the world and drive other players out, I’m not sure they are actually penalizing all paid links.

    Consider that they want to serve up related content. I mean that’s what they try do with Adsense – related ads. Perhaps they are trying to sift out the unrelated paid links, so that the user experience improves.

    Just a thought…

  • cyberst0rm

    Google Page Rank matters! No matter which way you look at it, until a new method to show the importance of a website appears, bloggers, webmaster and even advertisers simple have no other accurate way of determining a sites ‘importance’

    Alexa is easily manipulated. This strangely doesn’t seem to stop Text Link Ads from using it as a measure in its Blog Juice system.

    As far as I’m concerned, Paid Linking is here to stay, whether Google likes it or not!

  • seeker

    I would also agree with most of them.

  • Dave

    I think a lot of people will quit trying to figure out Google and just go with the flow. They just will go with what pays. I would rather think about money than about Google. I mean the big companies that post paid links and ads, companies like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today just ignore Google. They don’t need Google. Their reputations bring them traffic irrespective of Google.

    Google policies only affect the little guys, not companies like Dell or GoDaddy or Sears, etc. Google only hurts the little guys.

    The big guys don’t need Google and never did.

  • Vikram

    lol@ Patrix.

    I am really keen to see where this would take the blog monetization process.

    And if someone comes up with a brilliant new method that would exclude page rank and include some other parameter to judge the importance of a website!

    PR is going Haywire, and Alexa isn’t really reliable!

  • Thilak

    Like Karthik already said, until an alternate metric won’t come into the scene. Pagerank will keep running and webmasters will be conscious about it.

  • Patrix

    Dejected and crestfallen, bloggers will turn to other methods of blog monetization.

    You mean, blogger will turn instead to blogging and not worrying about monetization. Sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂

  • Stephen

    I disagree, Patrick. I’m actually surprised Google hasn’t already started allowing webmasters to disavow links, because it would pretty thoroughly destroy any trust between link buyers and sellers. After all, when it’s in the seller’s best interest to profit from the link, but then disavow it and retain all search rankings, buyers will no longer be interested in using them for SEO purposes. It’d make it a completely one-sided proposition in favor of blog owners.

    It is good that this has created a public stir, Jason, but I don’t think the buzz is big enough to really affect Google’s strategy. Right now, it’s really limited to webmasters, bloggers, and others in the know on the web. Unfortunately, that’s not as big an audience as we’d like to believe. I think it will take more time before there’s enough attention to affect Google’s decision-making.

    Zybron, I agree with you; PageRank isn’t going anywhere any time soon. However, visible PageRank could easily disappear. All Google has to do is shut off the servers that report it. My point, of course, is that, whether or not it goes away, it will lose so much credibility as to be regarded as useless by the web community at large.

  • Michael from Pro Blog Design

    “Eventually, PageRank will be looked down upon as inaccurate, uninformative, and frequently out-of-date, as it always should have been.”

    I think it always has been that way; at least, by more credible SEOs. What this all will have done is bring that realisation to the massess, which is a good thing. 🙂

    Your prediction about using Webmaster Central to block out links is fantastic. That would be a great move by Google.

  • Zybron

    I’d personally love to see pagerank go away, but it never will, not as long as Google is the search engine. Since they use it as a factor in their own search engine rankings, it just makes sense that it will never go away.

  • Jason @ SFYB

    No one person can change Google’s mind about things, but the more they upset people the more people will use alternative sources of PPC advertising, and contextual advertising.

    Some of the biggest content creators out there are dumping adsense for other revenue generating programs.

    So again, no one person can effect Google and what they do but the masses will.

  • Sergio

    i prefer go to direction on dosh dosh and master yoda said:

  • Karthik

    If a ranking metric in competition with PageRank can be setup, Google would have thought twice, nay hundreds of times before slapping a penalty based on the PR. The reason they do it without a lot of thought to the repurcussions is the plain old theory of monopoly.

    As long as there’s no competition, Google rules, and will always rule.

    Personally, I’d love to see someone develop an alternative metric.

  • Wayne Liew

    I guess your predictions might come true in some way. Although many are earning great bucks through link trading and paid posting, I guess all of it will come to an end.

    Wait a minute, what does a Page Rank means when we don’t monetise it? Previously, bloggers and webmasters see Page Rank as an important rating because paid posts and link traders look at it and set the price. If link trading is no longer there, people won’t care much about Page Rank any more.

  • Patrick Altoft

    It would be pretty revolutionary for Google to let people state which links they didn’t want Google to look at. The repercussions would be huge.

    I don’t think Google would want to do this as it would keep the link selling industry alive by letting blog owners sell links and secretly devalue them.

    The recent update is just the tip of the iceberg though.

  • Daniel

    Ben, these are Stephen’s predictions :).

    Although I would also agree with most of them.

  • Ben


    Your predictions are probably correct. I’ve tried all different types of advertising and the only one’s that work are those from Google. So, I guess that I will have to play by Google’s rules with paid links. It’s too bad the other ones don’t work for me because I do like the diversity.

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