The title of this article needs to be answered right away: in general, Google does not like paid linking. That must be kept in mind, surely. But there is a gray area that should also be explored. After all, so-called “paid links” are not all the same in people’s personal definition. Without further ado, let’s explore what these are and their difference with what should be avoided.

How Does Google Determine Whom To Penalize For “Paid Links”?

We can imagine that paid links are not easy to spot. But that isn’t always true. Google is the all seeing eye of the Internet. And like Sauron, Google can be scary as hell if it fixes its gaze upon your lowly website and hands you that manual penalty.

Matt Cutts himself talks about what constitutes paid links:

– Most of the time, things are pretty obvious. There are websites and companies that outright offers money to website owners with higher PR ratings for out of context backlinks. This is easily spotted because 1. the offers are very public 2. the pattern is easily traceable through the digital footprints the process leaves behind and usually unnatural context keywords and 3. these websites make no effort at all to hide the fact that they are buying links in huge quantities, as the speedy boost in backlink acquisition is quite a surprising spike.

– What qualifies as a link exchanged for money? Matt cuts talks about how Google’s own policies of determining the unethical buying of links are closely hewn from the principles of the FTC’s standards. So if you want to know what constitutes for “paying” then you can go ahead and look at the FTC’s rules.

– The key is to understand what amount can actually be construed as something that will relevantly change a person’s mind about linking or not linking to a website. Of course there are events that hand out freebies and photos for attendees, but these are not handouts that will forcefully influence them to link to the event organizer’s website. However, having an event or bloggers then offering them something of great value to make them link to or review a site, then that is something unethical and Google will take action once it is spotted.

– Another way is when tech companies give away gadgets or other stuff to reviewers. This not only influences reviewers to write a good review, it also forces them to link to the website. Google views this as unethical and therefore discourages it.

Manual penalty is the most likely your scenario when you build paid links. But of course there is no way for Google to track you if you only do paid links one at a time. Looking at what Google considers as unethical: it is either massively spammy sites that do outright paid links to all viewers, or it’s big brands that giveaway stuff for bloggers to review and backlink. In between, there is a gray area for ethical marketing that is not necessarily what you would call “paid” in the way the FTC defines it. This gray area is offering real value of use to users.

In short, create a good product, good service, and good content instead of paying people to review a bad or mediocre product, service, or content. Instead of giving them monetary value, why not give them service or product value? Of course there is still the necessity to do your reach out. SEO is still marketing. But it must be in an organic way and not to be greedily handing out cash and goodies to reviewers left and right.