Paid Links and Google Penalties

Google is once again cracking down on paid links. Not only are they cracking down, but they are hitting some big fish. This effort, most likely to set a solid example is quite effective. We know that Google can and will penalize you for paid links that are permitted to pass PageRank… But many seem to ignore this and continue to blatantly buy links.

On Feb 12, 2011 the New York Times ran an article called The Dirty Little Secrets of Search in where they detailed big box search queries such as “dresses”, “bedding” and “area rugs” where although not perhaps our own first logical result… J. C. Penney was pulling top results. The New York Times, seeking a great story enlisted the help of a well know SEO company (Blue Fountain Media) to conduct a investigation of Penney’s elusive top performance. What they found….

Was that J. C. Penney was using one of the oldest “Black Hat SEO” techniques around… Buying links. This campaign, of which Penney refused any knowledge of was described as “the most ambitious attempt to game Google’s search results that he has ever seen. ”  The New York Times, just like anyone else in the world can easily do… reported their findings to Google, who slapped the great J. C. Penney with an algorithmic tweak to lower and in many cases eliminate their organic rank AND some manual penalties were assessed as well.

Matt Cutts head of webspam for Google not only confirmed the tactics but went as far as to “tweet” the following.

Google’s algorithms had started to work; manual action also taken.

J.C. Penney when asked to respond firmly passed the buck and blame on their SEO company SearchDex. A spokeswoman for Penney, Darcie Brossart gave the following rebuttal.

J. C. Penney did not authorize, and we were not involved with or aware of, the posting of the links that you sent to us, as it is against our natural search policies,” Ms. Brossart wrote in an e-mail. She added, “We are working to have the links taken down.

J.C Penney is most certainly responsible for their own behavior and IF they genuinely didn’t know about the paid links, it is still firmly their fault for not monitoring their SEO campaign. Blaming the SEO company is kind of like saying that “wow I didn’t know that item was stolen goods”… Too bad, busted anyhow.

However, the public humiliation J.C. Penney suffered for their wrong doing doesn’t seem to have deterred big companies from utilizing these tactics which violate Google’s guidelines. Recently, Google notified that they have been penalized for selling links on their web site. While this is clearly the “other side” of this “black hat”, it is none the less a violation and the monster Forbes has now suffered the same fate as Penney. The really unbelievable thing is that not only did the embarrassment J.C. Penny suffered not deter Forbes, but the means by which these advertising links were allowed to pass PageRank is a well known issue…. and they have been busted before.

Here is the notice from webspam as posted by denis.pinsky in Google Webmaster Central.. Have a look at all the responders taking the opportunity to report paid links they have found… Perhaps their competitors?

Dear site owner or webmaster of,
We’ve detected that some or all of your pages are using techniques that are outside our quality guidelines, which are available here:
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. For more information about our linking guidelines, visit
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please visit to submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support:

Google Search Quality Team
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

This really winds me up. How am I supposed to convince shop owners that this is bad and can cost them dearly… when the big boys do it and don’t seem to care and much more, if the big boys do it and they don’t…. How are they to compete?

What you need to know as shop owners is simple….

  1. It’s a clear violation of Google’s guidelines to buy or sell links that pass PageRank
  2. It’s way to easy to get reported and caught
  3. Your business will suffer 10 fold compared to these big boys
  4. You may not recover at all
  5. … and I told you so =P