Selling links from your website can offer lucrative and ongoing income, but there are provisos and some serious risks to take into consideration before proceeding.
The weakest link
Link selling has been around for many years now – particularly in light of the dominance of Google. Google’s algorithm considers many criteria before deciding where one website will rank compared to another. One of the major considerations is the number and quality of “in bound links” (IBLs) pointing at your website.
Given this, link popularity is now an extremely important aspect of SEO, and is one of the key criteria search engines will use to decide where a website will rank. It’s based on a democratic principle that each link is counted as a “vote”. Generally speaking, the more quality links a website or web page enjoys, the higher the website or web page will rank.
Google cemented this philosophy by creating “PageRank” (named after one the Google founders Larry Page). A web page’s PageRank (or PR) can be seen by downloading and installing the Google toolbar. PageRank is a scale of 0 to 10, where the higher the PageRank the better.
I guess a “quality link” can be described as a link that comes from one of the following:
- A website that’s been around for several years and ranks well (ie, it’s trusted).
- A webpage which has thematically relevant content.
- A .gov (government website).
- An .edu (educational website).
- A web page with a high PageRank.
Without getting into a huge discussion about links, certainly it can be argued that a web page with high PageRank is considered powerful by Google. So a link from a high PR page to yours will help to increase your own PR as some it is passed along. However it’s not the be all and end all.
I still reckon relevance is the key to good rankings. A link from a page with lower PR about “widgets” to your page, also about widgets, is often better than a link from a non-relevant page with high PR. Obviously the perfect scenario is an IBL from a relevant high PR page to yours.
Still, link selling has become a lucrative industry and there are several major portals that offer brokerage services. www.textlinkbrokers.com is one such example which brings link sellers and link buyers together. Essentially a link seller will offer a link from their home page (and sub pages) to yours for a fee. Generally speaking, the higher the PageRank the more you pay to get a link.
For example, if your home page has a PR 5, you could sell a link from it to someone else for about $US70 a month (minus brokerage fees). Some of the big, well established PR 8 sites sell links for more than $US1000 per month. So you can make some good money just by adding a link on your site!
All well and good, but let’s look at the risks.
The first is the potential loss of your own PageRank as you bleed PR away from your own site by linking out to others.
The second is the decision by Google to crack down on the practice. Matt Cutts is the SEO spokesperson for Google and he’s been investigating ways to discover paid links algorithmically. He talks in great length about it in his blog.
There’s also a new section in the Google Webmasters area that asks webmasters to report suspected paid linking activity; dobbing in the site that has allegedly sold a link and the site that has bought a link. Frankly, the implications if you’re caught are too scary to think about!
Perhaps for the first time ever, we might see Google penalising a site that has a link pointing to it. Google has always argued that if you link to a “bad website” you’ll be penalised. On the flip side, you can’t be penalised for someone else who links to you because you have no control over it. And I agree; if that was the case, you could buy 10,000 dodgy links and point them at their competitor’s website to get them out of the way.
It also opens the question about paid directories. I’ve bought lots of listings for clients from Yahoo over the years. Does this mean my clients’ websites are going to be penalised? I certainly hope not!
While portals go to great lengths to protect the identity of link buyers and sellers, I don’t think it will take Google too long to crack the scam. Mind you, when there’s such big money involved, I’m sure the portals will continue to change their systems to try and stay ahead of Google (in the never ending game of dodgy SEO cat and mouse).
At the end of the day, I always recommend that it’s still best to stay ethical (white hat) and comply with the Google webmaster guidelines.
Chris Thomas heads Reseo a search engine marketing company which specialises in setting up and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns, Affiliate Programs and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.
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Nattski asks: Can Google get you if links are bartered for non-cash values?
Chris replies: I’d say there’s no way Google will penalise you for reciprocating links between sites. My feeling is that Google does ‘see’ those links as being quite natural, but for the most part discounts them – they kind-of cancel each other out. In other words, Google has an algorithmic way of dealing with them. Google wants to nail the one-way paid link problem.
You can also use the rel=”nofollow” tag within your html link code. This tag is quite new and is used quite a bit by blog software on comments.
Comments or feedback are often used by link spammers to gather links back to themselves or their clients. The “nofollow” tag prevents robots following a link, thereby negating any SEO benefit the link offers (but humans obviously can click and follow).