What is a “paid link”?
Articles,  Blog

What is a “paid link”?


Hi, everybody. Today I wanted to talk about
paid links, and specifically, what are the Web Spam Team’s
criteria for paid links? Now, this is kind
of interesting, because the vast majority
of the time, things are incredibly clear. People are paying money outright
for links based on page rank, flowing the page rank, trying
to get higher rankings. So here’s an example
spam email that I got. “We are offering our
high-quality, genuine PR five-to-nine sites for
selling text links. We maintain these
quality with our sites.” And they talk about
unique content with maximum of
five outbound links. They’re selling these no
fake PR, no drop domains, that sort of thing. So 99.9% of the time,
it’s abundantly clear that these are links that are
being bought and paid and sold and all that sort of stuff. But every so often,
people like to split hairs and they’ll ask
questions, like, OK, Matt, but what about if I
don’t give the guy money, but maybe I buy him some
beer and some pizza, and then he happens to
write about my site? Those sorts of things. So I wanted to walk
through the criteria that we use when we assess
whether a link would be paid or not. And the main thing that
I want to say up front is, these are some of the
criteria, but just like the web spam guidelines,
basically say, look, anything that’s deceptive or
manipulative or abusive we reserve the right
to take action on. It’s the same sort of thing. If we see a new
technique that people are trying to exploit people’s
trust or something like that, we’re willing to take
action on that as well. But if you look at it
in a pretty clear lens, you can see that people
like the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC, have
actually defined, what does it mean to have a material
connection if you are compensated? And so if I don’t cover the
criteria or the examples that you’d be interested
in, I would actually encourage this check
out the FTC’s guidelines on that, or similar guidelines
from other governmental agencies, because we
actually hew pretty closely to the spirit behind those. So first off, what is the
value of what you’re getting? Even Google’s Code of Conduct
recognizes that if you get a $1.00 pen or
something like that, that might not
change your behavior. And so if you go
to a conference, and you pick up a free
t-shirt that’s probably pretty low-quality,
that’s probably not going to change how you behave. That’s not going to
change your behavior. On the other hand, if you
someone pays you outright $600 to link to you, that is
clearly a lot of value. And so on the spectrum
between a pen and a t-shirt, all the way up to
something of great value, that’s one of the
criteria that we use. Another good one is, how
close is something to money? So, again, the vast
majority of the time, people are actually giving you money. Sometimes people
might say something like, hey, I’d like to
send you a gift card. Well, you know what? Gift cards are pretty fungible. You can convert those to money
and back and forth not too easily. On the other hand,
something like, I’m going to give you a
free trial of perfume, or I’m going to buy you a
beer, or something like that– that’s less of a connection. But we do look at how close
something is to actual money whenever we’re looking
at those kinds of things. If somebody goes in
buys you a dinner, and then you write a blog
post four months later, and the dinner wasn’t some huge
steak dinner with 18 courses, or something like that, that’s
probably not the sort of thing that we would worry about
as, as you would guess. Another criterion that we
use is whether something is a gift or a loan. So imagine, for example,
that somebody loaned out a car for someone to try out
for a week versus giving them a car. There’s a big difference there. Because if you’re
loaned a car for a week, you still have to maintain
the insurance on your car. You still have to make sure
you’ve got a place to store it. Whereas if someone
gives you a new car, that is it something of a
completely different nature. And so if somebody’s
giving you a review copy and you have to return
it, that’s a relatively well-respected thing
where people understand, OK, I’m trying this out. I’m a gadget
reviewer, or whatever. I get to see whether I like
this camera or whatever, but I do have to send it back. Whereas if someone sends
you a camera and then says, oh, you know what,
just keep it, that’s going to be something that’s
much closer to material compensation, in our opinion. We also look at the
intended audience. And it can be hard to judge
intent, but bear in mind that the vast majority
of the time, the intent is crystal clear when someone’s
giving you actual money to buy links. But for example, suppose
someone went to a sales force conference? So they’re at Dreamforce, and
they represent a nonprofit. And so they manage to
say, OK, I’m a nonprofit. I’d like to try
out your service. And so, at sales force
conference, or Dreamforce, they got a year’s free
use of the service. Now, the intent there
was not to get someone to embed paid links within
an editorial blog post. The intent was to try to sign
somebody up, see how they liked it. They can be someone who could
tell other people about it. Maybe it’s a subscription
or a trial where they get six months
free, and then after that, they have
to either convert or start paying money, or
something along those lines. That is something
where the intent is not trying to get links
for SEO value. It’s so that people
can try it out. Similar sort of thing if you
go to a conference, right? And it’s intended
for programmers, like Google I/O. And you’re
giving them a Nexus 7, or something like
that, because you want them to write more
Google Apps for tablets, or something along
those sorts of lines. The difference would
be, we have 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. I’ve certainly dealt with a few
consultants who said something like, if you make sure that
I get a really nice monitor, I’ll make sure that your
report from this consultancy looks really good. And that’s not the sort
of thing that we do, and it’s not the
sort of thing that we would want to– you would
want that to be disclosed. So another thing to consider is
whether it would be a surprise. So if you’re a movie
reviewer, it’s not a surprise that somebody probably
lets you into the theater, and maybe you watch
the movie for free. That’s not something that’s
going to be a surprise. If it was a reporter
for a tech blog, and they said, give me a
laptop, and I get to keep it, that would be a
surprise, and it was something that was not
reviewing the laptop. It was just like, I’ll
write about your startup if you give me a laptop. That would be the
sort of thing that really should be disclosed. So when you’re looking
at the criteria, first off, it’s how
close is it to money, and how valuable is it? Because it’s normally
money, and it’s normally the amount of money they’re
paying to get links. We look at whether it’s
a gift, whether it’s a loan, the intended
audience– if somebody’s trying to get you to try out
the product versus trying to get you to write about it,
sponsored blog posts, and we’ll give you a little
bit of free merchandise, but we really want you
to write about it– those sorts of things. And then criteria like,
would it be a surprise? Would people expect that
as you’re writing a review, or you’re trying
out some product? Or is it something that’s
completely off-topic that is really not
germane to writing about in a particular blog
post, or something like that? So that gives you a
little bit of the idea of the sorts of things
that we look at. Again, most the time,
it’s really clear because money is changing hands. But, in general,
those are the sorts of things that we look at. If you have more
questions, I’d encourage you to check out the
FTC’s guidelines. They’ve got a lot of
different examples, and most of the
stuff that we view falls right down the same
principles as the FTC. Hope that helps.

77 Comments

  • Sam Pizzo

    Why not just ban EVERYONE from INDIA from Google. That would solve 80% of the issues. Seriously EVERYONE is tired of these people from India and all there BS link building packages and spam they do daily!!!!

  • ttttchess

    All big companies have paid ads with links, obviously money is changing hands, they should do something about that if they really don't want paid links.

  • Deborah L Gabriel

    Interesting post. +Matt Cutts makes it crystal clear what a "paid link is" I recommend a view of this video.

  • Michael Wechsler

    Matt Cutts says that Google uses to the same approach to determine what constitutes improper "paid links" as the FTC takes in determining "compensation." With April approaching, the IRS also takes a similar approach to compensation for tax reporting purposes.

  • Ben Thompson

    Hey Matt – what about links achieved by donating a product to a website/charity/organization in return for just a link back (and it's not so they review the product)? The donated product does not go to the sites owner specifically. They use the product in charity raffles/auctions they host or other online competitions as the 'major prize'. The websites are relevant to our demographic, and the product would add value to any of the users of that website, if they were to win the competition, or buy it in the charity auction.

  • Scott

    This doesn't really make sense to me. You spend the whole video just saying "if you pay for a link, it's a paid link", but you don't have some magic crystal ball that tells you when someone pays for a link. If I pay site A to link to me, how can you even know that I paid them?

  • swotpilgrim

    ah but if, like Google, I "loan" NASA an Alpha jet in return for govt discounted fuel for my private jet fleet then that is ok….well until someone finds out.

  • RankYa

    Thank you for clarification and your efforts to keep Google search results free of spam. Because this very industry "buying selling backlinks" is just seems to never stop and is past as part of search engine optimization services. Clearly, if #Google didn't stay on top of this field, then those with deep pockets would simply outrank others because of their buying power to manipulate search rankings.

    We hope Google does more to tackle this unspoken industry "buying selling links for the sake of PageRank gains and to outrank others who are trying to abide by Google Webmaster Guidelines"
    Surely, following the work hard and provide value to users with helpful content will always prevail, and Google will benefit because your searchers will be happy as well. We hope that stays true and also is same with Google's philosophy as well.

  • Antonio Ooi

    It seems like Matt was trying to phrase it in a VERY CAREFUL manner so that he won't accidentally imply that Adwords is also a kind of "paid link" service. ^^

  • DONI ツ

    This video is pretty weird, because it gives the criteria "Google" looks for when assessing whether or not a link is 'paid', but it doesn't give us the slightest inkling as to HOW they begin to make these assessments. Am I missing something? How would Google know if money changed hands? I'm not buying any links, but I'm really curious how this works

  • Joe Smith

    What does my compensation have anything to do with Google? I sell your spam Adwords for 25% of a clients monthly budget. Should we ban that too? Only when it cuts into Google's profit it's bad!!!!

  • ARCHON+ Biuro Projektów

    Our IT Department guys buy links and clicks for us on various websites via so called Adswords website, but they told me these are "don't follow" links. Hope it's fine.

  • Kees van der Veen

    Splitting hairs: We use a free cms on a website which includes a backlink to the cms programmers. 
    We have to pay to legally remove that backlink, so in theory that backlink is paid for by the cms programmers and we should hence be penalized for providing a paid link on all our pages.
    Similar, the programs and templates for CMS which require payment for removing backlinks should get a penalty for all those thousands of links to their sites.

  • Dag Larsson

    Yahoo charges for inclusion in their directory, as does Business.com, BOTW.org etc. How can these sites and directories be so well regarded (very high PR) if they are clearly involved in selling links?

  • Optimise Media

    Matt, you are the 'F' in front of the 'G'

    Seriously, do Google think that If company A has a website that has thousands of links bought by Competitor B and the Competitor B reports Company A to Google for link building and Google de-rank and penalize Company A for something that they have not done and for something out of their control, that they will not be served with a law suit!!?? Well, believe me… If my site acquires a penalty for link building, then such a law suit could become reality – Innocent until proven guilty, is that not the law?

    I remember when Google actively supported link building ( I have a screen grab of the old webmaster guidelines). I think Google would have a hard time in a court of law trying to prove actions taken by them as being lawful.

    'Google's Law' does not exist quite yet, even if Google thinks it does!

    I'll give Google 4 years Max, left in the search arena. Google will become either second or third fiddle to another search engine or/and will become an elite platform for only those that can afford paid ads (brand companies)

    Google will lose the people who made them, the marketeers that actively promoted SEO and PPC. SEO is DEAD, social is alive, PPC is for the wealthy and stupid. It is the SME that bring the value, YET Google discriminate the SME. Brand Names where once SME's, the NEXT GENERATION BRANDS are the SME's now…. Yet Google does not see this….SAD but TRUE.

    'G' is 'G' behind the 'F'

  • tony greene

    There must be a ton of mommy bloggers out there really squirming after seeing this. That's if they are paying attention at all. 
    Those sponsored post type sites should be quaking in their boots as well.

    Thanks for the explanation @Matt Cutts 

  • Joel Chudleigh

    It is good to have this explanation but when a deal is done between a site owner and a blogger/journalist etc and not disclosed how do Google know? They don't unless they hack the email accounts of the two individuals and put 2 and 2 together.
    When reading reviews of products/services or write ups on blogs it is usually pretty obvious – i.e. if the review is whiter than white with no criticisms at all then it comes across as potentially a paid review. But Google cannot understand this without human moderation from the web spam team and even then they would be making a guess, and it would probably not be fair to penalise based upon an educated guess.

  • Ludovic Renoult

    Une vidéo qui méritait d'être faite, même si on voit que la limite entre un lien acheté et un test de produit reste floue. On en parlait hier marc sessa 🙂

  • Craig Edmonds

    Sorry, but does not really explain what a paid link is. How would google spam team know if a link on a site is created via a loan or gift. How would they know if money has changed hands? Really muddy waters here.

  • Craig Edmonds

    Sp basically what you are saying is that if my competitors pay for links on my behalf, my site will be kicked from the index. Thats very scary.

  • Ahmad Jordan

    @Matt Cutts  What about new sites ? if you didn't get links to your website it will not appear on the search .

  • Ori Zilbershtein

    I have to say Google is Jumping the gun when it comes to recognizing and eliminating paid links, People can just close a deal over the phone on an article for $ and Google will never know about it, turn a present into a donation or donation declared as "loan". And I find it hard to believe that legitimate businesses want to get Links from "Spammy" websites which mass produce "Buy links" emails. 

  • Thomas Gundersen

    What is a "paid link" and when does a gift become a paid link? @Matt Cutts explains in a good way.

    #SEO   #paidlinks  

  • anita valentinova

    Matt Cutts shares how the Web Spam team evaluates whether a link is paid or not
    – What is the value of the gift, product, or service?
    – How close is the gift, product, or service to actual money?
    – Is it an outright gift or a loan?
    – Who is the intended audience?
    – Is the intent of the gift to get links?
    – Would the gift be a surprise to third party?

  • Jack Cravy

    Instead of watching this entire video, I will give you what Matt Cutts basically said…. "A paid link is a link you pay for."…. stupid video.

  • Never Paint Again UK

    So how does google differentiate between links that have been put there without the webmasters knowledge? We get idiots and scrapers linking to us all the time and have to spend ages "policing" our links. Google why the hell did you have to cause all these problems? Everyone used to love google, now I'm not so sure…..

  • Gary Beal

    Yes I'm curious about the handling of said "paid links" rather than the definition. As you mention we know that meaning. GaryTheScubaGuy

  • Kyle Starkey

    … What about social media managers? They get links from social sites which hopefully finds more links from others.

  • Ross Barefoot

    This closes on such a frustrating note.  Matt intimates that there is a difference between "here's a product because we want you to try it out" and "here's a product because we want you to write about it."  Isn't that a distinction without a difference?  I grew up in the bicycle business.  We imported shoes from Italy and a review in a magazine was important.  We sent the magazine a pair of shoes to "try them out" but obviously we wanted them to "write about them."  Isn't this a legitimate activity?  Why is it different online?  Answer: It's not!   I would agree if you were paying for a favorable review, but even if you're not, even if you're confident that your product will be greeted favorably and you're willing to take what comes, still…

    You obviously want them to "write about it."  Geez.  This is like deciphering the White House.

  • Alex Angélico

    After watching Matt's video, I'm wondering?.. Google AdWords sent me around $ 600 in coupons…mhh, are they just looking for a backlink?….

  • Steve Faber

    Common sense from @Matt Cutts . Don't be stupid, underhanded, or dishonest when getting your links. That's fairly clear. What's not so clear is how Google delves into the private relationships and communications between two parties to discover the nature and compensation arrangements therein. Care to shed a bit of light on THAT for us???

  • scott baker

    I would really like to know how you go about gathering your information!!? How could you possibly know if I give someone a pizza, gift card, or anything?? It seems like that would be hard to find that information… unless someone is illegally monitoring our private correspondence.. 

  • Syed Raza

    @Matt Cutts  thanks for the video, its a nice way to explain how not to be a skeez ball it to my clients in simple terms. Soon as I mention FTC they be all like 'ok ok i dont wanna end up on American Greed' lol.  

    Seriously though it needed to be said, basically we need to be ethical to support the longevity of the ecosystem, not just because someone may be watching us. Not to sound corny but i really try to do things that will help my sons generation have a robust, clean internet to work in and use.  If marketers use that filter of: 'is what i'm about to do going to make the web better or crappier?' then Google wouldn;t have to react so harshly to honest mistakes and/or ignorance. Unfortunately, corruption and deceit are profitable characteristics that are likely here to stay so I'm all for clearing out the trash by whatever means necessary.

    One more thing…Maybe theres something i dont know but really now…. how on (Google) Earth is the Spam Team gonna know how many courses my meal was?!  Are y'all watching me right now??

  • Paul Naybour

    Hi we have been asked to sponsor a conference for the professional body in our domain, thus includes a logo on the conference stand etc but also a link from the professional body website. Is this a paid link?

  • Cindy Turrietta

    Would be very interested to hear what how the filter for paid sites views membership sites such as chambers and the BBBs. These type of sites post links as well as advertorials that are basically paid for with membership dues. Is the writing already on the wall?

  • Grant Barnard

    Wow, great video. I totally agree! Online Ethics from Matt Cutts. Paid links are well…. Paid Links. I wish he would have gone more into the directory thing and Alexa Rank. 

  • Ben Baligad

    This did not answer my real question. How does Google know if I got paid? Do they assume someone is getting paid and penalize accordingly?

  • Humayun Hashmi

    i am still confused, why he isn't telling us straight away about paid links. Coz i don't think google bot could scan my paypall or yours or anyone's! I don't think google could track my conversation on any forum or social media about seo link deal. I believe googel only match relevance so we still have a chance to target other bloggers from our niche to get uni-directional link.

  • Michael Donaghy

    Wow, they must have some pretty sneaky techniques to be able to say, "This link here was only placed on this site because the owner of the site received a camera last month which he didn't return to this guy over here, so it therefore mustn't be a gift, therefore let's not give the other guy that page rank guys, OK? Look at him open that pesky camera gift!"  Whatever you are doing, Google will search you out and find you…   

  • Rahul

    If I have a website with business directory and I charge for premium listings or even for basic listings with links to their websites. is that mean I am  violating google policy ?

  • Blackbeltwhitehat

    I'm still a little confused (apologies).  What about a product review for protein-powder, were you actually consume it, so can't really just 'loan' the product?  Thanks 

  • Salman Noorani

    interesting points ,if anyone else    wants to learn about  
    best backlinks for sale  try Greega Amazing Link Guru (do a google search )?  Ive heard some incredible things about it and my mate got excellent results  with it.

  • Alaa Khassa

    so, how about "Sponsored Links"
    They're trying to monetize their site through "sponsors".
    is that considered as a "paid link" ??

  • Mike M

    I was wondering if this video is still valid now a year later. I see a number of sites which accept "reviews" of things like restaurants, hotels, etc from "members" located at the top of the G search rankings. BUT I've also been seeing a lot of solicitations from "SEO"s on certain pay for action websites (one run by G's 2nd competitor) that literally will PAY individuals (anywhere from $1-5) to open accounts on these sites and write a favorable review, is some cases including a link, about a particular location or service. Is this not the same as payment (albeit distributed payments) for reviews and ranking on these highly SE-ranked sites?

  • S P

    Hi Matt,
    I am former PokerStars SEO manager.
    PokerStars has been buying links to manipulate SERPs, I have reported several paid links, but Google web spam report tool does not have bulk report option. Please let me know how I can report thousands of paid links.
    Regards,
    Serge

  • Petros Zavradinos

    The only legit way i can think is that maybe they send fake proposals for advertising to sites that they suspect that are selling links.

  • Oussama Elgoumri

    how do you know that a link is paid, it's not like you are reading people's mind? of course you can see advertisement on forum's or websites for people who will write articles for money? but what about these who does not advertise, and only work with physical engagement? and more importantly, what will happen if someone decide to spam my website, how do you know that i didn't pay for the link, and i'am just a victim?

  • Archiles De Mesa

    No worry it is about a real links, i agree that paying of a link it self is not good that you cannot learn, but if that links has a value that teaching us paying for developing and the money not kept by one person for his own benifits for me i guess is not wasted or scam. lots of there thousand and real scam.

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