Selling Links In a Free Internet Market

by Bradley Zarich November 10th, 2011 

Matt Cutts strangling Michael Gray

Google penalizes sites that directly sell or buy links, but accomplices like link brokers and sites that run "Buy Links" ads are left unpunished while they enjoy their big commissions.

Such websites would not buy or sell links on their account for fear of Google ban, yet they yield to the monetary incentives of running link trade ads. These websites are confident that their Internet search ranking won't be affected by running such ads, and they are correct.

But is it totally safe to turn your website into a link trade accomplice?

Why Not Punish The Link Sellers?

Google tells the Internet community countless times that it penalizes sites that sell or buy links that pass PageRank.

So why not do the same to their accomplices? Threats of anti-trust suits are preventing Google from banning link brokers and their advertising partners.

Just last year, Google faced its first formal anti-trust probe in Europe in response to allegations of unfair Internet search result ranking. And last month, the US Senate held its first hearing on allegations of unfair ranking system of Google following a subpoena issued by the Federal Trades Commission.

Any site can run its own search engine and display only the results that won't harm its business interests. However, when this level of bias is seen in a universal search engine that controls more than 80% of the Internet search market, it becomes an anti-trust issue.

Banning or penalizing link brokers and their ad partners could be seen as an attempt to protect Google's advertising business. Without link trade, SEO would become more expensive, forcing web publishers to pay for AdSense to promote their sites. Link brokers are in effect competing with AdSense by helping websites inflate their PR and thus their SERP ranking.

Search Neutrality & The Enemy

Google considers link buyers and sellers as its enemies. The introduction of AuthorRank, Report Paid Link and Report Scraper Pages campaigns and the growing demand for Search Quality Associates (otherwise known as human spam fighters) show the growing commitment of Google to cripple those who want to game its algorithm. Removing Adword publisher accounts is the most plausible action Google could take should it decide to punish the accomplices of link brokers.

Now that search neutrality regulation is gaining momentum, Google is under more pressure to improve its algorithmic detection of paid links. Link sellers accused Google of passing the burden of quality control to them by forcing them to "no-follow" sponsored links. Had Google been more effective in preventing PR flow from paid links, it doesn't have to resort to preventive tactic of scaring link sellers. The inquiry held by the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights last month has raised legal questions concerning such policy. Google would find it difficult to justify its penalty on link sellers and brokers since ignoring the paid links of their clients would be enough to prevent manipulation of PR.

Will the future search neutrality regime favor link sellers or Google's current system of preventing spam blogs? Anyway, link brokers and their ad partners can expect a growing market.Facing more anti-trust probes in both federal and state levels, Google is unlikely to penalize link trade accomplices. What if the government forbids Google from penalizing link sellers? It will definitely improve algorithmic detection of paid links, turning link trade and brokering into a more lucrative business.

Bradley Zarich

Bradley Zarich heads the outsourcing services of eServe BPO. He regularly blogs about SEO, Web 2.0, consumer electronics, mobile backhaul , wireless communications and Ku band technology.

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