Off-Page SEO

Paid Links

Shahid Maqbool

By Shahid Maqbool
On Jun 9, 2023

Paid Links

What are Paid Links?

Paid links refer to hyperlinks on a website that are included as part of a paid agreement between the website owner and another party.

The other party pays the website owner for the inclusion of the hyperlink, which is usually intended to drive traffic to the other party's website and improve their search engine rankings.

Website owners should avoid paid links and focus on creating high-quality, informative content that naturally attracts links from other websites.

History of paid links

Paid links have been used for many years as a way to manipulate search engine rankings and increase website traffic.

In the early days of the internet, search engines relied heavily on the number of links pointing to a website to determine its relevance and authority.

As a result, some website owners began to pay other websites to include links to their site, often using tactics such as link farms and spammy directories to create large numbers of low-quality links. This practice became known as "link buying" or "paid linking".

However, as search engines became more sophisticated, they began to crack down on paid links and other manipulative tactics that violated their guidelines.

In 2005, Google introduced the "nofollow" attribute, which allowed website owners to indicate that a link should not be counted as a vote of confidence for the linked website.

Over time, search engines have become even more effective at detecting and penalizing paid links, and many website owners have shifted their focus to creating high-quality content and earning natural, organic links.

Today, paid links are generally considered a black hat SEO tactic and are not recommended as a long-term strategy for improving search engine rankings.

Paid links vs advertisements

Paid link building and online advertising are two distinct practices, although there is some overlap between them.

The primary goal of paid link building is to manipulate search results by increasing the number of links pointing to a website, while online advertising is focused on increasing sales and raising brand awareness.

Matt Cutts tells them apart in a video.

Google look at paid link building and online advertising or sponsored links differently and advise affiliate networks and other advertisers to use a “rel=sponsored” tag on outbound links if in case they fall under paid links rather than editorial links.

This helps differentiate these links from non-paid links and prevents any manipulation of search results.

The "nofollow" attribute has been historically recommended for flagging sponsored or paid links, and it remains an acceptable method to identify such links.

However, Google now suggests using the "sponsored" attribute as a preferred way to indicate sponsored or advertising links.

Google preferring sponsored attribute

Google’s link spam policies to check this practice

The Google Link Spam Update, also known as the Link Spam Update, was a major algorithm update released by Google in 2022.

The update was aimed at identifying and penalizing websites that engage in link spam, including paid links, comment spam, and other manipulative tactics designed to artificially increase a website's search engine rankings.

The update was significant because it introduced new techniques for identifying link spam, including machine-learning algorithms that are able to detect patterns of link manipulation and spammy behaviour.

As a result, many websites that previously relied on paid links and other manipulative tactics saw significant drops in their search engine rankings following the update.

According to these guidelines, any link that is intended to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results is considered a violation of their webmaster guidelines.

This includes links that are bought or sold or those that are placed on websites solely for the purpose of passing PageRank.

Can the paid links with the “nofollow” tag improve seo?

While paid links can provide a quick boost in a website's search engine rankings, they are generally considered a black hat SEO tactic and can do more harm than good in the long run.

Search engines view paid links as an attempt to manipulate their algorithms and artificially inflate a website's relevance and authority.

If detected, search engines may impose penalties such as lower rankings or even removal from search results altogether. This can significantly reduce a website's visibility and traffic, harming its online reputation and revenue.

Using paid links with a "nofollow" tag will not directly improve a website's search engine rankings.

This is because the "nofollow" tag tells search engines not to pass on any authority or relevance from the linking website to the linked website.

However, paid links with a "nofollow" tag can still be beneficial in terms of increasing a website's visibility and driving traffic to it.

This is because users who click on the link may still be directed to the website and may share the link with others, which can lead to additional traffic and brand awareness.

Is it a ranking factor?

Links play an important role in search engine rankings, but it's important to understand how they are viewed by Google.

Google prefers that websites disclose the relationship of their links, especially if they are paid or fall outside the bounds of being included to provide valuable and authoritative information to the audience.

To indicate the relationship of a link to Google, websites can use the "rel" attribute values in the link's <a> tag.

The "sponsored" tag indicates that the link is an advertisement or paid placement and wouldn't pass PageRank. Google essentially disregards this type of link.

The "ugc" tag indicates that the link is user-generated content, and the website using the link isn't endorsing its accuracy or quality.

The "nofollow" tag tells Google to ignore the link and not crawl it, as it's unlikely to help with the SEO of the website hosting it. In other words, it's not an authoritative link.

Using these attributes can tell the search engine the true nature of the links. However, if you avoid these attributes and hide the nature of links, you can rank.

Therefore, some SEOs believe that as long as you are not caught by the search engine, paid links can become a ranking factor but it is the worst practice if not done correctly.

How can the paid links be harmful?

Paid links can be harmful to SEO in several ways. First, search engines like Google consider them a violation of their guidelines and may penalize websites that use them.

These penalties can result in lower rankings, loss of organic traffic, and even complete removal from search results.

Second, paid links may not be relevant or high-quality, which can negatively impact a website's authority and credibility.

If search engines see that a website is linking to irrelevant or low-quality content, it may be seen as a sign of a spammy or untrustworthy site.

Finally, paid links may not provide any value to the website's users. If visitors to a website don't find the linked content useful or informative, they may quickly leave the site and reduce engagement metrics like bounce rate and time on page, which can also negatively impact SEO.

How to check the penalty?

If your website has received a penalty for paid links, you may notice a sudden and significant drop in your search engine rankings or even removal from search results altogether.

This can happen because search engines view paid links as an attempt to manipulate their algorithms and artificially inflate a website's relevance and authority.

You can also check your Google Search Console account for any manual action penalties, which are notifications from Google that your website has violated their guidelines and may be subject to penalties.

These notifications will provide details about the specific issues that need to be addressed and steps you can take to resolve them.

If you have received a penalty for paid links, it is important to take action immediately to remove any paid links and other manipulative tactics from your website.

This may involve contacting the websites where the paid links originated and requesting that they be removed, as well as focusing on organic link-building strategies to improve your website's search engine rankings over time.


Paid links can have both positive and negative impacts on search engine optimization. While they can potentially improve rankings in the short term, the risk of penalties and long-term damage to a website's reputation outweigh any potential benefits.

Google explicitly does not want paid links to count, and websites are encouraged to disclose any relationship that paid links may have to avoid any negative consequences.

Proper use of "nofollow," "sponsored," and "ugc" tags can indicate the nature of links to Google and help avoid any penalties.

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