Originally seen at: https://varvy.com/paidlinks.html
Varvy is now Down and this Content is for Archive Purposes.

Paid links and advertising

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“Make a reasonable effort to ensure that advertisement links on your pages do not affect search engine rankings. For example, use robots.txt or rel=”nofollow” to prevent advertisement links from being followed by a crawler.”

– from the Google webmaster guidelines 1

Paid links and your Google ranking

It is fine to display ads on your site, in fact it is the normal way of things on the internet. Displaying ads is not against the Google webmaster guidelines.

What is against the guidelines is to display advertisements which affect ranking.

Your job as a webmaster is to know the difference between advertisements / paidlinks that affect ranking (bad) and those which do not affect ranking (good). Any advertisement that passes pagerank is against the Google guidelines.

How do I determine if my ads and paid links are not affecting rankings?

A paid link or advertisement must have a “nofollow” or must be redirected through a file that is excluded by your robots.txt file. If you know what those are, you can use the nofollow tool to check your pages.

There is also the Google guidelines tool which will try to identify paid links and why they seem like paid links.

If you do not know what nofollow or a robots.txt file is, we will explain them soon, but let’s first cover some common scenarios because most major ad providers already have made their ads appear in such a way that the ads do not affect ranking, but it is your responsibility to ask them if their ads affect rankings. If you don’t know, make sure. You are responsible for the things on your webpage.

If you are displaying ads from a search engine network you are probably okay

I use Google Adsense, is that okay?

Yes. Google Adsense ads do not affect ranking. If the only advertising on your webpages is Adsense you do not need to make any changes to your code to make sure you are following this guideline.

I use doubleclick, is that okay?

Yes. Doubleclick ads do not affect ranking. If the only advertising on your webpages is doubleclick you do not need to make any changes to your code to make sure you are following this guideline.

I use Bing / Yahoo ads, is that okay?

Yes. Bing ads do not affect ranking. If the only advertising on your webpages is from Bing / Yahoo network you do not need to make any changes to your code to make sure you are following this guideline.

If you are selling paid links or you are displaying ads from individual companies or websites you will likely need to take action

In this scenario, you will need to add nofollow or redirect your paid links via a folder blocked by robots.txt, action is required.

A website contacted me via email and has been paying me every month for a link from my website, is that okay?

It is only okay if the link you are displaying on your website does not affect ranking and is following this Google guideline by using a redirect that is blocked by robots.txt or “rel=nofollow”.

If you are using affiliate links or ads on your website you will likely have to take action

Affiliate ads are ads, and should not affect page rank. This means that these links must be nofollowed or redirected and blocked by robots.txt, if they are not then you are not following this Google guideline.

If you are buying or selling press releases which contain links to your webpages then you will likely need to take action

If you are paying or receiving money to place links on another website then you are advertising. This means that these links must be nofollowed or redirected and blocked by robots.txt, if they are not then you are not following this Google guideline.

How do I ensure my links are following this guideline?

Google states two specific ways to ensure rankings are not affected…

  • Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag
  • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

Not familiar with these methods? I will show you what they are.

First method – nofollow attribute

The quickest and easiest way to make sure a paid link is not passing page rank (affecting rankings) is to use rel=nofollow on the link that goes from your website to the advertiser.

The nofollow attribute tells a search engine spider that the link should not be followed, and that you the webmaster are not personally endorsing the link, you are just displaying it. It is required that any paid links or advertisements have some sort of notation to this effect.
To add a nofollow attribute to your links is simple, and widely available to most webmasters. If you can make a link, you can make a nofollowed link too. Here is how you do so.

The links on your webpage look like this…

<a href=”http://www.example.com”>Example</a>

To add the no follow attribute, we must enter the following code into that link…

rel=”nofollow”

The nofollow attribute in the link will then look like this…

<a href=”http://www.example.com” rel=”nofollow”>Example</a>

Once this is done your link is following this Google guideline. You can check a webpage with our nofollow tool to see which links on a webpage are using nofollow correctly.

Second method – Redirect and robot.txt

For more advanced webmasters, this method requires that you take the advertiser link and send it through a redirect via a page on your website which is blocked by your robots.txt file. This method allows visitors to go through the link but does not pass any pagerank, so it does not affect web rankings.

Most people using this method have a folder on their site with a name like “ad” or “go”. They then block that folder using their robots.txt file. Within that folder they create one page for each advertiser – example.com/go/advertiser – and on that page is a simple redirect on some type going to their affiliate link.

This method should only be used if you understand the process, otherwise you can not be confident that you are following the guideline.

Why do we have to do this?

If you do not follow this guideline you will likely lose your ranking in Google.

Advertisements are sometimes also known as “paid links” because someone is paying you (the website owner) to place a link on your page that points to another page. That link might be an image ad or a text ad, but it will virtually always be something on your page that links to another page. These links that someone bought were not put there for editorial or natural reasons, they were put there because someone paid for it.

Google and other search engines use links as one of the important ways they rank webpages, but paid links were starting to mess things up because there was no way for search engines to determine whether a link was a natural link, put there to benefit users – or a paid link, put there to advertise a product for a fee.
Many people took advantage of this and thought…

“Hey! I can pay a whole bunch of people to link to my site and then it will rank well in Google because it will have so many links to it!”

These people then started buying ads and links on webpages like yours. In doing so they were manipulating Google to make their site rank higher or seem more important than it really was by buying paid links. Their motivation was not attracting users to their pages, it was to get more links to make their own web site rank higher.

It is of course against the Google guidelines to manipulate or “trick” Google, and it is also against the guidelines to be in “link schemes”.
Several years ago this method of paid links worked well for rankings but as Google became more adept at finding these links, the advertisers and the website owners displaying these links or ads were punished by losing their ranking or being removed entirely from the Google index.
Google spent alot of time and effort to let people know that buying links was a deceptive practice that could get you banned from Google.

Key Points

  • Paid links and advertisements which affect rankings get you removed from Google
  • Use the nofollow or the redirect methods described aboved to ensure your ads are not affecting ranking
  • If you are using a third party ad network, ensure they display ads which do not affect rankings.

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