Recently, a UK-based online florist called Interflora was penalized by Google for an offense that the search engine has apparently spent the past decade trying to stop: Namely, the buying or selling of links that pass Google’s PageRank.
Interflora suddenly stopped ranking for certain flower-related keywords for which the floral website used to have the top ranking results. It soon came to light that Interflora’s PageRank’s sudden fall to zero was due to its buying links.
Google has been trying to stop link selling and advertorials since at least February 2003, when its guidelines included the rule “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank.” But the practice has persisted as much as other Black Hat SEO practices have because it seemed to offer a quick way to gain PageRank and have web content rise in the search results.
But with Google’s highly publicized crackdown on Interflora, the days of using the advertorial and paid links may finally be finished.
What does this mean for the average webmaster? Simply this: If someone approaches you with an offer to buy or sell links, run the other way. A site that sells links or posts entire advertorial pages with embedded links will soon fall out of Google’s good graces – and see its PageRank (which you can view in the Google Toolbar) reduced. The red-flagged site may also experience lower rankings than it had previously in Google’s search results.
How to remove (and avoid being penalized) for paid links
You may be wondering: Will Google issue a warning before lowering my PageRank due to buying or selling links or posting link-laden advertorials? Google’s Matt Cutts says that possible offenders will be warned via Webmaster Tools to check their sites for “possibly artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank” before being penalized for those links.
If you do receive such a warning from Google’s Webmaster Tools, says Cutts, it’s a sign that you’ve lost Google’s trust – and you can do one of two things to fix the situation:
1. Remove any paid links or advertorial pages from your website altogether, or
2. Make sure that any paid hyperlinks you want to keep on your site have the rel=”nofollow” attribute.
After you’ve taken care of the problem in one of those two ways, you should submit a reconsideration request to Google.
Getting back in Google’s graces
If you’ve been involved with advertorials or paid links, it seems easy enough to bring your site back into compliance with Google’s best practices and webmaster guidelines. But this is yet another example of how important it is to follow White Hat SEO techniques and avoid any SEO method that doesn’t seem entirely above board. Today’s slightly shady practices might be the target of the next Google update – and get your site banned from search results overnight.
After all, there are no easy shortcuts to the top of the search engine results. And if any SEO consultant tells you differently, you should be sure to research his or her suggested methods before agreeing to try them.