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SEO drawbacks of having paid links without nofollow?

A few companies are will to pay us for links on our homepage. I am assuming these are legitimate sites although they are unrelated to our sites content. Would google penalize our site for having these links? We definitely need the revenue and we view this as selling advertising space- but I don't want to kill our good ranking. Does anyone have any insight, is it possible to ask google directly?


I strongly disagree with Hamish. You do need to worry about this.

If Google finds these links, yes, they will punish you if you don't use rel="nofollow". Placing paid links on your page (whether or not they are relevant) violates the Google webmaster guidelines. They are receiving a lot of criticism for a decline in their search quality so they are cracking down on anything that distorts the link graph (from their perspective).

Those companies offering to pay you for the links will not be interested in links that are nofollowed because they have zero SEO value.

Search for term "paid links" and you will find any number of articles on the topic. For example: http://searchengineland.com/googles-action-against-link-schemes-continues-overstock-com-and-forbes-com-latest-casualities-conductor-exits-business-65926. Also read stuff written by Matt Cutts of Google.

Lots of people get away with paid links, but if you do get punished it will hit you hard, and it isn't easy to get reinstated in the index.

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    Yep, if you sell links and don't use nofollow Google may impose penalties to your website. – John Conde Feb 28 '11 at 2:46
  • Thanks, this is incredibly helpful, we'll make the changes. – mconnors Feb 28 '11 at 12:31

You shouldn't need to worry about it. First of all it's very common to sell advertising space on your site, and if every online advertiser was penalized by Google for publishing "unrelated" (by some arbitrary measure) then the top results of most searches would be completely useless. Second of all, it's really up to Google to decide if the links are valuable or not, using their own algorithms. Finally, tyring to second-guess Google is usually a futile exercise. As long as you're not trying to actively game the system you should be fine.

By the way, if you're really worried, and it is allowed under your terms with the potential advertiser, adding rel="nofollow" tags should remove any risk at all, because you're not 'endorsing' the link.

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  • Wouldn't rel="nofollow" be kinda counter productive to selling links? – Ben Feb 28 '11 at 0:32
  • Well are they just links, or advertising? Depends on the goal. – Hamish Feb 28 '11 at 0:51
  • Hamish, you're right about the "nofollow", but I think your answer underplays the potential dangers here quite a lot. A Google penalty hurts the same, regardless of your intent. – Greg Feb 28 '11 at 1:30

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