Is Google Violating Its Own Webmaster Tools Link Scheme Guidelines with Paid Links?

So I came across a website a few days ago and I noticed it had sponsors listed and linked in the right sidebar. Nothing wrong with that. Most organizations accept sponsorships to keep the organization going and there is nothing wrong with them showing the public who sponsors their cause.

However, there was a text link that stood out to me on this particular website. It’s on Chatham’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship page. Here is the URL: http://www.chatham.edu/cwe/

google sponsored paid link

Looks fine. They are offering workshops and other events for women… awesome. But, there is a section on the right titled “Sponsors of The Center”. Again, that’s normal for websites to do, especially .edu domains. However, if you are a sponsor of a website, this means that money was exchanged for the sponsorship recognition.

Keep in mind, I am NOT accusing Chatham.edu of selling links. Their developers or whoever runs the website probably have no clue of Google’s guidelines about links. However, Google should know their own guidelines about paying for links that pass PageRank. This is on the current Link scheme guideline page:

google link scheme

If you scroll further down the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship page, there is a text link with anchor text, “Google Pittsburgh” under the bronze sponsor section.

pittsburgh google paid link

So with that said, it is clear Google exchanged money to acquire that backlink. And according to their guidelines, if there is an exchange of money for a link, the link should include the rel=”nofollow” tag, right Google? Matt Cutts, ideas?

Straight from Google:

Paid links: A site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it. In order to prevent paid links from influencing search results and negatively impacting users, we urge webmasters use nofollow on such links.”

Since Google is so strict about paid links, surely this link they paid for will have the nofollow tag. Google must have contacted the Chatham webmaster to be sure the link is nofollowed. Lets check:

google nofollow pittsburgh link

Oh dear. I do not see a rel=”nofollow” tag associated with that paid link pointing to Google. Surely this must be a mistake. Google would never buy links.

I then decided to try and find more of Google’s paid links.

Quickly, I found this paid link: https://www.usenix.org/conference/hotos13/sponsor-or-partner/google-hotos-13-bronze-sponsor

Another sponsored/paid link:

google sponsored link paid

Lets check that page for a nofollow tag on the paid Google link:

sponsored google paid link

Hmmm, I don’t see the nofollow tag on that link either.

Surely, these must be the only two examples of Google buying links that pass PageRank. Just a fluke. Oh wait. How about this? https://adainitiative.org/about-us/sponsors-and-supporters/

google paid link

Holy holy holy shit. Google spent $30,000+ in June 2011 for a link? Lets see if THIS ONE has the required nofollow tag for a paid link…

final paid link google

Of course not.

Conclusion

I am NOT blaming any of the websites listed here of selling links. It’s most likely the school/companies have no clue what the rel=”nofollow” link tag is and are simply including links to companies that sponsor them for the recognition.

However, on the other hand, Google threatens to penalize websites that buy links that pass PageRank, yet they themselves have paid for links that pass PageRank.

So is it fair the small guys get punished for acquiring paid links while the Google giants themselves go against their own rules and purchase backlinks? I think not. What do you think? How many links has Google purchased that pass PageRank?

Update 4/27/15

I am well aware that someone at Google is not actively going out and finding dofollow link sponsorship opportunities to try and gain an increase in their own search results. And yes, I know Google did not pay someone $30,000+ to get a link (just part of my tongue-in-cheek writing style).

I’m just saying, are they breaking their own strict ‘money exchanged for a link that doesn’t apply the nofollow tag’ rules?

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1 Comment

  1. Ezequiel Keske

    This is a very interesting article, Sanket. You’ve got some excellent ideas there. Thank you.

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