Sometimes we get an e-mail (or a blog comment) from someone who says their PageRank declined because they were buying links. This happens often enough that I thought I’d write something about why buying links is not good for search, period. It isn’t because Google is some mean, rotten pig. I mean, it actually makes sense.
Think about what Google’s job is. It’s to return the most relevant search queries for a particular search based on the parameters that searchers enter into a query box. What would happen if the top 10 search queries were there because someone paid for them to be there? Suppose you had to pay $10,000 to be in position No. 1 and each subsequent position below that cost just $100 less than the previous one. The guy in the 10th position, the last position on page 1, would pay $9,000 to be there. But what about every one else?
Suppose the payment system “filtered down” this way until the website in position No. 100 (page 10) paid $100. Everyone below that opted not to pay at all so they just fell in wherever Google decided to put them. What would happen if the system was based on money?
Eventually (and I’m betting it wouldn’t take long), no one would rely on search at all because everyone would know that the website on top was there because he paid the most money. His website may not be relevant to the actual search that I conducted, but he paid the most money so there he is.
How many people would search the Internet through Google if that’s the way search worked? Not many. Because why would anyone look for specific information if they had to sift through a bunch of paid-for listings to find the ONE item that was relevant and answered their question?
Paid links is an attempt to turn Google into just such a system. Because Google’s ranking algorithm is so heavily based upon the number and quality of inbound links, paid links actually serve to dilute link quality. It is assumed, and always has been, that website owners link to other websites out of a value that they hold for the other site. But if website owners linked out only because they were paid to then no one could trust the quality of the links. That’s why no one should want paid links contributing to ranking factors at Google or any other search engine.