If you are at familiar with search engine optimization, then you probably already know that external backlinks leading to your website are an important ranking factor when it comes to your visibility in the search engine results. In the hope of boosting their search engine rankings, some webmasters pay to have their links on other websites, while in other cases they pay someone else to build links for them in order to get them placed on hundreds, or even thousands of websites. By contrast, paid advertising refers to advertising platforms that do not try to artificially manipulate the search engines. Links that are part of a paid advertising campaign generally don’t have any influence on the search results. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the key differences between paid links and paid advertising and why the former should always be avoided.

What Is Wrong with Paid Links?

Paid links are against Google’s terms of use, and if the search engine suspects that your website may have paid for backlinks, it may be deindexed entirely. Google wants to display relevant, quality results to its users, and websites that make use of unethical methods designed to manipulate the search results don’t tend to fall into this category. Paying for links is basically a way to cheat the search engines into thinking that your website is more authoritative than it really is. When you pay for links, they will typically end up on low-quality and/or irrelevant websites, so even if your links do appear in the search results initially at least, they are not likely to interest your potential visitors, since they won’t be relevant to their queries.

But Why Is Paid Advertising OK?

Although you could describe a paid link building strategy as a form of advertising as well, it should not be compared to the more honest forms of advertising such as those that make use of pay-per-click or pay-per-impression platforms. The ultimate goals of paid advertising might often be much the same as they are with paid link building, but the key difference is that they don’t have any impact on the search results. Paid advertisements in Google’s search results are clearly displayed as sponsored links, so there is no doubt as to what they are. Paid advertising works as a completely separate entity to organic search results in that it is above-board and not designed to manipulate to trick the search engines and give others an unfair advantage.

How Does Google Tell When a Website Has Paid for Links?

For a time, many unscrupulous online marketers could get away with black-hat SEO tactics by taking advantage of the fact that Google’s algorithm was not as intelligent as it is today. However, with dozens of updates every year, Google’s algorithm is constantly evolving to improve the way it enforces the search engine’s terms of use. Google’s goal is to reward high-quality, relevant websites with a good standing in the search results, while at the same time penalizing poor-quality websites such as thin affiliate sites, content farms and those that use excessive amounts of advertising.

Google is better at telling when a website has paid for links than ever before, and this is achieved largely by keywords. The search engine will check the website that is linking to your own for relevancy based on the frequency of related key words and phrases, and if it finds that the website with the link is of a completely different subject matter to your own, then that link will reflect badly on you. The same occurs if the link is on any website that the search engine considers to be low in quality. Another factor that rings alarm bells in Google’s algorithm is that many paid link campaigns are obviously automated. For example, link buyers may automate the link building process in such a way that all of the anchor text accompanying their links is identical, and Google will notice this very quickly.

But What about Other Links?

Even if you haven’t paid for links, any website that’s been around for a while is bound to get some low-value links on occasion. No website’s link profile looks absolutely perfect, and generally speaking, you shouldn’t worry about it unless you have actually paid for large numbers of links or been the victim of a negative SEO campaign conducted by an unscrupulous competitor. In the case of the latter, a competitor deliberately uses black-hat link building tactics in order to get your website penalized by Google.

It is always wise to keep an eye on your link profile, and you can do so by using popular tools such as Google Analytics or Moz Open Site Explorer. Fortunately, you can now disavow bad links in Google, or if you have control over the external link in question, you can either remove it or use the rel=”nofollow” tag to tell the search engines to ignore it.