Google Penalizing Paid Links

Now that Google is officially penalizing paid links, I’m glad the WordPress community took such a strong stand against them in themes. Countless blogs could have been penalized just for the theme they were using, not related to anything they did or did not do on their blog. It was a tough decision at the time, it probably drew more criticism and personal attacks against me than anything we’ve done before, but time has proved us right.

63 thoughts on “Google Penalizing Paid Links

  1. I stopped doing paid posts and even deleted most of them or put nofollow on the links, but I still have a PR 0. Doesn’t bother me though. I think Google is a joke.

  2. You can’t buy integrity, yet nothing in this world is worth more. Great job Matt. Yet another example of a person willing to take some lumps and sacrifice and struggle a bit in the present moment–only to be rewarded in the long run for doing the right thing, make a decision based on values.

    Is this an example of laying up your treasures in heaven?

  3. Another new WordPress user here who wouldn’t be if not for your stand, Matt, even though I’m using my own theme.

    People need to transact and be interdependent for many reasons, but the way we go about it is not only as important as the goal, it should be part of the goal.

  4. People put too much value on the PR, that’s why all this mess has been created. Many people have developed businesses by creating sites to sell links on them. I personally don’t give too much credit to the PR, i guess the traffic is much more important.

  5. To the person that said Google is a joke is well a joke. Google is HUGE, Google brings lots of people to websites all around the internet. Without Google I wouldnt have
    1) Found this here site
    2) The internet would be hard to navigate through

  6. Agree with Amit, this might change the blogging culture for many century. I felt sorry for andybeard and the rest.

    IMO it best if theme designer used microid,rdf or cc-publisher etc .. as signature for their work.

  7. Curious! 😀 But this makes me smile. Open the original story and look at banners below search line. Is it not an advertising? Not paid links? It would be great to know the difference between block of 5 text-link-ads links and this set of banners.

  8. I agree that it was a good move by WP, so great forward thinking by the team! I do think that some webmasters are quite irresponsible when selling links, and that drags the other down unfortunately. Just to clarify that I don’t personally sell links myself, and will usually only click on paid links that have content relevant to the sites I visit.

  9. at least now the efforts every individual speaking out against sponsored themes are paying out – I am glad google went this way

  10. Matt they are also clamping down on unnatural linking schemes.

    My site was actually the source of the list on SEL, and the second site you linked to was one of the sites hit (WLTC).

    Both and sites also benefit from similar unnatural linking, just like the blog networks.

    How many WordPress developers just had the rug pulled from under their feet?

  11. Andy, I don’t know who was “hit” or not, but there were no changes on or and is still PR9.

  12. Could one be allowed to play the Devil’s Advocate for One moment……

    Maybe, just Maybe, certain, big blog Networks/eco-systems/entities were pre-warned, about what was about to come, and notified of the impending consequences of not playing the game, the Big G way……

  13. @Jenny – Google is not a joke, if you removed all backlinks how would you expect a PR10? Google is just trying to penalise all the websites which are purely into buy/sell of links and are not againt own websites linking. They dont want people to gain serps by exchange links, since for traffic you can advertise via adwords which is google’s main aim.

  14. Just thought about it, maybe I should hook you up with a couple links. (and be sure to dive into the rabbit hole when you arrive at their sites; it will lead you to even more information on the subject.)

    Andy Beard – Digg Favorites Slapped by Google

    Aaron Brazzel – Google Can Kiss My Derriere

    Rae Hoffman – Google Doesn’t Know the Face of “Evil” (this is an older entry, but definitely worth the read — beware that she does use colorful language in her posts)

    There’s plenty more, just follow the links from each of the sites.


  15. Personally I am glad that Google is taking this stand as paid links offered an easy way out for sites looking to boost their credibility (and rankings) without putting the work in where it’s needed – and that’s quality, linkable content.

    It may have initially have been met with a great deal of derision, but I think many of us who go about working our butts off to gain natural links have yet to stop applauding this move.

  16. Isn’t nice to get that kind of validation?

    What amazed me at the time, when the people doing it were complaining about how it wasn’t a big deal, was that Google hadn’t been penalizing people for this already. I mean, when you look at it logically, from Google’s point of view, it only makes sense that they’d want to stop people from gaming their search engine that way. No matter how an SEO specialist feels about Google, they’re still one of the top search engines, if not *the* top search engine, so killing your client’s sites in their index is a bad idea.

    Anyway, congatulations on the validation.

  17. So, now that Google is officially penalizing paid links, and TLA was de-ranked, can anyone tell me how to delete the TLA account I set up but never used. It seems that they (TLA) are feeding a link list of my posts to potential post advertisers from within the TLA site. Honestly, I’d prefer not to have a linked list of all my posts living in the TLA dashboard, or a TLA account at all, for that matter. It seems, however, that they offer no way of deleting one’s account. I set up a TLA account a long time ago, but never used it because I feared this day would come and I didn’t want to be penalized. Good choice, I think.

    Anyone know how to delete a TLA account?

  18. There’s no question that Google has been instrumental in helping my site to achieve such a drastic increase in popularity, even though I dropped Adsense a couple of months ago. I only dropped them because I’m not a “webmaster”, and while I can write and otherwise manage my site, since I changed themes, I have to idea of how to integrate Adsense into the new theme.

    I think that it’s worth mentioning that Google has not punished me, or in any other way retaliated against me changing course – even though that wasn’t necessarily my intention.


  19. Google is just trying to strengthen it’s monopoly. I feel something’s going to give real soon and Google’s going lose their spot as the #1 search engine. Not sure yet who will take over, but Yahoo is definitely coming back…

    But Google probably doesn’t care much since they seem far more interested in expanding their advertising program than in providing reliable search.

    However, I think WP made the best decision since allowing paid links in themes would have negatively affected a whole lot of not savvy people and that wouldn’t be fair.

  20. this is a very narrow, and difficult to define position. note the “hypocrisy” caveat at the end of the post. there are many types of paid links, for instance, professional organizations charge dues, and give links back to their members (e.g.

    I’m inclined to think this is unfair behavior on google’s part, in an attempt to drive text-link-ads, et al. out of their market.

  21. What I don’t get is something like getting slammed (7 down to 5). I don’t think they really care about PR but they should be viewed as an authority on the web. Higher PR equals higher authority rating?

  22. Yeah, totally worth killing for.

    Perhaps if people had been penalised by Google for using a dodgy theme they would have learned to look more carefully at their footers. Sponsored themes would have died a natural death pretty soon after that. You should be kicking Google’s ass for not doing this sooner.

  23. I have a fairly ambivalent attitude towards this. While I think “paid links” are not a great idea, I also dont have any major issue if people want to use them. I assume the main problem people have with them is they distort the results when some one searches for XYZ. I agree it can be annoying but there are just as many sites which get a natural high ranking and are completely unrelated to what I am looking for. From my blogs point of view, Google accounts for a small fraction of the traffic (Technorati and StumbleUpon send an order of magnitude more new visitors than Google searches), so while I wouldn’t go as far as saying “Google is a joke,” I think some people obsess about PR a bit too much. If your blog is about a topic which relies on searchers finding it, then maybe it makes sense – if you blog about a generic subject, concentrate on the other routes.

    The thing which really intrigues me is the whole furore about “paid links” and getting them kicked off the Mighty Goog – especially with relation to the “sponsored link” on a WordPress theme.

    First off – no one has explained how Google determines if a link is paid for or not. Is the “powered by WordPress” at the bottom of most themes going to be considered as a paid for link? If not, then I assume that Google must do some sort of contextual analysis of the link text rather than the link destination or existence. Does Google search for a “Sponsored by ACME Spam” to determine a paid link? If so, then it is easy to circumvent, just change the wording.

    If I make a theme and at the bottom I have “This theme is proudly powered by ACME Corp,” will that be kicked as a paid link? If not, why does WordPress get privileged treatment?

    In reality, and based on reading Danny Sullivan’s post on Searchengineland, I think this is a case of Google has identified a few specific sites which it is aware of, who are selling huge amounts of links, and penalised them. I haven’t seen anything, nor can I easily think of a way it could happen, which suggests that Google will penalise a site for a single “sponsored by” link in its theme.

    On a trivial but related note, does Google punish the site with the link or the site which is linked to? Is the punishment a blanket drop of PR or related to the number of “paid links?”

  24. A monopolist trying to make people conform with its own advertising model for context based ads? I’m sorry, this is not gonna raise google’s popularity on bit, this will raise concerns about their clout over the web. “Don’t be evil” – remember? This will give them more opposition than anything so far. Very bad move on google’s part. Plus, if this is affecting most major sites, even if not equally, then the pagerank decrease won’t have such a big effect on search results – where should all the new content come from? Still, open source search now!

  25. I tend to agree with Adam, I think this has a lot more to do with killing competition than it does for cleaning up the SERPs. Google’s pages all have “paid links”, and if it’s alright for them, why is it wrong for the rest of us?

    As it relates to WP, and I do love me some WP, it’s bunk. Every single WordPress theme holds a link to WordPress, and that more than any “natural” references to the site, is what gives it such a high PR. People link as such out of obligation to the open source community that created this wonderful program (and rightfully so). Use of the software creates the obligation, the obligation creates the link, the link creates WP popularity, WP popularity creates more use of the software… it’s payment, just isn’t using cash.

    Regardless – PR means squat, so who cares?

  26. Matt, you guys did the right thing right from the beginning if you know what I mean 🙂

    You decision to keep this wonderful /blog content management system free is worth a Noble price and I’m serious about that.

    Now, back to google, if you want to get a good laugh you should read this one from Paul ScrivensGoogle Took My Balls and Went Home

    BTW, who ever says google is a joke should just go ahead and block google from indexing their website. That way we’ll know you believe in what you are saying.

  27. Google is just trying to strengthen it’s monopoly. I feel something’s going to give real soon and Google’s going lose their spot as the #1 search engine. Not sure yet who will take over, but Yahoo is definitely coming back”¦ will probably be climbing the ranks, at least with the mainstream audience. Since it’s launched its new advertising campaign, I’ve been inclined to use them more than Google — I’ve also been using Yahoo! a lot more as well.

    While Google has a lot of great services, sometimes I believe they’re killing their search index by taking such hard line stances.

    On another note about these “penalties”, a drop in PR is nothing to throw yourself off a cliff for. What matters is whether your SERP rankings and traffic remain the same. You can have a PR2 website and still rank number #1 for various phrases.

    The little green bar you see in your browser may not your actual PR which is, apparently, a closely guarded Google secret.

    I just think it’s comical how many people are in a tizzy because of this.


  28. Google, a monopolist? Hardly. They are #1 because of quality and the sheep-like mentality of the masses (you know, the mentality that keeps eBay the only real general purpose auction site, and allows Yahoo to stay in business despite their ad-floods and slow reactions). Google has not done any of the illegal activities of a company like, say, Microsoft – or for that matter any of the anticompetitive stuff that Apple tends to do. Google has not done much to abuse its power as the #1 search provider.

    Paid links have been sold for years as the way to get better rankings in Google, not as a way to get genuine referral visitors. For every paid link that’s really in an appropriate place and designed to attract real visitors, I would bet there are over a hundred that are simply for PR. Otherwise, the firms that sell text ads for specific web pages would almost certainly not care about PR but only about visitors/month and suitability for specific advertisers. No text-ad network I’ve seen fails to ask for PR ratings, and when I did sell text ads – largely because they bring in good money with almost no real impact on visitors – they didn’t care about click-through rates or applicability, just PR.

    Google text ads are not the same thing; because no search engine worth its salt will include them in rankings. Google text ads are easily removed from scans of pages (spidering); but traditional paid text ads are deliberately NOT handled by Javascripts, but are manually installed. They are sold as ways to inflate PR and get improperly high page rankings, and most of the vendors, from my own experience, are sleazy insurance sites, sleazy classified ad sites, and, well, other sleazy sites.

    There ARE exceptions of course – but in the cavalcade of sleaze that is the Internet, they are simply overwhelmed (not unlike real link submissions to the Open Directory).

    Is Google often high-handed, obfuscating their actions and intents, and not communicating at all well? Well, yes. But look who they have to deal with – hyperactive international scammers and spammers, and Microsoft.

  29. PR value does equate to money for many websites. For some it is their income for some like me they cover the cost of running an expensive, bandwidth consuming content like Photography. Ignoring Google PR is not wise.

    WordPress has a deservingly high PR for its value and it is unlikely to change no matter how they alter their algorithm as WordPress significance on the Internet is high and lets hope it stays that way. Great product and service.

  30. I feel it is WRONG for ONE entity to have that much control over the internet that we should all feel we have to make sure our websites, blogs, etc live up to THEIR standards instead of our own.

  31. Dao, that’s not paid linkage; socialism isn’t capitalism.

    FWIW, I have a blog on and its page rank just went UP.

    My other blog, on a blog network, however, suddenly isn’t getting so many referrals from the big G. Will have to appeal that particular downgrading, because we don’t buy or sell links either.

  32. Charity, the thing is that Google is #1 not because of their own illegal actions – which is how some companies got to their #1 position, or retained it – but because they were better than the rest. They were as fast as anyone else, but their home page had NO ADS and remains, even now, dead simple with minimal graphics and rubbish. Compare that to just about any other search engine. Now consider the quality of search results, morals/ethics (e.g. not immediately giving in to China and the US in terms of providing governments with all search data! as Yahoo and Microsoft did), unobtrusiveness of ads, and ease of use (e.g. integrated map data that’s not forced on you).

    Then look at the other end – the paid ads. Overture had been paying out 1 cent per click on their paid ads, then decided that was too much to pay and dropped most sites from their program. Google appears to share at least 50/50 and pays relatively quickly and reliably. They single-handedly made it possible for me to maintain my own site, which has well over a thousand pages of static text as well as forums, etc., catering to a huge number of hobbyists and product owners; because otherwise I’d never have the ability to take time off from work. They did it, replacing the horrible popups that everyone hated but that webmasters ended up using because the alternatives were shutting down or losing money with CPMs in the pennies. Google took honest sites that had CPMs under 25-cents and gave them CPMs into the dollars, and they DID NOT HAVE TO. They could have offered a slightly better than usual deal and made out like BANDITS. Meanwhile the slime were all out there making huge profits while webmasters were miserable. Google reinvigorated the Internet and in the process removed practically every vestige of popups, popunders, and the like.

    That’s why I don’t have a problem with Google. They have, in my opinion, acted far better than any large business I can think of, and they deserve their #1-by-far position.

    SOMEONE will, it seems, always dominate with over 80% of the market in any Internet business. It’s been Yahoo, it’s been MSN, it’s been AOL. Those three all stunk in service, ethics, and usefulness, in my opinion. We’re darned lucky to have the likes of Google rather than the likes of MSN (no doubt they’d have a data feed direct to the White House in case someone got curious about one of our inquiries, and with full service only to Windows users), or Yahoo (can anyone say 50 ads per page?), or AOL (why doesn’t anything ever work!?), or even an open source project run by psychopaths (Open Directory…. you can search whatever parts of the Internet we looked at two years ago).

    As long as Google isn’t out there breaking laws or abusing their position, and I think they’re at least trying not to do either one, I’m with them.

  33. So where is the proof that Google is penalizing paid links? The article you linked “says” it is official, but there is no “official” information in that article at all. *scratching head*