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The True Cost of Paid Links

SEO, Videos 13th Dec 2011

Hi, I’m Steve Logan. I’m the Senior Copywriter here at Koozai, and I’m here to talk about JCPenney and the issue of buying links. Now, JCPenney, in early 2011, were hit by a massive Google penalty, as a result of being found to have paid links. This wasn’t a small expose either. It wasn’t just in an SEO journal or a blog. It was actually in The New York Times, which caused quite a stir around the world, causing a PR headache for JCPenney and an even bigger one for Google.

As a result, JCPenney were hit by a massive penalty. As Google always say, this is a 30 day minimum, although JCPenney did bounce back rather quickly from their penalty. But the big problem, obviously, was that rather than being a small company using paid links to gain a short-term advantage, this was a major brand who was actually using paid links to try and get up the rankings in time for Christmas.

Now, they achieved this because back in Christmas 2010, JCPenney were at the top for a lot of key terms that they were targeting. This was the same in January and, obviously, February until they were found out by The New York Times.

Now the issue for a lot of people is that JCPenney gained a massive competitive advantage, and therefore this did force Google to act and react quite heavily as well. This resulted in Google warning a lot of webmasters about their link buying activities. Many of them would have received a 30 day penalty almost instantly. This was obviously provided through Google Webmaster Tools where there’s a new message that would appear informing you of your penalty and the reason for it. Many times it would be just paid links.

One of the major issues that came out of this though was the problem of outing competitors, whether or not it’s ethical and whether you should do it at all. Obviously, for some, outing competitors is a good way of making sure that your side gets up. It also gives you the opportunity to go in and see if anyone else is buying links and try and get them further down the rankings as a result.

This obviously creates an issue for websites. If you are buying links, you have the double problem of Google potentially finding them or your competitors. As JCPenney probably found out, this isn’t a good tactic as they lost a lot of rankings and they suffered their penalty, which a lot of other companies would have done too.

Now in the short-term, JCPenney may have prospered. But long-term issues, obviously, they’ve lost all their links and they’ve lost a lot of their rankings they would have had. Again, this would apply to any other website.

So therefore, you can use paid links still in the short term, as we found in 2011, but the likelihood is that you will now get a big penalty and you could lose a lot of money as a result.

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