Google's spam team has taken down yet another link network, the second in as many weeks. The target this time was Backlinks.com. The takedown was announced by Google's Matt Cutts on Twitter, where he cited a line from their marketing pitch where they said their paid links were undetectable by search engine bots.
Google is clearly going after paid link networks at this time, so anyone that sells links should probably be on notice that even if their paid link network they use hasn't yet been targeted, chances are pretty good that the spam team is going to be targeting it in the near future.
Since we've seen two link networks taken down on successive Fridays, I asked Cutts whether we would be seeing a new link network penalty every Friday, he joked that their team had considered taking requests for what link network they should go after next.
If Cutts did request sibling networks they should target, I suspect they will get quite a list from either disgruntled competitors, or from webmasters to have been unfairly penalized – or just merely saw something suspicious – based on something their SEO company did.
So far, neither Backlinks.com, nor their parent company NextNet Media, hasn't commented publicly on the fact that link networks and penalized, although the same day that Cutts made his announcement on Twitter, Backlinks.com started a promotion that included 3x the number of links for the same price.
They have since removed the FAQ question, aptly named "Google Punish" in the file name that Cutts quoted in his tweet, in which Backlinks.com stated their paid links were perfectly safe and were in no danger of being penalized.
There has been a lot of discussion over this on numerous web forums and SEO websites. Google's official policy is that they don't approve of "paid" text links. However, they themselves sell sponsored text links on their own search results pages. Text link selling/buying remains a vital part of increasing search engine rankings and you can almost guarantee that any website listed highly in Google's organic search results has done so. Thus it is really a necessity for businesses to successfully match their competition in many cases.
Our service has been around for at least 3 years and we have had no reports of Google banning our customers for buying or selling text links. This is because our installation code/software used to publish the sold links is not detectable by the search engine bots. The paid links are simple, html based links that appear as natural as other links on the web pages where they appear. If Google started really penalizing websites for buying text links, this also implies that your competitors could intentionally buy links to point to your website in an effort to harm your rankings. Such a scenario seems highly unlikely and there would be an industry wide outrage over such practices.
Just a week prior to this, Anglo Rank, a popular link selling service on a black hat forum, was targeted by Google for their paid links. Despite their initial claims they skated through unscathed, their users began receiving unnatural link warnings in Google Webmaster Tools several days later.
If you utilize paid links services, either for buying or selling, you will definitely want to check your Webmaster Tools accounts frequently in case you get caught, and will need to get rid of the links. Whenever you purchase paid links, it's always a good idea to keep a list of all the places you have those links, so you can disavow them quickly if you're penalized.
And don't be surprised if we see another link network taken down this coming Friday, announced by another Cutts tweet where he quotes their sales page.