Can you be punished for selling paid posts?While at Fincon, I remember talking with a few people about the dangers of posting sponsored posts. I’ve long believed that selling sponsored posts, labeled or otherwise, is not something that can hurt your site. At worst, your links may not pass any more link juice but your search results won’t be adversely affected. When we were talking, that’s exactly what I told them.
Sell posts if you want, get the money, and don’t let fears of Google and other external factors influence you. It’s your business, don’t let someone else tell you what to do.
Personally, I think paid posts are a short term way to make money with your blog. I think you’re better off pursuing other avenues but sometimes you need to do what you need to do. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and these particular birds are unlikely to hurt you.
You might be penalized for paid posts
That said, in doing more research, I discovered that there is a small probability you would get hurt for selling posts. There is a set of “manual actions” that Google can take if it believes you’re doing something against its guidelines and the one that may apply here is “unnatural links from your site.”
To find out if you’re affected, you need to log into Google Webmaster Tools. Go to your site, then look in the left sidebar. Click on Search Traffic and then Manual Actions. If Google has taken a manual action against your site, you’ll see something here. If not, you’ll see “No manual webspam actions found” and you’re in the clear.
How likely is this manual action? I’ve never talked to anyone who has told me they were penalized for linking out. I’ve talked to people who have been penalized for incoming unnatural links, but never penalized for outgoing links. (what’s funny is that in most of the cases of unnatural incoming links, almost none of them were “paid” in the traditional sense) If you’ve heard of someone who has been penalized for outgoing links, I’d love to hear about it.
I suspect the sites that they want to take down are blog networks and sites that only publish paid content. We’ve all seen those kinds of sites where every post is a Guest Contributor and the template is an ugly theme made in like 2001. They stick out like a sore thumb and it doesn’t take a genius intern sitting in Mountain View to figure out the site deserves a manual action.
How can you sell links safely? The only safe way is to nofollow your links — good luck finding an advertiser willing to do that (not impossible, but rare).
As for hiding it from Google, there’s no answer to this but I work off the principle that if I look at the post and it looks paid, someone else will think it’s paid. It looks paid when the article is written by a guest author with no Authorship, on a subject that isn’t related to the blog, linking to a page on another site for a commercial term (this is especially true if you link to the homepage with a commercial term that isn’t the brand name).
That said, guest posts that don’t have authorship, are on a subject unrelated to the blog, and link to another site for a commercial term are almost as dangerous because they look like a paid post (except you don’t get paid!).
How to respond to an unnatural link action
Google has decided you have unnatural links out so start with any paid guest posts and remove them or add rel=”nofollow” to the links inside. Next, do this for any other guest posts you’ve taken. Then, do it to any link exchanges or other artificial linking schemes you participated in. Then ask for forgiveness.
Google has always said that selling links that pass PageRank is against their guidelines and this is all because it messes with the algorithm. They are growing increasingly sophisticated in being able to detect paid links, usually starting on the advertisers’ side (rather than publisher), but they’re still not 100% sure, that’s why you see more mentions of “unnatural links” instead of paid links. In the end, it’s all the same. Do something Google doesn’t like and you get penalized.
Unnatural linking might get you in deep trouble but it’s not the exchange of money that makes it unnatural.
Will this knowledge change what you’re doing right now?
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