Google Penalizes Forbes For Selling Links, Again

Feb 16, 2011 • 4:01 pm | comments (93) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google: Forbes Selling, the extremely popular magazine web site, has been notified by Google that they have been penalized for selling links on their web site.

Denis Pinsky, the Digital Marketing Manager at, posted a Google Webmaster Help thread with the notification warning. As some of you know, Google now email site owners when they are participating in unnatural links and just received their email from Google.

The email read:

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We've detected that some or all of your pages are using techniques that are outside our quality guidelines, which are available here:

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. For more information about our linking guidelines, visit

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please visit to submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support:

Google told Forbes that they have "artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank" on their web site. In other words, they are selling links, which is against Google's guidelines.

Pinsky asked, in a public forum, "Can someone help figure out what Links are in violation?"

It is important to add that this would not be the first time was penalized by Google for selling links. In fact, Forbes wrote about the first time back in 2007, the article was named Google Scares The Search Crowd.

Thursday, Web site administrators for major sites including the, Techcrunch, and Engadget (as well as found that their "pagerank"--a number that typically reflects the ranking of a site in Google.

Forbes is no stranger to how Google works. I am a bit surprised that the top SEO at Forbes would post this in a public forum - I assume he has no clue where the paid links are. I looked and didn't find anything within 60 seconds of looking. Do you see the paid links?

Unless Google thinks the Data Partners on the bottom are a link scheme?

Forbes Paid Links?

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Update: Arrington at TechCrunch has been watch Forbes for a few days now and noticed the links. He pointed us to where they are selling links for PageRank purposes. You can see them on pages like on the bottom right. Here is a picture:

Forbes Paid Links!

Arrington said:

Starting Monday Forbes started to delete the links from their site. Weve been watching these links come down, but they seem to have forgotten one page. See the bottom right of this page for paid links to Netsuite, AppRiver, Bluepay, SquareSpace and others, all with very nice descriptive keywords like ecommerce, Create a Website, etc. Previous links to Siemens and AT&T were prevalent, and those links still appear on eWeek and CIO Magazine.

Update: Forbes responds: Forbes responded basically saying these links were on legacy pages that some how went live during a site redesign. It was a mistake and they pulled the pages.

Previous story: Daily Search Forum Recap: February 16, 2011


Todd Mintz

02/16/2011 09:24 pm

Couldn't this guy perceive that sharing his Google Penalty with the world might be an extremely bad idea? Duh!

Barry Schwartz

02/16/2011 09:25 pm

Well, any PR is good PR - no? ;-)


02/16/2011 09:27 pm

They were selling link inventory through Conductor

Barry Schwartz

02/16/2011 09:27 pm

Can you point to an example?

Ewing Enterprise

02/16/2011 09:29 pm

wow and another giant company caught selling links! Hey maybe I can finally outrank forbes for the term "making money"...j/k Im shocked though that Pinsky asked, in a public forum, "Can someone help figure out what Links are in violation?"


02/16/2011 09:34 pm

Yep CONDUCTOR was using forbes to sell links

Barry Schwartz

02/16/2011 09:35 pm

Show examples please.

Kate E. Hutchinson

02/16/2011 09:35 pm

Maybe he thought by doing that, Google would see him for the clueless innocent that he really is.

Glen Allsopp

02/16/2011 09:42 pm

Surely the message to Forbes is automated, just like the messages to other webmasters. So Google may just be hinting at checking the links to other sites, but not actually mean there is a problem with that?

Backlink Generation

02/16/2011 09:48 pm

It could be automated but what about the fact that it is said to have happened before. It sounds like a big company trying to boost their ratings a little.

Syed Khaled Hussaini

02/16/2011 10:01 pm

How much could they have been earning by selling links? was it worth it?

Stephen Racano

02/16/2011 10:08 pm

Are you serious? Those are resources they use for their content, no way that is what flagged them.


02/16/2011 10:10 pm

Is it just me, or am i see a "sponsored links" section right on this page?

Barry Schwartz

02/16/2011 10:14 pm

It is not just you.


02/16/2011 10:15 pm

OMG Forbes is selling links for money like Google sells links for money!!!

Barry Schwartz

02/16/2011 10:17 pm

FYI, updated this post to show where the paid links are.


02/16/2011 10:19 pm

Sponsored links are just to the right of this page. Hey Google!

Barry Schwartz

02/16/2011 10:25 pm

Google knows, this site is penalized already.

Samuel Lavoie

02/16/2011 10:40 pm

Exactly what I thought reading the first paragraph... that's lame


02/16/2011 10:46 pm

Actually, the ads that Google sells are ignored for purposes of PageRank. There's no prohibition on selling ads on your site, they just need to be marked as such so they can be ignored for PageRank. You're allowed to sell ads, you are not allowed to sell PageRank boosts.


02/16/2011 11:00 pm

Perhaps they got penalized for their use of a blog to sell links as outlined in this story -


02/16/2011 11:10 pm

Your story is updated now. But at a previous agency we had a client using conductor and they were purchasing on Forbes. This was as recent as 6 months ago.

Alireza Sefati

02/16/2011 11:38 pm

I seriously think Google is being a little TOO MUCH with this paid linking battle. Instead of harassing those that buy or sell links, they should focus on improving their algorithms so it detects un-editorial links and discount them without any penalty. Also they need to seriously think putting a lot less value on links. People don’t link as much anymore, they tweet, face book, and like and share good sites and content now.


02/16/2011 11:47 pm

You want to see REAL paid links? Look at - the "featured site" links cost $175.00 per month for three months minimum, and the "premium links" cost more. I know this to be true as a friend showed me the invoice. I advised him NOT to resign. Google don't care thought - they appear to be just going after the "big guns".


02/17/2011 12:45 am

So Google doesn't like anyone else selling online advertising,sorry paid-for links?

Harish Mehta

02/17/2011 01:16 am

well done ...Google.....good for link sellers!


02/17/2011 01:22 am

That was a very interesting post and I was shocked to see even Matt make the rounds on it.


02/17/2011 02:04 am

Conductor stopped offering any link building services in 2010, I've verified this as a former customer.


02/17/2011 02:20 am

Forbes has been selling links for years and a lot of companies use to work directly with Forbes to buy them. I know for a fact, that Conductor, does not offer link building services anymore and focuses exclusively on SEO software.


02/17/2011 03:03 am

Great. So forbes indulges in all kinds of "illegal activities"

Barry Schwartz

02/17/2011 03:11 am

This is not "illegal".

Florida Fishing Charters

02/17/2011 03:35 am

Hmmm someone forgot the 'no follow' attribute.

Florida Fishing Charters

02/17/2011 03:36 am



02/17/2011 04:28 am

So selling ads is illegal now? Google should just have an algorithm that detects words like sponsors, advertisements, paid links, resources, etc... Or to play devils advocate, webmasters should just get familiar with nofollow.


02/17/2011 04:53 am

So Barry, when is SE Roundtable's turn? You too do have a sponsored links section w/0 nofollow right?


02/17/2011 06:00 am

Premium links cost $600 plus a month a friend of mine bought a link ;) I guess link selling is really worth it. Web Wombat is prob making $15000 - $20000 monthly on autopilot. Can anybody explain to me why they have such a high page rank 7??


02/17/2011 06:18 am

Straight up - F#@K Google! Who are they to say who can and cannot sell paid links or ad units on a website. Here's the BIG problem here and what is terribly disturbing in the comments of this article - You Appear To Be Drinking The KoolAid. Why are YOU, free citizens, citizens of an open and free marketplace "allowing" them to get away with this? Who made the Gidiots god? Forbes broke no laws. This is neither unethical, immoral or even remotely illegal. It's called business. What is it that you people think Google does as a company? If you said "search" you would be DEAD WRONG ... they are an advertising sales behemoth. Almost 90% of their annual revenue comes from selling advertising. Of course they don't want anyone else selling ads or links. Of course they only want you to publish "their" ads. And to convince you they send you threatening letters and blackmail webmasters by manipulating your index positioning in their search results if you step out of line. Now I ask you ... Who's Breaking The Law Here?


02/17/2011 06:20 am

Yep nothing illegal ! Just don't get caught by Big Brother. Google's rules are not the law. We have to behave under the Guidelines pressure, but now way we should comply to everything. Btw, it's not so difficult to be smart about buying/selling links.


02/17/2011 06:40 am

It is Google's product to manipulate in any manner they see fit. There are many other options open to users if they believe link spamming for the purpose of bloating popularity statistics is a legitimate way of advertising. It is a courtesy that they send the email at all. Personally I like the idea of my search results being based less on paid link advertisements and so I will continue to use google when I deem it appropriate. Obviously you do not agree so you will choose to use a different product. If more people agree with you, eventually as things become more drastic, an increasing number of people will choose a different product and google may be forced to adapt its practices. This is one of the many positive points of competition.


02/17/2011 07:13 am

No disrespect Proficient32, but if you think your "search results" are mostly unmanipulated and or exist largely outside the realm of "paid" results, you're being naive. Be it traditional "ads" or SEO for that matter, in any "competitive" niche, someone is paying someone for results. The more organic those results appear to be to the end user is merely the artistry of a marketer who knows their craft well shining through.

Mark the Webalyst

02/17/2011 08:17 am

The law is not relevant. Its simple: if you want to rank on Google's website Google require you to follow the rules they set. What you are saying is that Google shouldn't have the right to set policy for their own website. Mark


02/17/2011 10:09 am

At least in Sweden it is illegal to use your dominating position to tell other companies how they should do business with each other, so the one who is breaking the law here is probably Google?

Rob - Consumer Durable

02/17/2011 10:25 am

Forbes are just unlucky.There are so many websites selling out links but Forbes always tend to get caught.

Barry Schwartz

02/17/2011 10:58 am

We are penalized, have been since 2007 - around the same time Forbes was penalized their first time.


02/17/2011 12:23 pm

Don't think so..even today while doing some research SER came up for most of the results, and care to explain what kind of penalty was it? #justcurious

Barry Schwartz

02/17/2011 12:25 pm

SER has a PageRank penalty. Our PR is 4, not the 6 or 7 it should be. Plus, we do not rank as well as we should for many keywords in Google. But hey, I have been "selling links" since before Google cared (i.e. had the nofollow). Who knows, maybe I'll break and change things but for now, I will continue to be stubborn.


02/17/2011 12:55 pm

Forbes is part of the Conductor link selling network. Matt Cutts has publicly tweeted that they know about Conductor. Why is this a shock?

Erik Dafforn

02/17/2011 01:00 pm

In Barry's defense (not that he needs it), prior to the rollout of rel/nofollow, it was enough to have the links denoted in a "sponsored" section just as he does here. Other options included JS links or passing the click through a robots-excluded file. So he's doing what WAS right, but at some point, "right" was redefined.


02/17/2011 01:42 pm

Like your stance on "selling links" amen to it bro. And hats off to you & guys at SER, who take immense efforts to provide us with everything that happens around the forums non stop each day. BTW, me thinks that It must be hard for Google to ignore you,,,,,,otherwise many would go WTF?, would'nt they???

Vlad Rascanu

02/17/2011 02:32 pm

Google's really starting to cut down on these big companies. First JC Penny and now Forbes. And I thought it was only the small guys getting penalized...


02/17/2011 03:23 pm

Does anyone know instances where companies in violation were actually de-indexed?


02/17/2011 03:55 pm

yep.. it's usually just a page and just a keyword phrase... full domains normally don't get removed unless they do really bad stuff.


02/17/2011 03:56 pm

wake up and smell the @silverjoe's coffee... SEO meets Sarbanes Oxley... it's been coming.. you haven't been listening.. =)

Nick Roshon

02/17/2011 04:10 pm

I really appreciate you posting that, firstly because you're totally awesome for just living with the penalty, and secondly because you rarely read insights of someone actually penalized that understands exactly why and its impacts. Thanks Barry!


02/17/2011 04:12 pm

No Mark, what I'm saying is that Google KNOWS exactly how detrimental an impact it can have on a company's website (i.e. revenue) by "slapping" it for something like selling links. I've seen them abuse this so called power time after time. Placing "warning" messages in the visitor path for sites that did nothing more than have an optin form for a free ebook on the page, or shut down adwords accounts because the account owner promoted a product which google decided "the product owner" had a poor landing page, but penalized the affiliate. The list goes on and on with the bulls#!t they do. And the only reason they can is because of sympathizers that try to rationalize it all and say things like "hey its their product, they can do what they want." Yeah ok, thats true, it is their "product" - capitalism FTW. I agree. But knowing you have the power to adversely affect a business's revenue stream at the push of a button AND showing through continuous pompous actions that you don't care one damn bit about your partners is a sign of a company on the wrong path. So again I say f#@k Google and their empirical land of make believe. Their time will come. Giants fall. Be it an antitrust suit or a better alternative - something will come along and knock them off their self righteous pedestal. That's the beauty of a free market - it always finds a way of correcting itself and pruning poisonous limbs. And I'll be laughing my a$$ off when it happens.

Ryan Miller

02/17/2011 04:24 pm

*insert "sad trombone" sound here*

john shehata

02/17/2011 05:24 pm

The sad part this is not the first time they get penalized for the same reason, they were penalized back in 2007:

Joe Nguyen

02/17/2011 06:09 pm

Aww thats nice, Google is so nice. They're sending letters out to friends who get sandboxed now.

Terry Van Horne

02/17/2011 07:54 pm

one of most lucrative rev stream are financial terms... are relevant and advertising are in the face of the audience they seek to be in front of... since when does Google get to decide who can sell advertising? Does Bing penalize Google would seem absurd... how is this any different. I could make a case this is anti competitive and Google attempting to smear a direct competitor

Brian Cox

02/17/2011 08:37 pm

hope his sponsors didnt read that... but seriously, amazing response Barry, never seen anyone be up front about their link selling and explaining their penalties, hats off.

Barry Schwartz

02/17/2011 08:42 pm

I don't care if my sponsors see this. They sponsor because they want to support the site, not for the link love.


02/17/2011 09:24 pm

The big unanswered question here is HOW were they penalized?? Did they lose rankings? Did they have pages removed from the index?? Or did they just lose TBPR? Does anyone know?


02/17/2011 09:53 pm

I agree ... after all they both buy and sell links. What no one is allowed to monetize unless they use Google? WTF


02/18/2011 02:22 am

Google pushing the little guys out. If you try to contact support, it could be weeks before you get a standard text answer. Now, I am sure if I did this, my account would have been shut down, (Adwords) and banned from SERP and not tell me. In this case, they looked the other way because I am sure the monthly revenue from JC Penney and Forbes was great. So, let's wait for after Christmas. Come on Google, who are you kidding. KP


02/18/2011 02:25 am

Yes, and I see you are flagged. Google is pushing the little guy out. And did you know, you can not longer upload your products in Merchant Center if you get your products from a wholesaler. Yes, did that and they decided I was a drop shipper. I wasn't and so what if I was. Turned the account off and never gave a direct answer. You think this is FREE, it is now ( except Adwords) but these free services will cost you when you can't do with out. A sticky app. Follow the money. It is alwasy about money.


02/18/2011 06:28 am

Go and check out their blog, those guys stopped doing any link building last year. I liked what they were doing with links, but you cannot beat google and they dont care about quality or relevance if dollars are changing hands.


02/18/2011 10:54 am

Pot calling the kettle black? Theres a huge list of paid links in your sidebar... ?

Barry Schwartz

02/18/2011 11:08 am

Do you read?


02/18/2011 01:24 pm

Now common Barry, "They sponsor because they want to support the site, not for the link love. " Really? then why not the nofollow? why not no anchor tags links? I can understand your stance for your sponsors, but this is way too much.........honestly do you believe that these guys are just there to support the site? be honest now, won't ya?

Barry Schwartz

02/18/2011 01:26 pm

Yes because the links don't pass any weight. They have not since before my Google penalty in 2007. Alan, this is my site - don't tell me where to add nofollows. I accept the penalty, I am not hiding it, never have.

F Webstar

02/18/2011 01:30 pm

Not panelized still showing PR5 and 2690 backlinks in Google Total wrong information

Barry Schwartz

02/18/2011 01:58 pm


Barry Schwartz

02/18/2011 01:58 pm

Who taught you SEO?

Barry Schwartz

02/18/2011 01:58 pm

You forced my hand. Read

bollywood masala

02/18/2011 02:09 pm

I guess nothing is official yet.


02/18/2011 02:12 pm

The year 2000 is on the phone, they want their SEO back.

Daniel Deyette

02/18/2011 06:52 pm

I wrote a nice little article about this on my blog. I think this really more paradigm shifting news than most people realize as this is one of the few rare circumstances where Google's now penalizing people for things they HAVENT done vs things they HAVE done like things BMW did or J.C. Penney's team did.

Ryan Healy

02/18/2011 09:32 pm

@Terry - This was my thought exactly: Google's effort to maintain a stranglehold on who can accept money for links and/or advertising. It's absolutely ridiculous. Unfortunately, we've all been conditioned to jump when Google says "jump."


02/18/2011 09:36 pm

Google should not have the right to set policies for other website, because of their own website's logic. That's the crux of the matter. The web can't work that way. simple. Trust me. I hear your point, and it holds a lot of truth. But, just like we can't tell them what to do with their results they have a fine line for telling the web they require to be included into a Monopoly type of search environment. So, Google is on a slippery slope when it comes to how 3rd party sites might decide to make revenue and code things in HTML that fit within industry standards.


02/18/2011 11:53 pm

Forbes says they went live during a redesign? What a crock of horse-shi* Those links have been up there & available thru link brokers for quite some time.


02/19/2011 12:39 pm

what about SEO Round Table. You guys too sell links to SEO Companies.


02/24/2011 04:40 am

Did the advertisers ie. ATT&T, xignit get penalized also?

Maurice Walshe

02/25/2011 12:31 pm

doesn't say much for Denis Pinskys and Forbes competence if he needed help to find the dodgy links

Steven H

03/17/2011 06:30 pm

Text links are really no different than banner ads. Replace keyword link with alt text and viola the same result. It seems to be more about protecting their market than trying to clean up linksters. A paid ad is a paid ad, text or image. Google is quickly becoming the most dangerous company on earth.

Adriana @ Cheap Marquee

03/23/2011 11:50 pm

I dont understand why they sold links, they dont need it! I f they focus more on Social SEO instead of the old way to link building strategies. Specially with that material!!!

Playground Rubber Surfacing

03/30/2011 11:06 pm

Google is messing up a lot of my link building strategies. Take it easy guys.

SEO Professionals

08/14/2011 11:50 pm

Here's one important thing that you need to be on familiar terms with, be aware of and bear in mind; when you put a lead capture form on your page make definite that it always redirects the visitor back to your page once they sign up for, it doesn't matter what you are giving away.

Fizzy Man

11/17/2011 02:24 pm

They probably just wanted some extra revenue. I imaging a link from a site like Forbes giving quite the PR boost, at a cost hahaha

Warren Lotto

12/20/2011 03:53 pm

I don't see how this is different to banner adverts. In fact banner adverts quite often are invasive, not related to the content material and are generally ignored by the majority. If I went to my affiliates and change all my banner ads to be just square white boxes with text instead of my image + logo + title would the site that post it get penalised? How exactly would it be different? I think Google need to accept that people with money will use the popularity of others to gain PR. This is why we have sponsors in the real world.  My funny analogy: Yellow Pages (big directory of phone numbers) called Manchester United football club and tells them that they are selling links to Adidas in the form of big signs at the side of the football field. And this doesn't meet the Yellow Pages guild lines and they want them to remove them.  The difference is yellow pages doesn't care too much if your listing in their book is for a terrible service. They trust that people will be able to tell a dodgy company from a legit one. 


03/16/2012 03:32 pm

Big website to be punished.


04/30/2012 09:37 pm

You know what? Who gives a s*** about what google thinks about paid links? I know they are a big search engine and everyone uses them, but wtf, its our websites, we can do wth we want with them. They just want to take all the monies in any form of advertising. Who cares if companies make money from's a business model. Google is trying to monopolize the online advertising monetization model. They need to be stopped. We should all stop using google as a search engine. There are other search engines. (Bing, Yahoo).

Chad Agrawal

07/20/2012 11:53 pm

I totally support the end of the day, they are putting people (the user) first, and that is why they are so successful. If you need to pay for links to get pagerank, you probably don't deserve that pagerank anyways and you should learn how to help more people and actually give value to the users and internet community at large

Hewitt Pratt

04/03/2014 05:14 pm

They're at it again: here's a recent piece, with pretty obviously paid links --

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