Link Incentives Are Against Google's Webmaster Guidelines

Jun 22, 2012 • 8:49 am | comments (44) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Link IncentivesA Google Webmaster Help thread has a message from Google's John Mueller that offering an incentive to link to your site in exchange for unlocking features is most likely against Google's webmaster guidelines.

A site owner asked if it would be acceptable to give his users of his site an "upgraded listings" in exchange for linking from their web sites to their profile on his site.

In short, you link to us, we give you more features for free. It is free, but we want a link in exchange for the feature we are giving you.

Google's John Mueller said this is a bad idea. He said he would "strongly recommend not making PageRank-passing links to your site a requirement for any kind of interaction on your website."

Back in 2007, we talked about ethical link building incentives and in 2009, we asked if incentives are paid links. Back then SEOs were split, some saying yes, it is like a paid link and some saying no.

Google clearly here is saying, these types of incentives are a form of trade and payment and make for an unnatural link for the purpose of manipulating PageRank and potentially rankings and thus is against their guidelines.

Here is John's full response:

I'd strongly recommend not making PageRank-passing links to your site a requirement for any kind of interaction on your website. Links placed like that are generally not natural links, not the kind of links that our algorithms want to find. Past that, not all businesses or people have real websites, it seems like it would be a bit unfair to block them from being able to use your site to its fullest (and in turn, if they end up loving it, recommending it to their friends & business partners). By all means, make it easy for users to recommend and to link to your site, but don't use that as a requirement.

What do you think?

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Image credit to BigStockPhoto for carrot and stick

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06/22/2012 01:00 pm

If you ask for a link, without anchor/landing request, this should be safe. Google is unfair You use my service = You link me (as you want) = I change you to Premium member What is the problem?

Ben Johnston

06/22/2012 01:04 pm

And yet you have to link to your Google + profile in order to get authorship markup to work (or at least, you did have to). Sounds pretty similar to me.

Sheared Sheep

06/22/2012 01:20 pm

I've come across literally SCADS of websites asking to be 'liked' on Facebook. More likely than not due to the link importance which Goog has placed on websites rather than basing search solely on rich content. I guess it's all about rich links. This of course is quite different than 'access for links' but one has to wonder where this is going. In the caveman days (like less than a decade ago) links served a wonderful purpose; now they serve as ladder rungs as websites attempt to crawl to the top. I don't visit a website for the link muscle; I visit for the content. And for those truly wonderful websites, I don't think that most people recommend them; it's like they found a treasure and they don't want to share the gold. Just saying....


06/22/2012 02:03 pm

Say thanks to SEOs.


06/22/2012 02:05 pm

hehe ... SEOs call this "luink building". There are even experts in this kind of unfair business practice. Kudos to Google !


06/22/2012 02:06 pm

You replied already by yourself - " you ASK for a link ".


06/22/2012 02:08 pm

This is about authentication. Not the same.

Steven Lockey

06/22/2012 02:40 pm

Whats wrong with the google+ link. It doesn't complain if you add rel="nofollow" to it. Nothing wrong with asking for a link either, demanding a link to use the site fully is a bit different however.


06/22/2012 02:46 pm

Whats the problem with optional linking? Its a big difference if I give you 1000 dollars and must link to me in return than giving you a guaranteed 1000 dollars with you linking to me optionally at your own discretion.


06/22/2012 02:59 pm

A paid (aka unwelcome) link for google is anything that you get in return for a link. It can be money, a vacation, plumbing in your bathroom, even just a specific information. Of course google's algo can not physically get in your bathroom (yet), so they cant really tell if you give a link to your plumber only because he actually did some work for you or because you are satisfied with his paid work. A car manufacturer can not make a car fly, but google should make enough money to get such a comparably elemantary problems solved.


06/22/2012 03:17 pm

Agreed. No probs, if you friendly remind to recommend to others by linking, after you gave something to visitor (provided service). Probably I misunderstood what Girialord said. What are you doing first matters. Do you ask and then provide service OR do you remind on exit, after the service was provided.

Sheared Sheep

06/22/2012 03:21 pm

Anti, I understand what you're saying but isn't it really Goog that is pressing emphasis on the link advantage? The social advantage? The 'like me' advantage? And if we're really being brutally honest, Goog is more of an advertising agency than a search engine. To me and I would venture to say 'to most users', a true search engine ferrets-out content that the user is seeking. It doesn't rely on favored links which can be jimmied for financial gain (or ranking advantage). If the algo really was Pinky & the Brain, then it could zero-in on the rich, viable and useful reader content and not have a need to rely on linking, as well as other practices which are full of shotgun holes. I wholeheartedly agree that a lot of negative SEOing has created a quagmire amid the process (the money glut) and has a dominoe-effect on the innocents (I for one am bleating), but I also feel there are also really good SEOs out there, too. I also understand that Goog must make money and cannot provide search for free; but they are cannibalizing the web with ads - so much so that people are becomming immune to them. That's not a good thing for anyone....


06/22/2012 03:24 pm

" You use my service = You link me (as you want) = I change you to Premium member " This is pure trading. Means link is unnatural.

Jefferson Maes

06/22/2012 03:45 pm

thing is getting serious now, so I like


06/22/2012 04:01 pm

this is offtopic ... "there are also really good SEOs out there" - sure there are, but people forgot what SEO means. This is not a magic cash-button and even not something about "link building". This is Search Engine OPTIMIZATION - means how to make a webpage to be understandable for search engines. That's it ) 10+ years ago just a few people knew how to do this, nowadays every kid knows. This has nothing to do with the page ranking. Create page for visitors, but understandable for SEs bots and SEs will rank it according to their algorithms. Everything else is an algo manipulation. And sure algo owners will not be happy about such manipulations. But this is another story, not related here. Sorry ) re " so much so that people are becomming immune to them" - but TV industry went the same way. Why do you think internet in general and Google as the leader should go different ? There is simply no different way - the economic laws are the same. And Panda is just the normal spin of the industry evolution. Sorry, offtopic again ) Days, when everybody who owned computer, could be in business gone. Days, when SEOs were kind of experts, gone. You have to be professional in all possible meanings by yourself to survive. As in any other industry. The real business started. Welcome )


06/22/2012 05:38 pm

I remember reading on the SEOMoz blog about how to build links by finding broken ones. The post author suggested a scenario where 'hey I noticed you have a link to xyz site that is no longer live, we'd like to take their place. If we send you some free product would you consider putting us there?' My company would like to do something similar wherein we give out free product to consumers to review. One of the requirements would be that the site owner include an editorial reference to where their readers can find that product if they also wanted to try it. Would this be considered a violation or 'inbound marketing'?

Webstats Art

06/22/2012 06:10 pm

Of course google still believe that there is such a thing as organic linking. Yeh Right! Google- why don't you link to Facebook on your homepage because it is more relevant than google Plus!

Sheared Sheep

06/22/2012 06:10 pm

Anti, because Goog controls the area of Internet search, yes indeed I think they should set the bar. But their attempt with the Panda 'evolution' is akin to The Island of Dr. Moreau. Search was absolutely mamed due to these botched 'visionary' methods. In addition, people who assisted in making Goog their billions have been hurt and it is going ignored. When a site falls in the ranking, they should be informed why it happened. Out of the darkness and into the light. Don't be evil.


06/22/2012 06:11 pm

If such "reviews" will be not marked as advertisment, then the whole business model will be violation. You can be fined.


06/22/2012 06:17 pm

I agree with Andy's comments. But speaking of being 'unfair' - how 'fair' is it to be penalized hugely by a non-Batman Penguin when you have done absolutely nothing related to link requests - and that every 'gall-durn' link to your site got there in a natural manner?


06/22/2012 06:17 pm

My website never traded links. It has


06/22/2012 06:23 pm

Nothing to inform. It's obvious - people don't like your website in the long run. They don't return to you, they don't mention you, they don't link to you, etc etc etc ... Consider your website as a TV pilot. You made it, Google measure the audience reaction - ups, not good. Sorry, but you'll be listed in the bottom. Pretty much the same.


06/22/2012 11:57 pm

It's not the natural links that I have any issue with. It's the fact that Goog is punishing sites for having natural links which are beyond their control. Also, I take it that you were commenting per 'third person' exampled in your last set of comments and not as a personal assumption of my business. If not, you could not be more incorrect in your assessment. :-)


06/23/2012 03:48 am

Not sure where did you find any mentioning of the links in my last post ... and in the previous post of yours ) Are you trying to end this offtopic started by you ? Sorry, but not very good try ) All of my comments are based on my own experience only. I absolutely don't care about your business. Why should I ? ) I have my own to care about )

Webstats Art

06/23/2012 07:02 am

Yeh and what is your website? I guess you are too shy

Fede Einhorn

06/23/2012 12:02 pm

But why is that link considered as "pagerank seeker"? Couldn't be just advertising? Or isn't that the same as sharing via social media sites? You find something you like, you let people know. You get something free in a Website you like you let people know... it's just the medium that changes. Of course some will purely do that for pagerank... but how to differentiate?

Fede Einhorn

06/23/2012 12:02 pm

too bad I can only vote once!!! :P


06/23/2012 12:26 pm

Thank you for interest, but ... First of all this is not topic about my site.Secondly, I don't need to drop links. Thirdly, I would not get any benefit from promoting it here. I mentioned it as an example, that organic linking is not only possible, but should be the only linking way.


06/23/2012 12:31 pm

You can drop more useless posts here and vote for them ) Your passion for vote and cheap self promotion will be fulfilled.


06/23/2012 12:36 pm

does this mean that CC Attribution license is not acceptable for Google? With this license you must give attribution in form described by author (most often it is a link). Is Wikipedia breaking the rules with CC Attribution license?

Fede Einhorn

06/23/2012 12:39 pm

yup... my posts are the useless ones. ok.


06/23/2012 12:43 pm

You see, now you can vote again. I'm glad you found my latest post useful )


06/23/2012 01:48 pm

Yeah. Goog is much like a proctologist; all bodonkeydonks look the same when in reality, what you see isn't always what you get.


06/23/2012 02:44 pm

The other day a bunch of traffic will be bought from your traffic selling website and, after the redirect via the website hosting malware, will be served to the end users, seeding malware. Is it malware distribution ? Couldn't be just advertising ? Of course some will purely do that for malware distribution ... but how to differentiate? I'm pretty sure you know how to differentiate and at least you're trying to do this. Why do you consider Google guys brainless ?


06/24/2012 03:16 pm

WoW )) I can't believe this ... Time wasters on WW (most of them SEOs of course)) finally understood what Panda is about : It took them 16 months ... ) And sure they immediately announced it as a SEO related thing ... LOL )) Now they can sell more myths to believers. Is SEO a new religion ? )) Anyway, worth to read, because this is the first clear view of the Panda. Some already call it as brilliant. Yup, it is.

Lorenz Roth

06/25/2012 08:11 am

What about asking a visitor for a social interaction (A like, tweet, or +1 vote) to unlock something they want? Since these are said to be postitve elements to gain rank, would they count as artifical as well? Thanks for bringing that post to our attention.

Carsten Riemer

06/25/2012 09:16 am

This discussion is complete updated. Google fostered this statement since 2000 but didn't regulate it like the people discuss this in the scene. Off course google become much more offensive and (pr)-prepared these days. Looking back to 2003 there was also one update from google which changed the top ten results completely but in this time there wasn't really a seo scene and pushing person like matt cutts. Anyway it still works if you have a experienced eye for suitable link ressources and real technical seo skills. Best Regards from BIG BERLIN!

Sourabh Rana

06/25/2012 09:39 am

Hello Barry Schwartz, Can you permanently banned some of commentators because they are doing unrelated discussion here which is not to SEO. & I don't think google will feel any problem from these "link incentives plan" because SITE OWNER is adding the link with his own wish. Ex- If I have one site like and I am adding my friends site is it a bad SEO Technique and How GOOGLE will caught that other site is providing "link incentives" because I added his link on my site. What you say....


06/25/2012 02:19 pm

So if you read free articles in newspapers and blogs, that give you additional value due to the research etc put into it, and you link to it because you find it useful, then its suddenly natural but getting a premium membership is unnatural? i dont get this logic.


06/25/2012 06:42 pm

Its not something they recommend you "require." Therefore you can recommend it, but not require it. The people should link to you naturally because they like you. But, then this leaves the question of value added exchanges -- if you barter with another site for links suggesting you will tweet the post they like too -- is that also not recommended since there is a form of barter involved. What I find puzzling is why not be able to offer free services for a link -- links aren't only for PageRank passing, as Barry Schwartz himself knows, they are also for sharing traffic and citing sources you like and your readers/friends can try.


06/25/2012 06:48 pm

Why would they need to be marked as advertisement? We ask the consumers to place the link only if they liked the product. Rather than waiting for them to eventually find us we are just speeding up the process by reaching out, giving the product, if they like it they 'link/endorse' us and if not they no-follow it.

Marty Martin

06/28/2012 06:00 pm

If linking is so unimportant to you why are you commenting here on a post about, of all things, link incentives? pssht.


07/31/2012 11:08 am

I really appreciate Google for opposing the idea of link incentives as it only manipulate the page rank rather than blocking them.


03/01/2014 10:10 pm

"It is free, but we want a link in exchange for the feature we are giving you." I'll give you 100 links, totally for free, it's completely free, all you have to do is give me money.

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