The other day, I broke the story that Forbes got caught selling links and didn't even know they were selling it. It turns out, it was a technical error and they apologized, removed the links and likely submitted their reconsideration request.
But if you read the comments in my post and even some comments in the Google Webmaster Help thread you will see people laughing at me because we sell links on the side bar here. Yes, scroll down, look on the right, there are "sponsored links." We have sponsors pay about $350 per month for those links and most have been there for years. You don't think I know I sell links on this site? Do you think I am that dumb?
Let me give you some history, so you have some perspective. In November 2007 Google started slapping sites who sold links that passed PageRank. It specifically was targeting paid links and this came with no surprise to SEOs, Google warned us, if you sell links, make sure they don't pass PageRank or Google can penalize you.
So sites, like this one, that did not listen began to see their PageRank drop significantly - yes, including this one. We saw our PageRank in the Toolbar drop from a six or seven to a four. It was upsetting, but I was stubborn and hey our traffic didn't drop at that time. Most sites hit with the penalty quickly removed the paid links from passing PageRank and asked Google for forgiveness. Some brave webmasters did not, and decided to live with the penalty.
As I said back in 2007, I think this is the smartest move Google could have made. They have to target link sellers, because link buyers target their search quality. I think Google is doing the right thing for penalizing sites for selling links. I have no ill will against Google for penalizing this site. Again, they have to do it and they are 100% right in doing so.
But at the same time, I have 100% right to build my site the way I want. I know, without a doubt, that the penalty this site (and other sites) have for selling links affects more than just the visible Toolbar PageRank. Back in 2007, I didn't see a ranking or traffic drop. But soon later I noticed the traffic and ranking in Google for this site dropped. There is no doubt that if I removed the links, my traffic would likely increase by 25% to 100%.
As you can see, I am making a conscious decision to leave the paid links here despite the PageRank and ranking penalty. Why?
- I had those links there prior to Google's paid links guideline
- I always clearly labeled them as paid links for humans to see
- Google reads this blog, they know about the paid links and I know they discredit them
- I am stupid
- I am incredibly stubborn, ask my wife
You see, I just don't want to change. This is how I had it, this is how I want it to be. I know the links do little value to those buying them. I believe, I really do, that the sponsors of this site do it because they want to support the site and the industry. Proof? I am posting this, they can read it and pull their links at any time.
So why won't I nofollow them then? Because I am stubborn and I am one of the few SEO blogs that decided to not change when Google unleashed their penalty (again, Google has to do it and I commend them for it).
Does this mean I will never remove the links? No. But for now, and for the past three-plus years, the links are staying as is.
Feel free to trash (or support) me in the comments.