Paid Links That Work and Why Google Can’t Stop Them

by Peter Attia on May 8, 2012

I bet that title got your attention. For serious though, I do not support paid links, so keep your shirt on, Rand. I’m simply trying to bring awareness to an issue.

What is Considered a Paid Link?

This isn’t as obvious as you’d think. Some things are blatantly paid, while others hit a bit of a grey area. Here are a few examples:

Note: Anything in the “Grey” area are topics where I’ve noticed conflicting opinions.

Paid White Hat Links

white hat links

  • Sponsoring an organization that offers a linking opportunity
  • Paid Directories (if the listing is being manually checked for quality)
  • Making a donation that provides a linking opportunity
  • Giveaways and contests (as long as you ask for a link and not force it)

Paid Grey Hat Links

grey hat links

  • Offering physical incentives for an opportunity to guest post
  • Renting properly labeled ad space and placing a no-follow link within
  • Offering your product to a blogger for their review with a link
  • Buying a banner ad that contains a no-follow link within

Paid Black Hat Links

black hat links

  • This list is endless, so I did my best to create a brief summary: “Any form of paid linking where a followed link is not typically deserved.”


Paid Links Google Can’t Stop

Despite the following context, this is not a grey hat link – To create a paid link that can’t be detected by Google, you want to disguise it as a white hat. Justin Briggs wrote a great piece a while back where he stated:

“If you want to want to engage in less than pearly white link building tactics, do it behind cover of content based tactics.”

He’s absolutely right. Search for blogs within your niche and use advanced operator searches to find your keywords within that blog. Find keywords on old posts. You can then contact the blogger and pay them to change those words into a link.

Why Can’t Google Detect It?

Even though the link may seem out of place, Google wouldn’t be able to fairly judge wether this link was paid or not. You haven’t changed any content. It’s very viable that the blogger put that link up on their own free will.

How Could Google Fix This?

One sign something is odd is the cache date of the post. The most reasonable thing to do, would be for Google to devalue links on edited posts. Again though, this wouldn’t fix the issue 100% and could devalue completely legit links.

How This Can Hurt You

Bloggers are finicky creatures. Even though this tactic is invisible to Google, it’s very obvious to the blogger you’re contacting. If you rub them the wrong way, they can easily out you.

How Your Competitors Can Use This to Hurt You

This would be a horrible thing to do, but you could contact bloggers while posing as your competitor. Telling them you will pay them for a link, then piss them off. It has the potential to create a reputation nightmare if you did it with several bloggers in the same niche.


Don’t try this at home. Even though it may bypass Google, it has the potential to cause other horrible issues. The last community you want to dislike you are the bloggers in your niche.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael J. Kovis May 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm

You have yet to disappoint me with a blog Peter.

This is an excellent topic to debate about. I am no advocate of paid links either, but the subject has always intrigued me. How does Google figure out paid links schemes, or does it? Especially those considered to be black.

Million dollar question, right?


Peter Attia May 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Indeed it is. If we knew that, it would make all our jobs easier :)

The reason I wanted to point out these type of links is because it would be tremendously difficult for Google to accurately pick them out… and this is just one example :)


Michael J. Kovis May 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Exactly. And I love the fact that you blogged about this.


Sean May 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Hey Peter, great idea for a post.

Google will notice if a document that had 3 links now has 4 but would it question the legitimacy of it? If I was Google I would allow a document a certain time window (24hrs/30 days I’m not sure) for edits before ‘switching off’ any possible link equity from that link.

This obviously doesn’t stop someone from contacting a webmaster and getting them to add a link into their next article though… :)


Peter Attia May 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

hehe exactly! It’s such a fine line that would be incredibly difficult to make a decision on what should and shouldn’t pass juice. There’s also a multitude of related ways you could do this, like the one you mentioned.

Plus, what would happen if you deleted the post and republished it with a new URL before you put the link up? Would it be considered a new page or old?


Michael J. Kovis May 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Stop making me think…


Anthony D. Nelson May 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Hard to allow a 30 day window for link equity. Plenty of pages on the web that need to be updated to stay current or relevant. Should a company recently added to SEOmoz Recommends page not receive any equity?

It would be a disadvantage for new companies. Making it impossible to get value from a good new link on an established authoritative old page.


Sean May 10, 2012 at 8:33 am

I get that for pages that refresh on a monthly/yearly basis then it would be unfair to not pass equity. However it’s just what I’d do, or at least say I’d do (no follow) to try and stop people from doing this.

patagonien guy May 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm

thanks to be transparent on this topic
you got right there’s no risk to do it so


Patrick Hathaway May 9, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Hi Peter, in your post you use the phrase ‘paid links’ a couple of times. Would you by any chance be interested in linking that anchor text up to my domain? In exchange I could offer you a drawing (by me) of Rand having a heart attack. Let me know if you’re interested.


Peter Attia May 9, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Yes! I am absolutely interested! Please make the delivery to my home address… I expect it signed!


Sean May 10, 2012 at 8:34 am

Haha +1. Patrick is a superb artist.


Patrick Hathaway May 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Man, there’s beard everywhere!


Jonesy May 10, 2012 at 8:14 am

Hi Peter, love the post. However I’d call Google on on some serious bullshit of they treated a nofollwed paid ad in a clearly marked ad space as “questionable”. All the requisites are there to prevent SEO value being passed, it’s just that Google thinks it owns the web and is the only company allowed to advertise on it, which isn’t true. If a site is running lots of ads the chances are Google’s trashed its rankings already.


David Leonhardt May 10, 2012 at 10:14 am

I agree. Asking for a retroactive link is a very poor method of getting a content link. Offering a guest post or m king yourself available for third-party comment in one of their future posts is much more effective and much more ethical at same time.


Ashley, cutey May 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Most paid links are completely undetectable and I think this is the problem of Penguin, it’s destroyed spammy links and left paid for.


Logan May 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Great post Peter. While I’m not a fan of paid links either, this is a great idea to apply to a trusted network of bloggers: Search their sites for the keywords that you want to rank for and request the link (if they bloggers associated to your brand/topic of interest they will most likely have some of the keywords you want).

I found your blog through a mutual friend on Twitter. Followed.


Peter Attia May 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Cheers Logan! Glad you liked it.


Crystal July 23, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Thanks for the great link tips. I think sponsorships and donations are great if they are organizations that can benefit from the help and I can benefit from the link. It’s a good trade!


Oskars November 17, 2013 at 8:58 am

Thanks Peter for sharing. I would say that today, buying links is not a good idea at all. Since the last Google update. I have seen websites drop massively just because they have bought link in the past.

But maybe I just don’t know where to buy good links. Anyway, I prefer White hat.



Peter Attia November 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Hey Oskars,

I’m by no means recommending buying links. I’m just talking about links that I know work for people to this day, even though this post is over a year old.

Most of the link buying you see and hear about are poorly done and very half assed. I’m talking about something a little different.



Fernando Biz June 16, 2014 at 6:43 am

Great tips and yes people still do use those grey hat techniques and those works very well.


Usama Ejaz July 7, 2014 at 8:44 am

I also had the same idea. There is nothing bad in blackhat SEO but you really want to know what you are doing when in blackhat mode.


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