Matt Cutts, a member of the Search Quality Group at Google has confirmed that Google is now penalizing sites who are selling links. Here's the quote from a comment he posted on Webmasterworld:
"Yup, I believe that's real. Remember at Pubcon I said we'd be ramping up our transparency when we think a site is outside our guidelines? This is one of those instances. The key part of this email is "Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links on your site pointing to other sites that could be intended to manipulate PageRank." So one thing to look for is anything that could be considered linkselling, past linkselling, or that sort of thing."
My advice to bloggers and webmasters is to consider very carefully if it's worth exchanging links with a commercial website, even if that website is related to your websites subject matter and looks non-spammy, friendly and useful. If you have several links like this already, I'd recommend assessing each one using the following criteria:
- If the website you're linking to engages in excessive link exchanging, remove the link.
- If the website has very little original content and lots of junk content they've scrounged from around the web and dumped on their site, remove the link.
- If they have excessive advertising or very agressive ads or affiliate programs, remove the link.
- If they have any other red flags like appearing on Google's list of unsafe sites or McAfee's list of bad websites, remove them.
The above list is simply my opinion and is a list of general heuristics that might indicate a site that could get you penalized, either because they are considered spam/dangerous by Google or because Google may bucket you as a link-exchanger site.
Remember that the best quality links, both incoming and outbound, are links that are organic and not reciprocal (not link exchanges). They are links that exist purely because someone found a resource on the web useful. While Google's algorithm has changed over the years, they still rely heavily on the link structure of the web to find the best content. If you engage in link exchanges you are hurting their ability to find useful content. Recently you've probably noticed a lot more spam in Google's search results. Google is now fighting this problem aggressively so expect to see more penalties for link manipulation and web spam.
Feedjit Founder & CEO.