Google isn't saying you can't buy and sell links
. They're saying you can't buy and sell PageRank
. That's different. Buy all the links you want. Sell all the links you want. Have a link-selling jamboree.
Paid links are advertising. If you're selling advertising on your site, that's fine. You own the space on your site and you can fill it with whatever you choose (within the bounds of applicable laws, of course).
But I also agree with Jonathan. You don't own your PageRank. So IMO sites that sell links based on the PageRank those links supposedly pass are potentially committing fraud. (IANAL, but I think that's the statute that applies to "selling something you don't own or have the rights to sell").
That's why the "Adsense issue" is a red herring. Because it goes through a script, Adsense doesn't pass PageRank. Basically, Google's ads follow the same rules they are asking webmasters to follow. Sending the links through a script is the alternative to using nofollow that Google suggests for coding paid-for links. So webmasters who don't trust the nofollow element for any reason have an alternative available. It isn't "nofollow" or die.
For that matter, you don't have
to nofollow or
script links you sell. But by the same token, Google doesn't have
to list your site in their results, either. The way I see it, you want to play in their back yard, you play by their rules.
As Jenn said, it's your site code and you get to decide how you're going to code it. But as my wise mom told me many times, you have to be willing to accept the consequences of your decisions.
I guess I still don't see what the big deal is.
You can buy all the links you want. I haven't seen anything (at least, not yet) that Google is penalizing sites that buy
links. I think for the same reason Google doesn't penalize you for links pointing to your site in general, they won't penalize you for paid
links pointing to you.
You don't have control over whether the site owner on the page where the link appears codes the link with nofollow or a script or not. And penalizing the apparent buyer would make it trivially easy for nefarious competitors to knock you out of the results -- invest a few dollars in paid links pointing to the competition on a few "bad apple" PR-selling sites, and WHAMMO. Their site could be history.
I believe the folks at Google are smart enough to figure that out, which is why I don't think they'll penalize link buyers any time soon.
Besides, there are lots of legitimate reasons to buy links. Buy them for traffic. Buy them for exposure. Buy them for branding. Buy them to keep your competitors from getting those coveted ad slots. Buy them because you want to support the website on which they appear. Buy them because you've got too much money lying around and you need to get rid of some of it.
Just don't count on paid links increasing your PageRank in Google.
If you sell links, on the other hand, you have a decision to make. The folks at Google have pretty much laid out their position. Sell links for advertising, branding, traffic -- you're fine. Sell links to pass PageRank -- not so much.
It comes down to a question of intention. And it's pretty hard to gauge somebody's intentions in the absence of some kind of indicator. I think that's what Google's asking webmasters for -- simply to give them an indicator as to whether their intention
is to sell advertising space (good) or to sell PR (not good).
So you can either use one of the methods they've outlined to keep those links from passing PR, or you can trust that Google will figure out your intentions on their own (and figure it out correctly). And if, having figured it out, they decide to penalize your site for selling PR (whether or not selling PR was your intention
when you sold those links), you acknowledge you've given up the right to complain, because you chose of your own free will to keep them in the dark.
Of course, for some webmasters, the possibility of getting penalized or banned by Google might not be a concern. As Jenn says, there are other SEs.