7 Points About Paid Links v.s. Editorial Links

What’s the difference between “paid links” and “editorial links”? This is a critical thing to understand when you are trying to put together your link building strategy. This post will lay it out in clear terms that reflect my understanding after numerous dialogues with Google luminaries on the topic.

A “paid link” is a link where compensation is provided in return for the link. Providing the link to you in these situations is mandatory, or else you don’t provide the compensation. An “editorial link” is one where the site owner has chosen to link to your site, and that link is not tainted in any fashion by compensation of any sort. Here are 7 points about the various types of links:

  1. It’s a paid link if you pay someone a fee and in return they must put your link on their site to your site. In addition to your payment being contingent on putting your link in place, you generally expect to be able to specify the exact anchor text used in the link.
  2. It’s a paid link if you pay a directory for an entry with a link to your site, and in return for the payment, the directory is obligated to provide you with a link. Note that this is one of the fastest ways to determine that a directory is not able to pass link juice to your site. If the link is guaranteed in return for the payment – no link juice.
  3. It’s not a paid link when you pay someone to do link building work for you. Investing in marketing efforts of this kind is not buying links. As long as the person you are paying to do the link building work is not paying sites for links, this is simply an investment. The key here is if the person you hired is telling other sites about your great content, and those other sites choose to link to you, those other sites are still making an editorial judgement.
  4. Submitting to directory sites where your payment is for the review of your site, not for a listing. You only get the listing if you pass the review, and these types of directories reject many sites.
  5. Submitting your content to a social media site, and paying a top user to help you promote it, and then getting hundreds or thousands of links is not buying links. Yes, you paid someone to help you, but the sites who gave you links still made an editorial judgement about your content.
  6. Reciprocal links are in the gray area. These will work for you in limited volume. If they start to represent a significant percentage of the links to your site, then they will start to be discounted. Or if the link swapping sites are not relevant to each other, they will likely be discounted. If you do a swap with an authority site in your market area, this link will indeed help you.
  7. Where do syndicated ad programs fit in? Paid or editorial? The answer is that they are neither. They are ignored by search engines. For example, a Google AdSense box is easily recognized as an ad by all the crawlers. These type of ads do not pass link juice. Never have. Never will.

For better or worse, the search engines are looking to have the best possible ranking algorithms, and at the moment, the best method they have available to them is link analysis. Other methods for ranking sites are very noisy in nature, and require heavy filtering before they are applied. My suspicion is that these types of factors are used as corrective factors or flags of major potential problems, rather than driving the core ranking algorithms.


  1. says

    Thanks for this.

    By these definitions, I can go much farther with my link-building schemes without technically going after “paid” links and avoiding the stigma that my clients may have for that kind of thing.

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