Alby - 3:00 pm on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)
mikeclover, you are 125% wrong.
YES you can be "penalized" by google for buying links.
I normally don't post much on Webmasterworld any more, but now I just have to speak out.
Brinked is spot on.
What Google is doing is amazingly irresponsible in my opinion.
The fact that Google constantly repeats the statement that "What a competitor does can't hurt your rankings" doesn't make it any more true, and by now almost everyone is aware that it is a lie.
Unethical webmasters are killing off competitors by the hundreds (or maybe thousands) on a daily basis and Google does nothing about it. People's lively hoods are getting destroyed by no fault of their own, and Google doesn't seem to care.
It is so easy to take out a competitor by posting a large amount of low quality footer links from unrelated websites. It has happened to two different websites that we have in the last two years, and it is practically impossible to get your rankings back.
The sad things is that this would be a relatively easy problem to solve if Webmasters were allowed to use Google Webmastertools to "block" links by basically saying: "These are sites that we do not want to be associated with in any way, and links from these sites are not something we have been part in creating." However, by allowing this Google would have to admit that bad incoming links does hurt your site. So instead Google just pretends that everything is fine, at the cost of Webmasters.
People who are repeating Google's mantra "Incoming links can't hurt you" are either not actually looking at what is happening or are in uncompetitive industries where this type of behavior is still rare.