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The specific subject is that google prohibits buying or selling links on your website. Quote "Buying or selling links" is the exact text used now.
Google buys and sells links via adwords and adsense and you are heavily encouraged to buy from them. Refferals 2.0 is a menu of non contextual links they offer so you can freely chose to place irrelevant links directly from google.
Has Google gone too far?
Should webmasters have ANY control over responsible link sales or purchases from someone other than Google? Google now clearly doesn't think so.
As the old saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".
I have found in life that if we just actually say what we mean, rather than expect others to intuit our intentions, things generally go along much smoother. If Google can fully grasp that simple fact then much of the stressful uncertainty we see on the various webmaster boards will evaporate.
No one expects them to provide the finer points of their algorithm, but it's not asking too much for them to go back and revise the vague and/or contradictory guidelines that serve no purpose other than to force siteowners to guess what might be considered acceptable, and what will result in penalty. At this point in Google's development, "guessing" what they require should not be necessary. Just spell it out with clarity -- we'll get it.
If the point is getting your business to rank, then be concerned about Google's algo, not their guidelines. And there is a difference. Paid linking is one example.
I think Google's algo can or likely will eventually detect ugly paid links. But paid links properly done, they'll never detect because they look like a regular link. That's a good example of where the guidelines and the algo differ, and you should follow the algo instead.
If my sister in law has a fabulous blog and she blogs about my business, we follow both the guidelines and the algo. If I drop her $100 for it, well, we broke the guidelines - but the algo can't tell the difference and I don't see how it ever will. Assuming the 'paid link' guidelines are something you need to follow in a case like that is foolish for your business. Make Google do what's best for your business, not vice versa.
Google prohibits webmasters from buying or selling links.
No they don't. They might not like it, they might discourage it, but they don't and can't prohibit it.
Examples of link schemes can include: ....
* Buying or selling links
I think this is where some people get confused on issues like this.
The quote (from the page linked above) says "can include", not the more inclusive "always includes".
In other words, while paid links may be part of a link scheme, they don't have to be.
If you hustle on out and buy 1,000 ROS links on some completely unrelated site site that also sells similar ROS links to a bunch of other unrelated sites and in so doing establishes a very obvious pattern of linking, you might well find that Google devalues those links and that they don't help you do anything but empty your wallet.
That could also well be true if you bought a single link on each of a network of 1,000 unrelated sites selling links to anyone with the cash.
That's not the same as a penalty either, it's simply devaluing low quality links. So those links won't do you any good, but they might not hurt you either, other than wasting your time and money.
If your site is about restoring blue elbonia widgets and "Bobs blue elbonian widget parts shop" buys a simple text link, or display ad, from you I think it's probably unlikely that the link will be devalued. And even if it was devalued by Google, the real value to you, your readers and "Bobs blue elbonian widget parts shop" is still there.
- Humans ultimately ban accounts that filters catch, after review.
- Humans ban accounts that have been reported.
- Banned accounts often went to extremes, even selling irrelevant links for PR on Ebay.
The best way to avoid a ban is to continue on as usual, assuming you weren't buying or selling for the sake of buying and selling, and make sure your links are relevant. If they're not - clearly label them as such, for the humans, and also add nofollow if its off topic. How the algo will discount one link but not another from the same page is beyond me unless the "landing page quality" meter is that good now.
There is a big difference between "may be" and "is" a link scheme, thanks for pointing that out. It's an all powerful rule in any case giving the Human reviewer freedom to chose as he sees fit. Humans editors and webmasters alike make mistakes.
I made a mistake, I thought an apple was an orange in the wording, and I hope a Google editor never makes the same mistake. Carte blanche anyone?