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After a couple of months, we received a -50 penalty from Google, along with a steep drop off in traffic.
Here's a couple of questions for my fellow webmasters:
1) Do you think Google would consider this to be buying links?
2) Do you think that if we asked some of those customers to remove the links that our rankings would return, or is a reconsideration request the only way?
2. Asking a signficant amount of them (not just some) to remove the links may be the way to go if you can't remove links to them. If it's not helping what's to lose, right?
If the ranking problem doesn't improve then you might want to check if it's the outgoing links that are causing the problems instead of the incoming ones. Probably good to make sure you aren't linking out to cranky sites already.
If you require a link back when cash is being exchanged, you are in direct violation of G's guidelines on link building.
Years ago when engineers at G were more accessible, they told us straight to our faces that requiring the reciprocal when $ is exchanging hands is asking for trouble. We stopped requiring the link back and instead made it optional.
It's ok to require the link back (although I do not encourage our clients to do this) but when you require the link back and you charge $ for links, you are in direct violation of G's guidelines on link building.
If you charge for links, do not require the link back.
If you require the link back, do not charge for links. Its that simple.
According to this, if I create a high ranking auxiliary site (A) and provide links to other relevant sites in return for a link to my main site (B) then that is ok with Google. It will pass a hand check since I have asked for a link in return for a link and no money exchanged.
But an algorithm will see a site (A) with lots of links going to other sites and those *exact* same sites linking to another site (B). Don't you think that will look artificial?
Noone knows the exact speed limit to avoid. I would say you first have to define what you consider to be "lots of links" before we determine if that is artificial. Also keep in mind its well known (based on google's published patent filings) that there are differing speed limits depending on type of site, age of site and industry the site is in.