Paid Links from .edu’s – Good, Bad or Ugly?
A reader recently asked…
“What about paid links from the school newspapers. Can those hurt your rankings?”
[Quick backgrounder – printed college newspapers sell advertising just like most newspapers do. The online version of those college newspapers also sell advertising, and since the online version of most school newspapers lives on a .edu TLD, a couple years ago this created a frenzy among Pagegank driven link chasers who (thought they) found a loophole that allowed them to buy high Pagerank links from trusted sources]
I always go back to intent. Why are you wanting to buy a link from a college newspaper in the first place? There could be many legitimate reasons why you would do so. A local bar with a web site that offers nightly specials to college kids would be a natural for such a link buy. Or a local store or salon or car repair shop. Nationally, it’s logical that a beer company or even Nike or Doritos would want to advertise to a college audience and maybe even try to drive a bit of traffic to a web site by buying an online link in the school newspaper web site.
The motivations and intent in the above examples are fairly evident. Doritos isn’t chasing search rankings via that link buy. Nobody is searching for “tasty triangular shaped snack chips” as you can see here. No, the motivation for the links buys from Nike or Doritos or the local bar are all simple demographically driven advertising in hopes of click traffic.
Other web sites have different intent when they choose to buy an .edu based link from a school newspaper. Take a look at the bottom of the main page for the University of Tennessee Daily Beacon. Below is a screen capture of the ugliness. Remember, all these paid links are located on a University newspaper’s web site in Knoxville TN.
Now you tell me the intent of these advertisers. When was the last time a college kid in Knoxville needed to rent a limo in Orlando? Buy an artificial Christmas Tree? Use a Restaurant Supply firm? Subscribe to US News and World Reports (which they can read free already)? How about never? I went to undergrad and graduate school at the above school, and I can pretty much remember most of those days. I never bought one single kitchen sink in all my years in college.
So why did these companies buy these links? Bad intent. Intent to game search rank via buying links on (potentially) trustworthy content. But remember, it took my average brain all of 60 seconds to find these same advertisers and links on plenty of other school newspaper web sites. How fast does the world’s most powerful brain (aka algorithm) notice them? Pretty Damn Fast.
But the question was will your site be penalized for engaging in this approach? Probably not, but the larger point is the approach itself wont work, and by participating in it you send plenty of other signals to the bots that you might be very unhappy about. Why cheat in such an obvious and silly way? Why cheat when the bots are seconds away from finding it? Why cheat at all?
As I wrote in .edu Inbound Link Fallacies, all TLD’s have crap, and all TLD’s have gold. Paid links on a school newspaper in Tennessee about limousines in Orlando. That friend, is pure crap.