In theory, staying away from Google penalties should be simple. Google is constantly updating their blog and head of the webspam team Matt Cutts is constantly making videos and announcements to try and help people remain “white hat.” However, there is one rule that has recently been brought back to surface—Internet advertorials. What’s interesting about this is the fact that Google has expressed that this was against the rules back in 2007. It’s nothing new, yet Google has recently had to block a few different sites who were found guilty; thus prompting a reminder from Google to all sites interested in SEO.

What Are Internet Advertorials?

For those who are unfamiliar, Internet advertorials are just a fancy term for a place where you find links that were clearly sold and not earned by a given company. Google has made it incredibly clear that selling links that will pass PageRank is not allowed. Doing so would result in an influx of link directories and poor content-driven sites, and so Google made this a strict rule back in 2007. Unfortunately, there were two major cases associated with this topic in the past few weeks:

  • Offender #1: Interflora, a UK based flower website, stopped ranking for some basic flower terms that they once seemed to dominate. Search Engine Land explained that Google is not giving any direct information and Interflora is currently not commenting; however one tweeter seemed to spill the obvious beans. She explained that Interflora asked her to remove all the links from her post (was a free gift involved, perhaps?).
  • Offender #2: Several UK based newspapers have also been penalized. Experts were able to see these sites’ PageRank go down significantly, and it is speculated that these sites did get notifications from Google about selling links (more about this in the next section).

It’s also important to remember that this is not the first recording of Google penalizing sites for this reason. Several US newspaper sites such as Forbes and the Sun Times have been caught selling or buying links. You can imagine why Google isn’t pleased with having to send out yet another reminder.

The Penalties Associated with Advertorials

Google does two major things to penalize a guilty site: Lower the site’s PageRank and then lower the site’s rankings on a SERP. What is interesting about these penalties is that although they remain the same as they did back in 2007, the degree to which Google takes action has changed. In other words, while a PageRank score would only lower one or two points in the past, Google proved with the UK newspapers that PageRank is now dropping to zero.

In all fairness, Google does give warnings to sites through a notification on Google Webmaster tools. When this happens, a site should make sure that it has removed all paid links from the site and a reconsideration request is submitted.

How to Avoid Advertorial Troubles

Plain and simple, just don’t sell or buy any links. It might be tempting, and there may be sites out there that are still getting away with it, but sooner or later Google will catch up to you. It doesn’t look like their penalties are going to get any less harsh, so it’s best to work hard to follow white hat SEO tactics. It may take some time to see results, but it will be well worth the wait.