This question has been asked for at least the last six years and there’s a lot of confusion around the answer. Google specifically recommends not to get involved in paid link building schemes; saying it will have a negative impact on search rankings. The question to ask is whether a paid media amplification plan is part of a link building scheme for search rankings or whether it’s for legitimate distribution.
For the vast majority of brands, the answer is a resounding, “no.” Paid media amplification is a legitimate channel for getting content out to potential prospects and has no business being penalized by Google in its search rankings. Google knows this as it’s the biggest online paid media channel in the world.
It’s the black hats out there that implement the tactics described. Anyone at a brand or legitimate agency that knows anything about SEO wouldn’t dare to implement a link scheme with today’s search algorithms. That said, paid media amplification with links continues to grow year over year.
The reason why is simple – it works when done appropriately. It drives content engagement from the top to the bottom of the funnel and delivers real business outcomes. The links associated with paid media are said, by Google, to have no impact on rankings. This is true, for the most part with some exceptions.
Note: Google does not publish its specific step by step algorithm criteria, but provides recommendations, nonetheless. If you know anything about SEO you know that to some varying degree, the amount and girth of websites that link to a specific page impacts that page’s ranking. Paid media links don’t count, officially.
Website traffic from paid media and SEO
Google has made it clear that website traffic and time on site matter for search rankings. Both of which do not care which actual channel the traffic and engagement came from. This data, together, is valuable for any algorithm trying to figure out the worthiness of any page for ranking.
Clicking on a non-interruptive paid ad is one thing. However, if that content is engaged with for over 15 seconds that’s a good signal that the content is valuable. That said, Google doesn’t calculate time on page unless the user clicks on a link to visit another page from the content delivered via a non-interruptive paid ad. These clicks and time on page are clear signals to help determine if said content is worthy of ranking well in the search engine results page (SERP), regardless of channel.
Now, if paid media delivers two second bounces post ad unit click, that’s a potential signal NOT to rank the content. This is not data to be ignored when an algorithm is trying to figure out the most appropriate content to rank.
Google’s blind spot
With that, many analytics whisperers have noticed that Google doesn’t always properly identify paid media traffic. In the years of staring at data, it’s clear that some paid content amplification is recorded as referral traffic.
In these cases, paid media links do indeed contribute to the visibility of content in the SERPs. Many think that Google is all powerful and sees everything, but that simply isn’t the truth. If a brand finds themselves in this situation it isn’t their fault. It’s the limitations of Google’s algorithm. Penalties in the SERPs would not be an issue in this scenario.
However, the help in rankings would not be as aggressive when the marked referral (truly paid) traffic came from the same domain. Google looks at the entire link graph and if it finds 20,000 links from the same domain they will surely be undervalued in the grand scheme of things.
So, can paid content amplification improve your SEO? The answer is yes. As long as it delivers real engaging traffic that clicks on another link post-landing page it communicates that the content is of a certain quality that is worthy of ranking in Google’s SERPs.