SEOs: Is it possible to rank well in Google using only paid links in 2017?

Buying links that pass PageRank is expressly forbidden by Google. However, is it possible to evade detection, and in 2017, garner significant traffic for a website through a primarily paid link strategy?

One site in particular, PromoCodeWatch.com, seems to be succeeding at the paid links game. PromoCodeWatch has built its backlink portfolio primarily by making donations to high profile charity websites, paying for text and banner ads that pass PageRank, listing their website in paid directories, and utilizing paid guest posting opportunities. Through primarily these strategies, PromoCodeWatch.com has succeeded in ranking prominently in Google, reaching about 500,000 visitors per month.

We are concerned about PromoCodeWatch due to questionable on-page practices the site engages in which they post invalid coupon codes, and format them to look like valid codes through a variety of proactive measures run in automation on their website. We feel that the PromoCodeWatch website harms consumers and misleads users into clicking their ads while apparently paying little attention to the validity of those ads.

We've analyzed the top 100 dofollow backlinks from PromoCodeWatch.com and summarized them here in this table. We downloaded 100 of PromoCodeWatch.com's backlinks from Majestic.com, sorted for the highest Domain TrustFlow (Majestic's measure of domain authority). We only included "dofollow" backlinks which pass PageRank. We analyzed each backlink, and determined whether it was possible to purchase a backlink from the website in question, either by making a donation to the site or by paying a sponsorship or advertising fee. If we could obtain definitive proof that we could purchase a link on the site, we marked that site as "Yes" as a paid link.

We also found guest post links in PromoCodeWatch's backlink portfolio. We analyzed these posts, and determined that they did not resemble organic content to us, and were most likely paid guest posted projects. However, we did not have definitive proof of this, so we marked these as "Likely" paid links.

Of PromoCodeWatch.com's top 100 dofollow backlinks, we found 69 confirmed paid links, and 15 likely paid links in the form of guest posts, for a total of 84 confirmed or likely paid links out of 100 of PromoCodeWatch's highest-impact PageRank-passing backlinks.

The rest of PromoCodeWatch's backlink portfolio comes from backlinks from educational institutions linking to its scholarship program. Although we did not consider these to be paid links, these links are still unnatural and incentivized, albeit indirectly. Of PromoCodeWatch's top 100 backlinks, only 2 appeared to be natural, organic backlinks, meaning 98% of PromoCodeWatch.com's backlinks are paid or incentivized in some fashion.

PromoCodeWatch continues to rank well in search engines, so for now at least, the answer is, at this point in 2017, it is definitely possible to rank well in Google through a primarily paid link strategy.

PromoCodeWatch.com top 100 dofollow backlinks (Majestic TrustFlow sort)

Domain TrustFlow Acquisition Method Paid Link? SourceURL
apache.org 96 Donation Likely Linking Page
creativecommons.org92DonationLikelyLinking Page
washington.edu90ScholarshipNo
ibm.com88Guest PostLikelyLinking Page
forbes.com87Guest PostLikely
homestead.com85AdvertisementYesLinking Page
enable-javascript.com84SponsorshipYesLinking Page
aol.com83Guest PostLikely
huffingtonpost.com81Guest PostLikely
entrepreneur.com76Guest PostLikelyLinking Page
redmine.org75SponsorshipYesLinking Page
internetsociety.org74SponsorshipYes
cloudfront.net71SponsorshipYesLinking Page
haaretz.com70AdvertisementYesLinking Page
isc.org70SponsorshipYesLinking Page
erowid.org70SponsorshipYesLinking Page
addme.com70Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
cbsnews.com68Guest PostLikelyLinking Page
anybrowser.org63DonationYesLinking Page
nineplanets.org63AdvertisementYesLinking Page
snitz.com63DonationYesLinking Page
r-tt.com63Paid DirectoryYes
papermag.com63Guest PostLikely
geonames.org62DonationYesLinking Page
teachers.net62AdvertisementYesLinking Page
toolbox.com62Guest PostLikely
worldstatesmen.org61SponsorshipYesLinking Page
filmfestivals.com61SponsorshipYesLinking Page
netdna-cdn.com61SponsorshipYesLinking Page
activatejavascript.org60SponsorshipYesLinking Page
webdesign.org60SponsorshipYesLinking Page
eku.edu60ScholarshipNoLinking Page
cookiecentral.com59SponsorshipYesLinking Page
dmca.com59SubscriptionYes
lifehack.org59Guest PostLikely
apachecon.com59DonationYesLinking Page
stunnel.org58SponsorshipYesLinking Page
vccs.edu58ScholarshipNoLinking Page
chegg.com58ScholarshipNo
dmoz.org57Free DirectoryNo
cihar.com56SponsorshipYesLinking Page
thomasaquinas.edu56ScholarshipNoLinking Page
ioerror.us55DonationYesLinking Page
openwebmail.org55DonationYesLinking Page
coe.edu55ScholarshipNoLinking Page
maricopa.edu55ScholarshipNo
workingmother.com55Guest PostLikely
cincinnatistate.edu54ScholarshipNo
dailycal.org53AdvertisementYesLinking Page
daemen.edu53ScholarshipNo
avivadirectory.com53Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
entireweb.com53Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
spaceweather.com52SponsorshipYesLinking Page
twinhelix.com52DonationYesLinking Page
brightlightsfilm.com52SponsorshipYesLinking Page
sfbike.org51DonationYesLinking Page
uwb.edu51ScholarshipNo
gurufocus.com51Guest PostLikely
isoc.org51DonationYes
norml.org50DonationYesLinking Page
skaffe.com50Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
fl.edu49ScholarshipNoLinking Page
businesstown.com49Guest PostLikely
accuwebhosting.com49Paid DirectoryYes
newsonjapan.com48SponsorshipYesLinking Page
becomegorgeous.com48Guest PostLikely
landoftalk.com47SponsorshipYesLinking Page
noobpreneur.com47Guest PostLikely
calhoun.edu46ScholarshipNoLinking Page
wmdirectory.com46Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
mytartelette.com45SponsorshipYesLinking Page
procolharum.com45SponsorshipYesLinking Page
joeant.com45Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
myfashionlife.com43SponsorshipYesLinking Page
lco.edu43ScholarshipNoLinking Page
jasminedirectory.com43Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
sevenseek.com43Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
summit.co.uk43AnalyticsNo
ggmania.com42AdvertisementYesLinking Page
kwikgoblin.com42Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
ajdee.com42Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
sitebar.org41DonationYesLinking Page
wanderingtrader.com40AdvertisementYesLinking Page
icdri.org39SponsorshipYesLinking Page
mommyshangout.com39AdvertisementYesLinking Page
afrol.com39SponsorshipYesLinking Page
jubler.org39SponsorshipYesLinking Page
newmusicusa.org39DonationYesLinking Page
abilogic.com39Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
worldoffemale.com38SponsorshipYesLinking Page
apahcinc.org38Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
hotvsnot.com38Paid DirectoryYesLinking Page
miniaturetrading.com37SponsorshipYesLinking Page
michelem.org37SponsorshipYesLinking Page
fashionallure.com37AdvertisementYesLinking Page
taftcollege.edu37ScholarshipNoLinking Page
digitaljournal.com37Guest PostLikely
speedwaymedia.com36SponsorshipYesLinking Page
rammichael.com36DonationYesLinking Page
designbeep.com35AdvertisementYesLinking Page

Have a concern about this site? Then you should report PromoCodeWatch for buying links on each of these sites. Google provides a simple tool to report sites here.