The Bribery Act 2010 comes into force this Spring and this could land paid linking strategies in even more hot water than they are already. 

With the J C Penney problems and the Google Farmer update that attempts to discredit links from link farms, it is time now more than ever to get away from paid linking.

The bribery law states that an offence is committed by a commercial organisation when:

  • A person "associated" with the commercial organisation (i.e. performs services for it) bribes another person;
  • The bribe is intended to obtain or retain business for the commercial organisation or retain an advantage in the conduct of the organisation's business.

Importantly, it is a defence for the commercial organisation to show that it had adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery being committed by those associated with it from undertaking such conduct. Taylor Wessing has a really good microsite on the topic.

It is a complex area, but my summary of the law is that it is an offence for an organisation to knowingly allow payments to be made to gain competitive advantage

The distinction between what is a normal payment for a service (such as paying ITV for an advertising slot) and what is a bribe lies in the definition of the normal services of the supplier.

Therefore if I pay for the advertising slot, this is a normal service for ITV. However, if I pay an individual, or pay ITV in order to win a bid for this slot (or if they pay me), then this is not the normal service of the supplier and therefore would be classed as bribery.

In relation to link building, consider the following approaches:

  1. “Dear website owner, please place a link on your site to my site, for which I am prepared to pay you £1000”.
  2. “Dear website owner, please place a link on your site to my site, for which I am prepared to pay you the reasonable expenses (this will take you some time and I am prepared to pay for that time) of £50”.
  3. “Dear webmaster of large corporate website, please place a link on your company’s site to my site, for which I am prepared to pay you personally £50”.

Which of these approaches amount to bribery?

Approach number one would seem to be an excessive price for a simple link. The level of payment is probably representative of the popularity or power of the site (mostly in the eyes of Google). 

However, if this link is considered as advertising and termed that way, I am not sure how the Bribery Law could be applied. This does not mean it is a good linking strategy!

In case number two, the payment of reasonable expenses would seem appropriate in the eyes of the law. The link will benefit me but not the site owner so it is surely reasonable to offer expenses for the work involved.

The third case would seem to be obvious bribery. The approach is to an individual who is expected to abuse his/her position in order to perform the service.


The Bribery Act 2010 was not created to combat paid linking and while it can be seen to be applicable, paid linking it is probably under the radar of anyone looking to stamp out bribery in the UK and elsewhere.

Regardless of that, you should not use paid linking as a core strategy in your SEO. Google is onto it and you don’t need to do it. A good mix of other techniques such as quality content, blogging, link baiting, social and PR is much more effective. 

It requires strategy, planning and work, but:

  1. You will build links that are natural and will not be devalued by Google.
  2. The links will be long-lasting. If you are paying an SEO company that is buying or renting links, prepare to drop like a stone the day your contract ends.
Ian Harris

Published 10 March, 2011 by Ian Harris

Ian Harris is the CEO and founder of Search Laboratory, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (18)

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So, in summary:

Employees who steal revenue may be breaking the law, but selling links is fine.

over 7 years ago



Would taking a journalist on a press trip who then writes (and links) about it be considered bribery? How about providing bloggers with products to review?

over 7 years ago


Stephen Hanna

What absolute rubbish. You have completely taken the act out of context. Based on what your what your suggesting, affiliate networks, SEO Companies (including yours), Social Media, Google (AdSense) will be illegal.

This act only covers British nationals; talk like this will move business out of the UK and to places like India, Malaysia and the US.

My advice; You really should think carefully before publishing articles of this nature, they have a habit of coming round and biting you in the future.

over 7 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

Here are some future headline suggestions for Econsultancy.

Paid Links: The Web's Prostitutes!
Man Explodes After Paying For A Link.
Paid Linking Linked To Cancer.
Gadaffi Accused of Buying Links.
Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and The Paid Linking Scandal.

over 7 years ago


Stephen Hanna

Paul North = Genius!

over 7 years ago


Helen Young

What a waste of my previous time to come to this post. Linkbaiting big time.

over 7 years ago


Ugo Smith, Client Services Manager at Mediarun Search

Nice one Paul North, I look forward to Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and The Paid Linking Scandal. I wonder if they can make a music video too.

over 7 years ago



Paul North - "Paid Linking Linked To Cancer."

The Daily Mail will be offering you a bribe to link to such an Article!

over 7 years ago



Is it just me or is eConsultancy becoming the Daily Mail of online marketing publishing? Let's see - scaremongering, unsubstantiated nonsense with deceptive dramatic headlines... I think that's a big Yes for the descent of what was once an highly interesting blog into tabloid territory...what's going on eConsultancy? Has traffic trumped content integrity?

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks for the comments.

Just to clarify, this is an article written by guest blogger Ian Harris, a search expert, giving his take on the issue. It doesn't necessarily represent the 'Econsultancy view'.

@Paul North - great headline ideas;) i do take your point about this headline though.

Linkbait is something we, and plenty of other blogs do, but it does need to accurately reflect the content of the article. In retrospect I should have toned it down.

over 7 years ago



That is the biggest crap I've read for a while. Calling out newspapers now asking for the police. What ha Econsultancy become to? You guys are no lawyers and therefore drop the BS.

over 7 years ago


Tracey Drain, Digital Marketing Manager at Shield Consultancy Services Ltd

Hmmmm I see that you've ensured that your obvious linkbait headline adheres to Betteridge's law of headlines....

Let's consider for a moment Google AdWords. You do not buy an advertising slot, you BID on is this considered bribery? And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't your business AdWords Qualified?!

Very disappointed that EConsultancy have published such overly dramatic and scandalous tosh. You used to be a quality read guys....come on, sort it out!

over 7 years ago



Complete garbage. This will be the last time I come to this site as clearly you guys are desperately in need of attention.

over 7 years ago

Dan Sharp

Dan Sharp, Director at Screaming Frog

@Graham - I think the issue for me is also the content. It's poor at best and doesn't have any relevance whatsoever.

You have then crafted a silly headline, which on top of yesterdays paid link outing, is pretty low brow stuff guys.

You're better than this.

over 7 years ago

Ian Harris

Ian Harris, CEO at Search Laboratory

To explain:
We are a search company and were having our contracts re-written. It was in fact a lawyer who pointed out the forthcoming bribery law. I thought I would inform people in an article. In the article I tried to provide some perspective by saying that it is not relevant. I see the point about the headline, but tried to balance in the article.

over 7 years ago

Angus Phillipson

Angus Phillipson, Director at Byte9

@Paul North

Haha! good game.

'Freddie Star Ate my Linkbait'?


over 7 years ago


Nick Armstead, SEO + PPC Consultant at Orantec

wow! how to anger your your current readership in the hope of gaining a few views!
Paul North you cracked me up! bet econ are only happier now youve done some name dropping.

over 7 years ago


Gavin Ward

@Stephen Hannah and @Paul North - you've just made me laugh for a good two minutes!

As for the article itself, agreed, Ian, that the headline was probably a bit over-the-top.

Lawyers (sometimes!) like to exaggerate the consequences of new legislation with unknown practical effects in an attempt to win new business from it. But, as you say, the Bribery Act was not created to combat paid linking (who'd have thought!?). Let's just leave the discussion there.

PS at least it's good to see Taylor Wessing getting some positive backlinks to their site from all of this bribery chat (not just from this site)

about 7 years ago

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