Eric Enge has an insightful interview with Google’s Matt Cutts on the Stone Temple site. It’s called “Link Building Is Not Illegal (or Inherently Bad) with Matt Cutts”.
If you’ve not already read the interview then I recommend you do so.
“Illegal” is an interesting choice of terminology. Google doesn’t make the law so breaking their terms and conditions is unwise but not illegal. It’s actually similar to the ASA’s code of conduct (the CAP) here in the UK; those rules aren’t the law but breaking them is unwise.
Of course, in this sense the word “illegal” is just being used to mean “a breach of Google’s rules”. That said, there are some link building tactics that are illegal because they do break the law.
This post isn’t legal advice, I can’t give that to you. This post also has a completely UK focus. There are all sorts of quirky laws for almost every country and if you’re a professional digital marketer you should know then. In France, for example, it was illegal to use wifi outside, although I believe that rule has now been loosened or better explained. This would mean link building from your garden, on your laptop, in France would be illegal.
I hope this one is common sense. Hacking is illegal, albeit sometimes the laws they use to enforce this are a bit weird.
The UK’s Bribery Act of 2010 (applies to England and Wales, Scotland and North Ireland) carries a maximum of a ten year jail sentence, disqualification for being a company Director and was once described as “ the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world”. A bribe is a “financial or other advantage” to an individual in exchange for improperly performing a function or activity.
This is where it gets tricky. As a rule of thumb (not a lawyer, remember) this means if you pass someone (a blogger, say) some cash to do you a favour (like write about your client or add a link) when they weren’t going to do otherwise then it is a bribe. It’s a bribe because Section 4 of the act defines “improperly” in conjunction with the expectation of good faith or impartiality.
I know. It’s a horrible shades of grey situation. Rather than suggest I know I how to untangle it I just suggest you need to be aware of it. Yes; there are regulators and groups within the UK who have in the past heard the description of some paid link tactics and described them as bribes.
Equally, if you are handing money over to bloggers, editors and site owners for coverage and links then you need to make sure you record that expense appropriately or you may also be breaking some financial laws. Who knows whether you can claim VAT back on paid links?
The UK Regulations of Unfair Commercial Practises has this to say on content marketing (Page 27, PDF link)
Using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer.
This means if you pay for a post that makes the public (ie, the blog readers) aware of a product or service and it is not disclosed as a paid for post then there’s an issue. Of course, you can have an image that discloses the relationship and not have nofollow on the links. That would have you in breach of Google’s guidelines but not the UK’s.
Based on my personal experiences as a blogger it is this last law that has a nasty twist. I’ve had emails from agencies that specifically requested that I did not mention any relationship. This isn’t always SEO agencies; equally as often PR and Social agencies trying to create a “natural buzz”.
There you go; three examples in which Link Building might be illegal. This is not legal advice, I can’t give that, and is intended only as an interest piece and point of discussion.
Image credits: Hacking, Bribes and Disclosure.