Google could view charity ‘sponsor’ links as spam if you do it ‘systematically’

Screenshot of John Mueller in a Google Webmaster Hangout

Google’s John Mueller responded to a question during a webmaster hangout and revealed that links from sponsoring charities could lead to penalisation.

Sponsoring charities in return for relevant and authoritative ‘follow’ links has long been a tactic employed by SEOs, but it’s a strategy that could lead to penalties from Google if the practice is abused.

Speaking in a recent Google Webmaster Hangout, John Mueller from Google suggested that – while some sponsor links from charities are fine – there is the risk of receiving a ranking penalty from the search engine if there is a pattern of systematically abusing charity links for SEO gain.

Mueller was asked a quite specific question by a webmaster concerned about a link from a local hockey club:

We sponsor a local hockey club and they put up an image link in their site thanking us. But it’s do-follow and we don’t know what to do to change it. Is this going to cause us any problems?

Mueller’s full response was:

In general, when the web spam team takes a look at these kinds of questions, they try to look at the bigger picture. And if with your website you’re sponsoring like lots of different clubs and sites where it looks like the primary intent is to get a link there, then that’s something the web spam team might take action on.

On the other hand if this is one of lots of links to your site and this is one from a local hockey club and it’s like you just know them and they can’t easily fix that or change that on their site or they don’t know how, then the web spam team is not going to worry about that.

So I’d try to take a look at the bigger picture there and think about whether or not this is really something that you’re doing systematically; like going out and sponsoring other sites or products with the intent of getting a link or if this is something that’s essentially just a natural part of the web.

So my guess, based on the question here is that this is not something you need to worry about.

So although the specific scenario raised by the questioner is not going to cause a penalty, Mueller suggests that filling your link profile with sponsor links purely to seek a ranking advantage is something to be avoided.

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How some charity links could be seen as spam

Paying, or ‘donating’, to a charity just to get a link is an old form of paid link building which, strictly speaking, is against Google’s guidelines: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356?hl=en, which exclude:

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link

So it’s easy to see why you could get in trouble if you are paying for links from charities on, as Mueller says, a ‘systematic’ basis. However, it is ‘normal’ business practice to get involved with local charities – be it a simple donation or working with them on fundraising events etc. – which could easily lead to receiving a link from the charity website. What John Mueller is saying is that the odd link from a charity website is normal for businesses that are active in their local area or within their industry, but if your link profile shows a disproportionate amount of ‘sponsor’ links then it might be flagged for manipulation.

Watch John Mueller’s full answer below: