Whilst carrying out competitor backlink analysis for a client I noticed a number of high value links pointing from the BBC website, after further investigation it appears that the BBC/someone at the BBC is may be selling links in the footer of this page: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tv_and_radio/default.stm.

Note: Please see responses below from Lewis Wiltshire (Editor of the BBC Sport website). Specifically “None of the links to external websites from the BBC’s UK-facing website are sold.”

The BBC “select links that are editorially relevant to the content they are linking from and are suitable for the likely audience” (BBC, Source). Although these links are relevant to some of the themes on the page, they are extremely questionable for the following reasons:

  • They only link to football fixture websites, the page contains information on many other sports.
  • The quality of the target websites is poor and are littered with adverts.
  • The second link “watch sport online” is broken.
  • The links are within other links to the BBC website – it is not clear these are external websites.

Not only is this practice frowned upon by Google, it is against the BBC’s own policy.

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results (Google, Source)

We do not link to external sites in return for cash, services or any other consideration in kind. (BBC, Source)

  • Very interesting, just scanning the page it took me a while to see them. As one of my colleagues just said “is nothing sacred”, but how can you tell that they have been bought, and not a very, very good hack?

    • Incidentally, I’ve noticed this is still happening. I’m trying to find out who is selling these and will keep you posted here…

  • Could be an example of shoddy web editing rather than everything more sinister.

    Looks awful though – one link even 404s, which to me suggests a lack of training / insight into linking procedures over anything else.

    We’ll see.

  • Hi Sam –

    I’m Lewis Wiltshire, the Editor of the BBC Sport website and therefore responsible for the pages you mention.

    The first issue to deal with is the question you raise in your headline, and then again in your closing paragraphs. To suggest that the BBC sells these links to external websites, which as you rightly say would be against the BBC’s charter, is clearly a very serious allegation. It’s also totally untrue.

    None of the links to external websites from the BBC’s UK-facing website are sold. All of them are editorially selected because we believe they offer useful onward reading for our audience.

    It’s part of our public service remit to link to other websites, partly for the benefit of the industry and partly for the benefit of our users who trust us to lead them towards useful services on the wider web.

    I think that section of that page could be clearer that those links are external ones, although if we do make that clearer, it would be for editorial clarity rather than anything else. We also need to remain on top of the quality of the sites we link to and I am always happy to review this – and grateful to anyone who has feedback on the quality of the sites we are linking to.

    The upkeep of our external linking is, however, for the benefit of our audience.

    We are certainly not attempting to hoodwink Google, or any other search engines, or our audience, and I would be grateful to you for clarifying that issue. I’m also happy to answer questions about our service any time via email or Twitter (@LewisWiltshire).


    Lewis Wiltshire.

  • Interesting to see that one of the links goes to a site that streams sport online. I’m sure there is something wrong with that?

  • Links go to illigal streaming sites so the quality is very questionable.

    Why not link to sky or itv who leggally show sport online.

    Anyway the links have been removed from the site so guessing they were paid links.

  • Hi Lewis,

    Thank you for your response.

    I have to take your word that these links are not paid, however the links are certainly raise a number of questions;

    How is the anchor text for the links determined? For example the anchor text for the getsport.tv link (which also 404s) is “Watch sport online”, which is one of their primary target keywords.

    How are these websites chosen? They appear to be low quality aggregation sites stuffed with gambling adverts/adSense.


  • @Lewis Why remove one of the links if they were completely legitimate? How did a link to an illegal website end up in the footer of the BBC website?

  • Sam –

    The links were editorially selected a while back. That page is a TV & Radio Schedule page so, in accordance with our objectives for linking out, we featured websites that offered schedule information for a range of broadcasters.

    In order to be as fair as possible to the market, we linked to a range of them. One of those links was clumsily worded, and appears to have ended up going to a 404 – we’ve deleted that now. We have thousands of pages within the BBC Sport website and a small team to manage the upkeep of them. Occasionally a link will be broken – we’ve fixed that now. It was also a bit ambiguous in its wording – I don’t know why and we’ve now deleted it.

    I am grateful to you for pointing me in the direction of the broken, and badly-worded, link which we’ve now remedied. I am also grateful that you are taking me at my word that the links were not sold. It’s unfortunate that one external link amidst the thousands of pages on our site has led to a conversation about whether we breach the BBC’s charter by selling links.

    As previously stated, it’s a serious and wholly incorrect allegation which I really hope you will see fit to correct.


  • Hmm…to be fair to the Beeb I do doubt that any money has changed hands here, say between anyone with control over the content of the page and the owners of the suss urls in question. It may be a leap too far based on a misapprehension of their processes, which are radically different from commercial news content sites. Simply put: they probably needed a decent number of external links for the page, but not enough time or knowledge to check them adequately.

  • So… Sam…

    Have you changed your mind about these links now that Lewis took time to explain? 🙂


  • Simon – that’s a much more accurate summary. Hopefully it’s a case of lacking time rather than knowledge but at least your assessment has some grounding in reality!

    Dejan – thanks for that, appreciate your kind words.

  • Kudos to Lewis Wiltshire for taking the time to respond and explain the Beebs take on this.

    @Simon Knight, I don’t think, “they probably needed a decent number of external links for the page, but not enough time or knowledge to check them adequately.” is a particularly good excuse though.

    Frankly if the Beeb doesn’t have enough time or knowledge to check them adequately I would suggest that’s a strong argument for not having them at all.

  • @Lewis – I appreciate your response, however I still stand by the initial assessment that the links were of questionable value and were inappropriately placed on the page (noted, this may be due to a lack of knowledge/time) – which (I assume) is why the page has now been revised. I have updated the post to remove any accusatory wording – it was not my intention to accuse the BBC of selling links, just to provoke a discussion (which it appears to have done!).

    @Dejan – Thanks for your comment. I stand by the initial assessment – the links were (and still are) clearly low quality and value as @aukseo pointed out it would be appropriate to link to Sky and ITV rather than streaming websites.

  • Pablo

    “the links were of questionable value” – according to you. Worth bearing in mind that you were doing backlink analysis for a client. Presumably if the links had been placed from the BBC to your client’s site they would have been acceptable and you wouldn’t have felt the need to make a song and dance about it.

    • Pablo, you make a number of assumptions which are pretty much incorrect. If we were attempting a link for a client, we’d be doing our damndest to make sure the client was worth linking to and added value. If you’re looking at back-links, you look at back-links. Doesn’t mean to attempt to replicate the entirety of the competitor link structure

  • Roy – thanks very much.

    Still very keen for Sam to correct the piece. Scoring out the word ‘is’ and changing it to ‘may be’ is still totally inaccurate, and still a very serious accusation, because I have made it perfectly clear that it is definitively NOT the case.

    I am very, very happy to always discuss our output with anyone, any time. Either on blogs like this or on my Twitter page (@LewisWiltshire). But it does need to be grounded in some sort of reality.

    Do we have too many external links to properly manage and upkeep, all of the time? You could argue that. It’s something for me to think about, certainly. We take our responsibility for external really seriously for all of the reasons Simon Knight correctly outlines above.

    Linking out and then not checking those links regularly to see if they have changed is probably something we could occasionally improve on. In the wider scheme of things, with the UK’s biggest sports website and thousands of pages, I would say the odd broken link is not to be dismissed, and should be corrected wherever we find one, but maybe isn’t the biggest crime ever.

    Extrapolating that to suggest we ‘may’ be selling those links for financial gain is, clearly, very wrong indeed.

  • Lewis

    Many thanks for taking the time to respond. However, I think the piece we wrote is balanced and has responded to you appropriately and rapidly. You have stated that the BBC doesnt sell links. And I’ll take your word for that. But precisely how did those links get there? They added very little to the BBC site, linked to sites that added little if anything to the user experience and had really nice anchor text associated with them. In other words, they had all the characteristics of bought links. Most of us in search know full well that links have been “acquired” on other august publications via some form of transaction that might be frowned on by the powers that be.
    Now, it return can you categorically state that those links absolutely were not placed there for reasons which conflict with the BBC charter. If so, who placed them there, when and why? I would doubt you can answer that precisely and I wouldn’t expect you to be able to.
    However, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it’s perfectly reasonable for us to ask the question “If it looks like paid links, and if it smells like paid links, is it paid links?”.
    You’ve had the opportunity of full response, requesting us not to ask the question takes it too far.

  • I love the smell of controversy in the morning.

    Those links just look odd.

  • I would love to see how much traffic has been driven to the site because of this, who said it is a mistake? Everything is worth testing 🙂

  • EMComments

    @Simon you seem to have nicely met Betteridge’s Law of Headlines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_Law_of_Headlines – wikipedia if links are not allowed) and following in the fine traditions of the Daily Mail.

    Lewis Wiltshire seems to be patiently offering you a way of not getting your arse kicked by the BBC and you seem incapable of taking it. Just change the article to make it clear that they don’t sell links. It is just (a badly implemented in this case) service for their visitors.

  • Pingback: Paid links on the BBC - an SEO controversy | SEO Manchester Blog()

  • Controversy? Damn right! After reading this, I decided to expand on it a little adding my own thoughts plus some rumblings I heard at the proSEO seminar in London late last year. Feel free to read – http://www.mancunianrepublik.com/paid-links-on-the-bbc-an-seo-controversy/

  • Interesting post, I am sure that the BBC did not do it in bad faith, yet I understand where you are coming from with the content of these sites + the anchor text selection. The best thing is Lewis has come in and explained every thing so I think it seems fine =)

  • Chris Keating

    Next time I want to build traffic to a blog, I’ll accuse the BBC of doing something dodgy, regardless of whether I have any actual evidence.

    Then everyone will start talking about me! Great!

  • EM Comments, I see Betteridges law on Wikipedia is by Betteridge himself unless I am mistaken. Lovely piece of self promotion. But I understand the thrust of your argument. Having thought about it again, I’m still comfortable with the thrust of our post. Those links bore all the hall marks of paid links. The BBC states that they weren’t paid for. I’m happy to accept that as a formal response. But any decent SEO is aware that the occasional £50 goes into the pocket of a content editor at major sites for sneaking in a quick link. Look at the properties of the links in question and the sites they point at:
    Commercial sites
    Questionable relevance
    Keyword rich anchor text.
    Certainly sufficient indicators to ask the question as to whether they were paid for. AS to the BBC kicking our arse, I would think that rather unlikely. We asked the question and got a clarification which we published in full. Following that response we clearly amended our article. Seems fair to me.

    Mr Keating, Oh you cynic you! I refer the honorable gentleman to my previous response regarding evidence.

    Next week we will be exposing how the BBC has decimated the Worlds Giant Panda population by Barbecuing them as snacks for David Attenborough.

  • Incidentally, I’ve noticed this is still happening. I’m trying to find out who is selling these and will keep you posted here…

  • There is a lot of back scratching that goes on behind the scenes to get free links on high profile websites. Corporate entertainment in London is an easy way of getting some personal gain to someone or to a business without paying directly. The other main area is who you know and being in the right place at the right time.