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Matt Cutts, Google’s SEO czar, passed along his answer to that question. The newspaper was selling links:

In Google’s world, we take paid links that pass PageRank as seriously as Amazon would take paid reviews without disclosure or as your newspaper would treat a reporter who was paid to link to a website in an article without disclosing the payment.

A good reminder of the danger of those “Partner Links” sections you sometimes still see on news sites: Once Google finds out about them, you can enter a world of pain.

— Joshua Benton
                                   
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Ann Marie Lipinski    July 24, 2014
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