Why Buying Paid Links Is Like Taking Drugs

Posted by in Search Marketing (SEO) on May 21st, 2010 2 Comments

We don’t always like to admit it but in the world of SEO there’s an underground market place that we choose to ignore. Paid Linking goes on, Google and Co. disapprove but it must work or people wouldn’t take the risk right?

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Whenever I describe paid links I’m struck by just how similar it is to the world of illicit drugs. It might just be some of it’s the semantic choices we make are close but I think they’ve got more in common than we’d initially think.

People Know It’s Frowned Upon But Still Think It’s Worth It

There’s two very good reasons that most people don’t take drugs, it’s illegal and socially frowned upon. While paid links are legal they have been out-lawed by our friendly prefect Google.

There also pretty frowned upon, partially because of fear of back-lash but also because it’s sort of cheating. We might not act like it sometimes but there’s some chivalry in how most SEO’s approach their work.

Despite all this it’s common place in a huge number of industries.

When Celebs Get Busted Everyone Condemns Them

It’s not like people haven’t been busted. We could all reel off at lest half a dozen websites who have been caught buying or selling links. Whenever it happens we all get histrionic about how bad paid links are; and within minutes a significant chunk of the industry is back  buying and selling links on the black market.

It has it’s own in-penetrable Jargon

Any illegal activity has it’s own lexicon of slang to keep there illicit undertakings under-wraps. Paid links, though not illegal, has it’s own collection.

My personal favourite is do-follow, a nice extension of Google’s attempt to classified paid links and other no editorial links using the ‘no-follow; tag.

It’s a term in wide usage, so much so a throw-away post from John about getting ‘do-follow’ links, nearly six months later it’s still in our top ten blog posts.

People Deny It Public Even When You Know They Do It

I’ve been at conferences, roundtables, meet-ups and read on corporate blogs where I’ve heard very proud Heads of SEO state that they would never buy links for clients.

I’ve looked, often in real depth, at their clients back link portfolios and they screamed link buying.

I don’t have a huge problem with the practice, it’s a simple equation of risk v.s. reward but the hypocrisy does rub me up the wrong way.

Most of the People Who Don’t Do It – Have Never Tried It

A lot of the militant anti-paid link brigade have no experience of buying links. I probably fall into this category, for clients it’s never been a risk with worth taking and for personal side projects I’ve never really carried out enough tests to form a concrete opinion.

I’m happy to admit my ignorance; but know that I have a one sided opinion.

Because There’s No Public Market Place People Play Over the Odds

Whenever you get a secretive black market for a product you get people paying over the odds or sellers not knowing the value of what they are selling.

This is really apparent in paid links, I’ve spoken to publishers of hobby sites who have sold links that could jeopardize their websites Google rankings for little more than a nice meal for two.

Plus a recent high-profile link buying network you may have heard about was charging a rate which made me gasp. For the cost you could easily have carried out dozens of more defensible link building tactics.

Mark Cook at Further summed it up pretty well.

I love it when our competitors do this, I really do. By outlaying £6k a month, they are taking money away that they could be investing in enhancing their existing content

Before Too Long Your Reliant

Another reason to resist the urge is how soon you’ll become reliant. Rather than spending time and effort coming up with inventive ways to get people to link to you you’ll fall back on the easy money for links exchange. It might work in the short term but it won’t long term.

Or as the slightly creepy Nancy Reagan said “Just Say No”


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