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Why Buying Paid Links Is Like Taking Drugs

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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2 Comments
  • Peter Handley on May 21, 2010

    I like the analogy you have used here… seems apt…

    Whilst I’ve never recommended purchasing links for any of my clients, I am aware that some of them have chosen to do so regardless – that could be a factor in your comment re Heads of SEO – they may not be in control of those links themselves, and divulge responsibility for them as a result.

    I think a big problem with purchasing links is that it is pretty difficult to determine if that link is still working for you – some paid links involve a one off fee, but others are essentially rented on a monthly basis, and you could end up forking out large amounts of money on them, without really knowing whether or not they are still providing any benefits to your website.

    Also, it strikes me, that ultimately, the people that are purchasing the links have less to lose than the seller. The purchaser essentially loses “money”, which they may or may not get ROI from, but the seller takes all the risk of his site losing authority, and with it traffic and conversions that may come as a result.

    As you have said, some site owners for the price of a good meal out, take potentially large risks with their websites!

  • Rhyll on May 21, 2010

    I like the analogy too!
    Well written piece with a different take on an age old debate.
    Ultimately Google says don’t buy link because it works. Unfortunately for us they have difficulty enforcing it as people have different takes on what is and what is not a paid link. Even Google were caught giving away their new Nexus phones for a blog post; thats paid right? Exactly.
    The fact is and it is a fact, in both the US and the UK the most profitable SERPS may only be dominated by buying links. There are exceptions but if a great, well known brand buys a link for a SERP it can provide the product or service in very well and in a scalable way, then not many people are that bothered. There are of course people who will, as you say Kevin jump and down and attempted to shame the said buyer/seller into to stopping, often while conducting similar operations themselves.
    Thats the game we play in.
    Oh Peter, just a note: you can test a paid link quite easily. Choose a term that is not index and alter the anchor text on it, once its indexed it should rank.

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