Are Paid Links a Necessary Search Engine Optimization Evil?

This is a guest post written by David Brown.

What do nearly all high ranking websites have in common? As a search engine marketing consultant, I am confronted with the task of evaluating the inbound links of thousands of websites each month. In doing so, I have come to the realization that top ranking websites continue to pay for links despite Google’s public disapproval. Google’s minimalistic efforts to combat paid link building force ethical search engine marketing companies to buy links in order to compete. If done poorly, paid linkers run the risk of having short-lived benefits and potentially harmful consequences. The following tips will help you identify paid links that have positive and long-lasting results on search engine optimization efforts.

If a website requiring payment for a link is less of a directory, and more of an informational resource, Google is unlikely to detect and/or punish website owners for purchasing links from them. Furthermore, it is important that the sale of links be done discretely. A website that does not include a rate sheet for purchasing links is very unlikely to be detected by Google. It takes too much time for Google’s quality control team to pose as website owners and obtain incriminating information. Lastly, I advise against paying for links in directories that offer to submit your link to other directories. These services are Google’s primary targets.

Say I want to be number one for the phrase, “Portland Search Engine Marketing.” I would type this phrase into Google and begin looking for websites that I can get links from. One of the top results is a .org website for a Portland search engine marketing association. If I become a corporate sponsor I can get a link to my blog placed on the right side navigation of this relevant, nonprofit website. It is highly unlikely that Google will ever combat this form of paid linking because membership in a professional organization is a sign of credibility and you are paying for membership rather than a link.

Scrolling down to the bottom of the search results for, “Portland Search Engine Marketing,” I noticed the freelance designer directory. This directory is pretty blatant about selling links, yet Google does nothing about it. Some indicators that this is one of the safer directories are that a free, nonreciprocal option is available, there is an abundance of relevant text, it ranks on the first page for competitive key phrases and Google approved them for AdSense. Getting credit from this site may be short-lived because they are breaking Google’s rules by charging for links and not using the “nofollow” element. However, it is unlikely that websites with links from this directory will get punished because Google will also be punishing those who opted for a free listing.

Since implementing efforts to combat paid linking, Google has done a lousy job of making paid links obsolete. At the current rate, Google will be able to detect intelligent link buying in approximately… never. I consider myself to be an ethical search engine marketing consultant because Google’s unenforceable rules are less important than my ethical obligation to generate leads for my clients. Whether or not their opinions are publicly stated, I can say with confidence that nearly all reputable search marketing companies take part in paid link building. If you don’t believe me, analyze their inbound links.

David Brown is a search engine marketing consultant with Westhill Media.

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28 Responses

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  • Karen Zara, July 4, 2008

    David, this is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the subject, because it’s clear, concise and realistic. :) The whole paid link issue is so confusing that you rarely see anyone using some common sense when writing about it.

  • Hendry Lee, July 4, 2008

    I agree with Karen. The whole issue is hard to nail down completely unless we know precisely the algorithm behind it.

    However, your post gives an additional insights I never have thought before. Thanks for sharing.

  • What an interesting read. I never thought of searching for the term you want to be ranked, because I always expected them to be competitors and not interested in link sales.

  • Corporate Website Design, July 5, 2008

    A very interesting and thought raking article on paid link issue. Surely it has made things alot more clear.

  • Jason Grimshaw, July 6, 2008

    I agree, good points.

  • Hussein, July 6, 2008

    For me, paid links are evil. But if you will be smart in placing paid links in your site it will be an angel. Don’t make links looks like a paid link. Make it looks like a normal link.

  • Micro Niches, July 6, 2008

    Paid links aren’t evil, if you buy them in moderation. However, it is not fair if a site leapfrogs you just because they have more money to buy links than you.

  • Dejan Cancarevic, July 7, 2008

    heh i totally agree

  • Yossarian, July 8, 2008

    The problem I have found is that the larger companies get away with it due to more experience and budget, but smaller companies / website owners are the ones that are getting penalised the most.

    I am not saying Google should be letting all the small people off but I think it would be google to actively go for the large companies or SEO agencies with dedicated teams that are clearly using paid linking. Taking out a few high profile sites that exploit the rules will have more of an impact than small businesses buying/selling links due to bad SEO advice.

  • Vandelay Design, July 8, 2008

    Yossarian,
    You’re right. There doesn’t seem to be an even playing field.

  • Ruslan, July 17, 2008

    So new and interesting, thank

  • Web Designer, July 24, 2008

    A nice insight there David.

  • SEM Pro, July 24, 2008

    Good one David!

    These tips you give are the ones I use to consult for big/small companies. However, it will be sheer hypocrisy to deny the fact that this is what is happening worldwide.

    Google have their rules and I have mine. It’s that simple. My ethics works with relevance and content. Bad SEO is trying to gain advantage where there is little or no relevance and that with poor content, which would be grossly unfair.

    I buy links for SEO (and will continue to buy) just as I buy links for PPC. It’s the same principle. What is good for the goose should be as good for the gander!

    While David has open accepted what top SEOs do everywhere, I wonder how many will acknowledge these facts of unspoken ETHICAL act.

  • SEM Pro, July 24, 2008

    Oops! My apologies for the slight gram. errors & typos, I wrote in a rush. Thanks for generous forgiveness :)

  • Link Building, October 6, 2008

    This is a wonderful guest blog ever. I agree that better do manual SEO than sufffer PR drops on your website. This will also hurt your client’s Page Rank.

  • seo dubai, December 17, 2008

    Thanks for this, I believe this is probably the best SEO article on this topic. There is no problem with selling links when Yahoo directory can sell directory listing then why not other sites?

  • Directory, February 5, 2009

    Very informative article, which I found quite useful. Cheers ,Jay

  • nicky, May 12, 2009

    yes, no need to go for paid links as we have many sites which offer free links but it take some time to approve and for quick approval we can move for paid links.

  • onlinesellingdomination, June 28, 2009

    David, you expressed in right manner. This is the best SEO article which I have ever read. Many are there who do not follow ethics. But not all paid links violate Google’s guidelines. For the purpose of advertising, buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web. Again this should not be for manipulation of search results.

  • Ofek Web Design, July 18, 2009

    One of the best article regarding SEO. Paid listing aren’t evil as they have improved my clients PR..choosing paid listing websites is of much importance.

  • Mike @ Toronto SEO, August 3, 2009

    Well. The artcle really has a lot of sense but…
    but why shouldn’t guys pay for being on the top? if some guys are so unfortunate to start their online business this year – it will mean:
    1. new domain name (google has special policy to pay less attention to younger domain names)
    2. lack of inbound links

    what does that mean? only one thing – they should forget about having their site in top ten. is that right? no way! and here is when link building business enters. But instead of writing articles and comments with links to our SEO services as a way of promotion/link building it would be easier to pay per link. And note- those paid links are from index pages so way better than having links on the inner pages (though Google indexes those also=)…my conclusion – why not….whatever works!

  • Chotrul Web Design, December 11, 2009

    It’s interesting what Mike @ Toronto says … it certainly seems a faster route to rankings for a new site. And it certainly seems to me in my experience that a lot of big players around here are buying links with impunity.

    Not sure I’d agree ethically about the comment which equated paying for PPC and paying for links for SEO …. I think there’s sufficient clarity of intention for these mechanisms that you are only fooling yourself ethically by equating them ….

    my 2 cents …

  • James Lloyd, February 20, 2010

    I don’t really understand it either.

    Take article marketing for example. Most article marketing content is paid for (to be written) and then self published.

    How is that any different?

    Google gets to do what it wants i suppose.

  • Brian Mcfarlane, April 30, 2010

    I think in Google’s case it is a question of who are we going to target this month to shutdown.

    Google has proven time and time out that they are dedicated to making money period. Case in point a few months back when they decided to shut down and ban 15,000 Affiliates.
    Some of these affiliates were honest hard working, White hat guys trying to make a honest buck.

    Paid links are just part of the game. I don’t condon it as a long term strategy. But, for some it is a quick fix.
    Google is far from stupid, If you have shown a pattern of 10 links a month and suddenly out of the blue you have 10,000 links. Be prepared for a not so friendly visit from Google.
    It has always been a David & Golaith story concerning link building. Why do link building when you can pay a team in India $2.00 an hour to due one way link building 90 hours a week.
    This is fact not fiction.
    Know one knows what Google’s flavour of the month will be, only Google and our best guesses.
    Check out Dan Thies link liberation course if you really want to learn how to due link building the right way without pissing anyone off.
    cheers
    Brian

  • Stuart, March 6, 2011

    Paid links are not a good idea at all, just not worth the risk and theres no need for them anyway!