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The Search Engine War against Paid Links

The Search Engine War against Paid Link Builders

The Search Engine War against Paid Link Builders

Buying and selling links to directly influence search engine ranking algorithms has been a hot button in the SEO community for several years. The topic first started to really heat up back in 2005 when Google began taking stronger action against publishers and advertisers who bought and sold keyword targeted text links.

Today the search engine war against paid link profiteers still rages on, but with the majority of buyers and sellers going underground, the battle has become more of a guerrilla style conflict that is being fought through site by site skirmishes (penalties), media intimidation (education) and threat of treason (de-indexing).

Because of the problematic nature of purchasing links, it amazes me when I encounter new creative openly promoting links in the form of a commodity. Such was the case few days ago when I was deleting a bunch of spam from an old email account that I no longer use and noticed the following email that was just sent the day before.


MegaLink Deal – 4 packages left!
*Note: Actual names, numbers, email addresses and domains have been changed.


Hello James,

Fortunately, due to some great partnerships this holiday season, we’ve been able to form what we call a MegaLink Package. This MegaLink Package includes 150,000 links plus 1,000 Twitter followers for a special rate of $1650 per month!!!

Here’s what is included:

50,000 WordPress Links!!! – These footer links are spread across thousands of unique IP addresses.
50,000 DIRECTIONAL-LINKS-DOMAIN.com Links!!! – Instantly add your text links to over one million content rich article web pages in over 60 different categories.
50,000 Site-wide Links!!! – We have a partnership with a company with tens of thousands of pages indexed many of which have page rank ranging from 0 to 4. They’re offering our customers a chance to place a footer link site-wide on every one of their pages.

PLUS:
1,000 Targeted Twitter Followers!!! – Imagine having over 1,000 quality targeted Twitter followers related to your industry in the next 30 to 40 days. If you don’t have the energy to do this extremely time consuming & tedious task yourself, then let us do the boring, monotonous, grunt work for you & help save you loads of time & energy so you can focus on more important, productive & fun things! =)

We only have 4 of these packages available. To get started, fill out the payment links below (we accept PayPal or credit cards) or if you have more questions, please feel free to e-mail me at Steve@Company-Domain-Name.com.

Click here for PayPal:
https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=123XYZ

-OR-

Click here for Credit Card:
https://www.2checkout.com/2co/buyer/purchase?sid=123XYZ

We also have other holiday promotions:
– 1500 Permanent Links for $1000!!!
– 3000 Permanent Links for $2000!!!
– 7500 Permanent Links for $5000!!!

Happy Holidays,
Steve Linked
Linking-Domain.com

Contact me at:
(800) 555-1234 – Toll Free
(404) 555-1234 – Business Line
Skype Username: Company-Domain-Name
LinkedIn: SteveLinked

P.S. Have you checked out our full array of products at www.Company-Domain-Name.com?


 
WOW! What an amazing quantity of links. You might even be tempted to fork over the $1,650 per month for the chance at hitting the Link Lotto. That is if you are not up on the history of Google’s war on paid links, how to measure the value of a link, or how the rate of link acquisition and quality can affect your domain’s link profile.

Paul Jahn of Localmn Interactive Marketing was kind enough to provide some very practical advice.

When people show me Paid Links/Twitter emails like this, I think “What is the polar opposite of this offer?” and then recommend doing that.

Also, I have never and will never see Twitter as being tedious, boring, monotonous or grunt work. It’s an opportunity for me to engage with like-minded people. I’ve been on Twitter since earlier 2007, still have a pretty low number of connections and couldn’t be happier. I’ve gotten to know many of these people, including yourself, and have built many trusted relationships because of it. For me, this is much more beneficial than trying to get 10,000 followers to boost an ego.

 
What is wrong with this offer?
If you are new to link building or SEO you very well might be wondering about this so I thought I would provide some insight into the Pros and Cons of this offer.

Easily Identified by Search Engines – Links that are gained in large quantities over a very short amount of time are easier to identify. They tend to have a distinct pattern such as all text or image links, sitewide likes that appear on every page, footer links that appear at the bottom of many pages of a site usually below the fold and typically point to the same page of a website.

Quality – There were a few trusted sites in the past that tried selling links in mass, but today it is so well documented that most sites of quality stay clear of selling links. This usually leaves only low quality sites of little value that would damage your link profile. These sites will also probably have little to no inbound links except from other low quality websites.

Variation – A link offer like this will probably generate you the same or similar anchor or alt text for most if not all of your links. A clever link seller or buyer may use of an “insert data variable here” programming option to make the links appear unique, but this is easy to identify as well.

Rate of Acquisition – The rate of which your website acquires new links can play a large part in tripping red flags. A long and continued rate of acquisition is natural. Sudden increases in link counts of lesser quality hint at manipulation.

Bad Neighborhoods – Links obtained in this manner will usually be from sites that are also selling links in mass to other websites. These other linked-to websites will most assuredly be made up of sites that have received penalties already and thus make it easier for the search engines to back track their links to find other offenders.

Potential Penalties and Banishment – There is a chance that participating in a paid linking scheme of this type may only result in slight penalties for the select keywords that you are targeting. However, with Google’s continuous advancements in link profiling to help fight the paid link war, do you really want to risk having your domain banned and all of your other hard work being completely wasted?

 
The War on Paid Links
As I mentioned earlier, Google first started to really crack down on paid links in 2005 shortly after they created the NoFollow Tag. This tag allowed content publishers to link to other sources without passing along link juice and at the same time giving Google the solid argument “I provided you this tag and you didn’t use it so now I’m penalizing you!”.

It was reported soon after that several high profile content publishers, along with the Stanford University’s Student Paper, were selling links to advertisers. For several months these “examples” were being talked and blogged about in every corner of the SEO world. In April of 2007 Danny Sullivan wrote a post on The Fight Against Paid Links. It goes into much detail about the the early years of the war and into 2005.

In May of 2007, Google sent out a call-to-arms enlisting loyal followers to help report paid links. This gave Google a very powerful weapon to help fight the war: Website owners wanting to level the playing field against the competition with deeper pockets.

In 2007 we also saw several notable companies offering “pay-for-blog-posts” and “pay-for-text-links” openly change their policies to reflect how Google wants paid links to be handled. Their open adoption of the NoFollow tag on link advertisements was seen by some as a solid practice for not incurring search engine wrath and by others as a lost opportunity.

PubCon 2009 in Las Vegas

PubCon 2009 in Las Vegas

But everything may not be as it seems. Search Engine Roundtable has made available the live blog coverage from a session at last months PubCon titled “Linkfluence: How to Buy Links With Maximum Juice and Minimum Risk“. The context of the available live blog format provides tips and tactics that are currently being used, some of which are applicable to non-paid link building practices. Tony Tellijohn of Aktion Marketing also provides additional insight on this with his PubCon experience.

In talking to a couple of link broker companies at PubCon, it doesn’t sound like paid linking has decreased as a strategy—companies are just trying to be more discreet about where they are buying links, where they are pointing them to, and what keywords they are using. In some industries, it still seems to be the only way to compete.

At the end of 2007 Vanessa Fox wrote a great post titled “The 2007 Paid Links War, In Review” that details what will surely be remembered as the most intense year of the war.

In August of 2008, Mark Pilatowski wrote a post titled “SEM: Can Google Ever Win The War and Destroy Paid Links?“. Considering that Tony Tellijohn’s comments came over a year later, Mark may be the author of the most timeless paid link post ever written.

 

Google Trends Paid Links Headlines

Google Trends - Paid Link Headlines

 
News headlines on Paid Links from 2007 until now pulled from Google Trends and Google Insights for Search provide a dreary outlook on the practice. This might be close in relation to telemarketing before the US Government instituted the National Do-Not-Call Registry and Bulk Emailing before the CAN-SPAM Act. The calls and emails still come from time to time, but not as overtly or with the frequency as in the past.

Google Insights for Search Paid Links Headlines

Google Insights for Search - Paid Links Headlines

 
During 2009 we have seen many significant changes in the web linkscape and this may be the year the we reflect back on and identify as the beginning of the end in the large battle against paid links. One such change was Google’s “Vince” algorithm update early in the year that strongly suggests that links from higher quality sites are not only a good way to go, but quite possibly the only way left to go.

This year we even saw SEOmoz, one of the largest and most respected SEO communities and blogs, post their own “Stance on Paid Links & Link Ads“.

1. We no longer recommend paid links, link ads, link buying or selling to any of our active clients
2. We do this because we believe that the risk to reward ratio is too high and not because of ethical, moral or legal reasons
3. Our stance has also changed because we feel that paid links no longer offer long-term, high yield value for SEO campaigns, and that other methodologies that require similar effort and finances are almost always more accretive and less risky

These two events may not seem to amount to much on the surface, but they do. Google’s Vince has created a new web culture that sets the goal of developing a clean and trusted link profile as a high achievement for websites to try and attain. The SEOmoz stance, due to their work in the fields of SEO and Link Analysis and the vast audience that they have, will probably lead to more of a social change when it comes to link building tactics.

Professional Perspectives on Paid Link Building

My Perspective – In 2008 and earlier I would evaluate potential links for purchase only if I felt that they would pass value in the form of link juice. Today things are different. My focus is now on obtaining site and business listings from quality websites that will provide a link in any form, be it followed, nofollowed or utilize scripted tracking that may devalue its “juice”. The emphasis is placed on the fact that they be from an identical vertical industry or closely related niche, and if they can provide a clean link, then that just moves them towards the top of the priority list.

Clint Danks of ThinkSEM Consulting“I think paid link building still has a place in SEO – on a limited basis. In my opinion, there are only a few directories on the web where I would feel comfortable paying for a listing. Certainly Business.com, Yahoo Directory and Best of the Web are winners in my book. They provide a small amount of traffic, but a nice amount of “link juice,” especially for newer sites that need a link building boost. Outside of those 3 major directories, you may be playing with fire when paying for links. In the end, it comes down to risk vs. reward. Are you willing to risk a lot of hard work for a black mark on your domain?”

Paul Jahn of Localmn Interactive Marketing – “When it comes to paid links, I tend to think outside the SEO world. The vast majority of regular site owners who pay for links most likely buy them for potential traffic without any thought of SEO benefits. I’ve never seen a site penalized for this type of link purchase.

In the SEO world, I see a few, valuable paid directories just fine as I would see a newsworthy press release. If site owners decide to get aggressive in link building like going through a link brokerage company or something similar, in my opinion that’s just giving Google a detailed map of how users are trying to game them.”

Tony Tellijohn of Aktion Marketing – “My personal opinion is that relevancy should outweigh paid in determining whether or not a link should help a site’s ranking. It is much more reliable than Google trying to determine what is and what isn’t paid, and it’s what their system was originally based on anyway (supposedly). Bing pretty much echoed this sentiment during the State of the Search Engines at PubCon.”

 
Additional Resources of Interest

  • SEOmoz: 525,600 Metrics – How Do You Measure; Measure a Link?
    – This post is over two and a half years old and still provides some good tips for evaluating a link. Maybe they will do an update in the near future. (hint, hint)
  • Google Webmaster Central: Webmasters/Site Owners Help Section for Paid Links
  • Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
    – In particular I would like to point out these two sections as they seem to apply to this post.
  • “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.”

    “If you determine that your site doesn’t meet these guidelines, you can modify your site so that it does and then submit your site for reconsideration.”

  • Matt Cutts: How to report paid links (to Google)
  • Yahoo! Site Explorer: How to Report Spam Sites Which Link to Your Site
  • Bing Webmasters Blog: Link building for smart webmasters (no dummies here) (SEM 101)
    – I find it a little humorous that the comments for this particular post are filled with link spam:-)
  • Bing Webmasters Blog: Links: the good, the bad, and the ugly—Part 1 (SEM 101)
  • Bing Webmasters Blog: Links: the good, the bad, and the ugly—Part 2 (SEM 101)
  • Barry Schwartz/Search Engine Land: The Big Paid Link Debate Roundup
    – A large historical roundup from October 2007.
  •  
    Share your thoughts on Buying LinksHave an opinion on Paid Link Building that you would like to share? Feel free to add your comments below as we look forward to hearing from you. 

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