21 Feb 2008

Link Buying: Is EVERY Link Purchased?

Much has been made in recent months of whether it’s effective, or even kosher, to purchase links for your website. The debate still rages on over whether the search engines penalize you for buying links in general or only when links are purchased from sources that are obviously selling links only for ranking purposes and selling those links with no regard for value, content or appropriateness. The simple fact is Google and others state quite clearly that they don’t want you getting links from sites for the sole purpose of improving your ranking.
But how do search engines determine whether that was the sole reason you have a link from another site? Or whether you purchased a link or you traded services in kind? And what about paying a third party to distribute a press release that contains a link back to your website and in turn, other sites link to you?  I contest that when all is said and done, almost every single link is bought and paid for somehow!
Barter – Just Another Form of Payment
Let’s assume that Super Blog 1 is not going to link to Super Blog 2 because they are feeling warm and fuzzy. They may like what they see on #2, but they are also hoping that #2 links back to #1, a form of barter that is payment for their kind gesture. These reciprocal links are one of the most common forms of linking on the Internet, but search engines don’t punish websites that take advantage of reciprocal links because there isn’t a cash transaction involved.

Milton’s Molasses negotiates a deal with Hog Heaven Bar-B-Q Restaurant (they needed a link) to place a banner ad on Hog Heaven’s site.  And because Hog Heaven uses Milton’s Molasses in their barbeque sauce, Milton’s offers to add little blurb that says, “Hog Heaven Bar-B-Q uses only the finest ingredients, like Milton’s Molasses, in their famous barbeque sauce.” with a link to Hog Heaven for a reduced price on the banner ad.  Normally, Milton’s Molasses would have to pay Hog Heaven for that banner ad and Hog Heaven would have to pay Milton for that nice text link ad touting how tasty their food is – but instead they bartered and ended up with a form of reciprocal link.  How is that different than buying a link on a site that has a product that shares a demographic with your own customers?

More Creative Ways to “Buy” Links

Perhaps your staff writes a fantastic article for Widget World’s (we used to use widgets as a fictitious example – not any more) online magazine about the evolution of widgets and submit it to the editor. It’s published in their next online issue with your byline – containing, of course, a link to your website that sells widget replacement parts. You are paying your staff writer right?  So the article is surely worth money, isn’t it? If you hadn’t submitted that article, the editor would have had to buy an article elsewhere from a professional writer or paid their own staff writer to produce one.

Even press releases are really paid links. After all, you’ve paid a writer to produce an attention-grabbing headline and gripping press release; you pay to distribute it through PRWeb to numerous outlets in hopes of being picked up; and bingo – you’re suddenly everywhere on the web (you hope).   Didn’t you essentially just buy your way onto dozens of websites, however indirectly?

It seems clear to me that the search engines need to find a new description for their latest pursuits.  Are they discouraging link buying or are they discouraging meaningless, stupid links?  You know, like links from websites with zero traffic, or links from spam blog comments, or links from sites that have not been updated in three years?  I think their intentions were of the later, but they sure created a lot of angst and confusion by calling them paid links.

[tags] link buying, purchased links, reciprocal links, press release, back links [/tags]


  • John Feb 21, 2008

    Certainly correct, this is why I can’t see search engines keeping to links as the primary mark of website success. Sites should be ranked according to good content, user interaction, graphics etc. Basically exactly what people actually think of the website. The problem with that is its just far harder to do then links. Until somebody comes up with a better system, or search engine, Google just doesn’t need to improve markedly.

    While we operate our link building campaign with only a few paid links (such as business.com and yahoo directory, and yes these are paid links) we do have 3 content writers a graphics designer and a pair of programmers, in addition to myself. So even if we are submitting an article or making some link bait, that team costs quite a bit of money!

  • Vertical Measures Feb 22, 2008

    John – I also think website traffic just has to become a bigger factor. That is how people are truly voting for a site.

    But I agree, Google is mostly concerned about the bottom line (happens when you go public) and are not highly motivated to implement any drastic changes.