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#1 Joshua Sciarrino

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 09:41 AM

Okay, typically when I start a new topic, I do the nice thing and try to search the forum and find if their is anything on the topic I want to write about.

The only thread I could find about paid links is one where "Matt Cutts Ruins a session" or so they say...

I'm pretty active on the SEOmoz website (I'm more active here ;-) ) and heard Rand say he's okay with wise link buying (my paraphrase). Then I watched an interview with Bruce Clay say that link buying is okay.

If you want me to get more specific (to my memory) about those ''quotes'' then just ask and I'll dig them up.

Either way, Rand said something like that on this forum.

Now, I know Rand isn't the only voice when it comes to SEO. But after hearing Bruce Clay and a few others (not as known) say they think link buying isn't that bad, I'm starting to wonder....what the heck? I'm confused.

But this is what I've read, watched, and listened about Paid links is that:
-Google (and other SE's; but mainly them..) is trying to discourage link farming. (Where you try to literally get 10,000 links for a nominal fee)
-That the SE's have no right (they aren't God...for lack of a better term) to penalize a website for buying solid links. (For example; You have a news website and you get links from CNN..)
-When buying links, one should ask a lot of questions about the process the company uses to 'buy' these links. (Is it content specific to your website? Are they visible links to the user? etc)
-Ask about follow or nofollow links; different prices?
-That websites that do quality link buying don't get penalize in a lot of cases. (I'd say mainly because they did some research before they spent a dime...or they have a Google's board member's cell phone..)

What are your thoughts? Any suggestions (good companies/techniques)? Or is this one of those topics, we aren't allowed to post on the web? (In fear of Google watching....) :ph34r:

edit: Found a worthwhile thread. It's a semi-discussion about link buying. It starts off from the other perspective, link selling (someone asks you to link to them, and they pay you.)

Edited by Flying Monkeys, 22 July 2008 - 10:14 AM.


#2 joedolson

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 10:33 AM

Link buying is an interesting topic - on the one hand, you can look at it as a black hat technique. You're paying people to "vote" for your site. On the other hand, it's just advertising, and who's Google to say that you can't purchase certain types of advertising?

Ethically, it really comes down to is your own personal ethical compass: if you're of the opinion that Google's out of line in telling you that you can't purchase links, that's fine. If you agree that it's pretty sketchy, because it exercises unfair influence on search results or whatever, that's up to you as well.

I don't think that you can just come out and say "link buying is absolutely, unquestionably, wrong." Yes, it's against Google's terms of service: but Google's terms of service shouldn't be your _first_ stop in terms of making a decision. You have to consider Google in making any marketing decision, since they can kill your site pretty thoroughly, but that doesn't mean that their opinion is necessarily right.

I wrote an article thinking about this some time ago: Buying Links - What is it?. The goal of the article was to explore how different types of link buys might exist, and how you might want to think about them from an ethical perspective - but also to consider the practical realities of how a search engine can identify it.

From an absolutely realistic perspective, Google can't possibly identify a well-chosen and privately arranged link purchase. They simply can't tell the difference from an editorially chosen link within content and a privately arranged link purchase on minimally optimized text in a relevant context, etc., etc., etc.

Just some things to think about.

#3 iamlost

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 12:38 PM

The Google 'paid links are bad' rule in all truthiness is:
* hypocritically applied: large corporate sites and Google partner sites are noticeable exempt.
* an excuse to target the obvious link broker marketplace.
* an excuse to demand sponsored links be identified to the benefit of AdSense.
* FUD aimed at the small and impressionable webdev.
* an window on an algo weakness.
* etc.

The only caution and it is a real necessary consideration about paid links is that if Google suspects them a site may be impacted negatively in uncertain ways:
* links devalued.
* terms devalued.
* pages devalued.
* site devalued.
And you may never be quite sure why.

If you are working on behalf of a client you may be open to a lawsuit. Have a very clear and explicit contract and when playing with fire get client to sign off on clear explanation of proposed behaviour and potential consequences.

Whether one gets 'caught' is usually a matter of scale, association, and relevance.
Scale: the more you buy the greater the chance of being noticed.
Association: if you are buying from the same place(s) as others you increase the likelihood of being discovered.
Relevance: rather than discovery but like blog comments, the less relevant the link to content the more probable the algo will discount it. Similarly for irrelevant or repititous anchor text.

I built up an inventory of IT 'friends' at juicy authority domains who would add contextually fabulous anchor text and links to existing pages or even better add the equivalent of a pre-sell landing page to their site. Very pricey. Very very valuable. Next to impossible to detect. But only for myself, never ever for clients.

Clients received blindingly brilliant white hat, deliberate ToS following, golden halo shining work. It was simply easier than writing additional excrusiating CYA contract clauses.

Bottom line: if you do something against a SE's rules don't complain if you get dinged.

#4 Joshua Sciarrino

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 05:43 PM

From an absolutely realistic perspective, Google can't possibly identify a well-chosen and privately arranged link purchase.


Joe, I totally with you till I read this quote. The only reason I say Google does know (or 'normally' does) is because I was reading in a thread where it's now Federal Law (in USA) where a website MUST state it's a paid advertisement and money was involved, as opposed to the website 'finding' the website and writing about it.

So, I think Google does know because they probably search around links to find out if the user sees that it's a blatant ad. Since that law is there...unless it's just here-say....

The Google 'paid links are bad' rule in all truthiness is:....* an window on an algo weakness.


Haha! I'm glad you see that because I sure did. :cheers:

If you are working on behalf of a client you may be open to a lawsuit.


Do you think even with paid directories? So, a contract for each paid link or just in general for paid links? Do you have any suggestions for contract of disclosure for links? (Maybe a template you have, maybe through pm..? :) )

Very pricey. Very very valuable. Next to impossible to detect. But only for myself, never ever for clients.


At first, I like was like 'I know, I know' but then I had to re-read it. 'ONLY FOR MYSELF, NEVER EVER FOR CLIENTS'. Hmm. It looks like Paid Links is a field of landmines......dang, this sounds more risky than I thought. Rand Fishkin and Bruce Clay probably have great connections and maybe why they can directly endorse link buying...

I'll take some time to read your (Joe D) article tomorrow night, thanks for the info, it looks good.

#5 iamlost

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 07:04 PM

The only reason I say Google does know (or 'normally' does) is because I was reading in a thread where it's now Federal Law (in USA) where a website MUST state it's a paid advertisement and money was involved, as opposed to the website 'finding' the website and writing about it.

Please provide a link. To my knowlegdge that statement is incorrect.

Do you think even with paid directories?

Of course not.
And neither does Google - generally - although it may or may not weight directory links differently than content links.

When we are talking about paid links we are talking about - again generally - links placed within site content. Those silly enough to pay for site wides or links in footers or link pages deserve what they get - those have been devalued for varying lengths of time.

Hmm. It looks like Paid Links is a field of landmines......dang, this sounds more risky than I thought. Rand Fishkin and Bruce Clay probably have great connections and maybe why they can directly endorse link buying...

Read them again. Carefully. They do not 'endorse' paid links.

If you get a client's site devalued for a term or totally and they decide it was because you were doing something that contravened SE guidelines you just might be in serious jeopardy. Your only hope would be that you have prior written understanding approval. If not you could well be looking at the cost of their lost business - please also read Miss Sarah Bird's warranty post at SEOmoz. Note though that such a disclaimer may well not cover gratuitous misbehaviour.

There is no way of knowing 'why' a link is where it is unless you or the other person say so. However, there are statistical signs - and Google does not have to justify it's behaviour. Google follows the Napoleonic Code: guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

#6 Joshua Sciarrino

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 07:16 PM

Read them again. Carefully. They do not 'endorse' paid links.


I understand this. Maybe I should've said 'They endorse link buying, only that which is more honest and non-deceptive.'

I'll try to find that link about that person who said 'its law to disclaim (make clear to the user) an advertisement'. But this could take weeks. But I'll try since others have noted some interest. (I was on another computer that empty's temp files, daily...so i'd have to google a lot of stuff.)

edit:Here's Rand, semi 'endorcing' link buying.

Edited by Flying Monkeys, 22 July 2008 - 08:39 PM.


#7 Ron Carnell

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Posted 22 July 2008 - 10:41 PM

There's nothing wrong with buying links, just as there's nothing wrong with a political candidate buying advertising. However, if the intent is to buy increased search engine rankings, the buyer is probably going to be treated much the same way a candidate would be treated if he offered to pay people for their vote.

It won't likely be quite so public, though. :)

#8 projectphp

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 02:44 AM

The perspectrive is all wrong. There is a scale of links like this:

Algroithmically useful <---------------------------> algorithimcally useless.

Paid links are closer to the right than the left, and as such, SEs like to discount / disregard them.

If you change your perspective to think like that, what links are algorithmically useful, the whole paid unpaid debate is moot, at least IMHO.

#9 glyn

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 03:02 AM

Paid links makes the SE's look succeptable to manipulation and so...guess what...they don't like it. Much better to use the solid, reliable and expensive paid listings they say.

For sure there are checks that need to take place, and you're on top of these already.

Glyn.

#10 Joshua Sciarrino

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 08:32 AM

Thanks Ron, Michael, and Glyn.

So, it seems like;

Link for SEO= stupid because you'll get penalized
but links for traffic (from those links) = Solid link advertising (and expensive).

#11 Andrew.Williams

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 10:17 AM

Is it just me or the line between buying links for advertising purposes and buying links for the purpose of manipulating Google is very very blurry if not non existent.?

#12 glyn

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 10:24 AM

A good link is a good link.

#13 A.N.Onym

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 10:29 AM

No, Andrew, there is a chasm between looking links for targeted traffic (what about newsletters?) and most SE benefit (old page with plenty of links, but your links is at the bottom).

#14 Andrew.Williams

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 10:59 AM

Yes but if we take the example of the Times magazine, one could buy a link for the purpose of advertising, or for the purpose of search engine ranking, as far as google is concerned they would hardly be able to tell the difference.

So what an advertiser could do is contact some webmasters and ask them to advertise on their site through putting a sponsored link on the side bar. Unless the link is made nofollow, then it was bought wasn't it. Although the primary purpose of the advertiser is to get targeted traffic from that site, as far as google is concerned that is a paid link which does manipulate the SERPS, is it not?

So the only way an advertiser can advertise on other websites is with a nofollow tag?

Now if we take it further and discuise the advertisement as "related sites" then the company is manipulating the search engine while also getting targeted traffic.

It seems, the more one looks at google, the more one understands that it's algorithm is hardly anywhere near excellent especially their "voting" system.

P.S simply my inexperienced 2 cents :)

#15 Ron Carnell

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 04:26 PM

So the only way an advertiser can advertise on other websites is with a nofollow tag?


Anyone who advertises on a site without tracking the results is probably an idiot. Or, at the very least, a fool who will soon be separated from his money. While it's not impossible to reliably track results and still get SE credit for a link, it's a hoop to jump through that most will simply avoid. We've had advertising on the Internet a whole lot longer than we've had link juice, after all, and the tactics for tracking results have long since been established.

Look at an AdSense ad. Look at just about any banner ad. The tracking mechanisms, be it JavaScript or a server script or both, completely obviate any need for a nofollow. There very simply is no link for the search engines to follow and index.

#16 Joshua Sciarrino

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Posted 23 July 2008 - 06:43 PM

Okay. So I did some digging. But I couldn't find the thread on High Rankings (where I saw the need to disclose an online advertisement).

I did find SEOmoz article by Rand Fishkin, that covered SES San Jose 2007, and the debate over Paid links. In this article it cites Matt Cutts' arguement using FTC's laws (?) to state that advertising needs to be cited and noticable both to the user/bot (Matt Cutts' arguement...not law but the law is there....decide for yourself).

Although the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) doesn't directly state 'Online Ads must be disclosed', I think this could happen in the near future. Not just that, but more and more laws and I think most of you would agree that someone will step in. Which, is a whole other issue. Who controls the World Wide Web? .....

Either way, Paid Links is still hotly debated.

#17 Joshua Sciarrino

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 09:52 AM

Okay. The UK says Paid Links (Without a disclaimer) is illegal in the UK. So. This sucks.

Also, according to that article someone can report someone up-to 3 years AFTER the fact. So, if you have a paid link (working with a UK company) in 2005/2006/2007 you can still be fined, if your reported.

Again, this is UK law, not USA.

Edited by Flying Monkeys, 24 July 2008 - 09:57 AM.


#18 joedolson

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 10:00 AM

Actually, that's not true - that law says that it is illegal to offer paid endorsement of a product without disclosing the endorsement as an advertisement or advertorial. Sarah's legal opinion in that article was that:

If I were a judge trying to make that call, I would rule that a mere link without much more wouldn't constitute "using editorial content...to promote a product." However, if the overall context surrounding the paid link offers an opinion or endorsement of the product (i.e., "editorial content"), then you could be in trouble, unless you disclose, of course. To be on the safe side, lists of links with headings such as "Products or Companies I Like" should contain disclosures if you're being compensated for links.


The law has potential to be interpreted as making paid links illegal; but does not explicitly state it. As with all law, the specific boundaries are open to intepretation.

#19 Joshua Sciarrino

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 10:08 AM

So, Joe, your saying a simple link drop (that was paid) is open for interpretation (not necessarily against this law) but an article written about a product is against the law?

This makes sense, if that's what the law actually state and it's a nice loophole. ;)

#20 joedolson

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Posted 24 July 2008 - 11:03 AM

An article written about a product which does not disclose that it's a paid endorsement is what's against the law; the interpretation is over whether or not a link to a web site is an endorsement of that site.

If the link was in a sentence such as "Joe Blow's Widget Emporium is a fantastic source for widgets," then that context is an endorsement, and should be disclosed. If, on the other hand, the link was contained in a context such as "When I was walking down the street, I noticed the widget shop on the corner.", then it's a context which in no way indicates preference or suggests value; it's not a textual endorsement.

Google's position (and part of the basis for their algorithm) is that any link is an endorsement unless it's marked by the relation "nofollow" -- this is not, however, a position which is held in law.

#21 glyn

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Posted 28 July 2008 - 05:33 AM

It's good that we're starting to see some Laws designed to protect consumers, and deal with rogues. As with all law there is common sense. I therefore think you shouldn't worry too much about what you're up to. It's more designed to capture people offering "independent advice", when clearly it's just an affiliate. And no that does not exclude affiliate's, it just needs to be declared.

#22 TryMeOut

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Posted 02 August 2008 - 08:26 PM

There is nothing wrong for buying paid links for traffic reasons. But if you buy them for SERP and PR manipulation, you might have another thing coming...



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