First, let me say that blog and directory spamming are fairly common in my market. We're a long time player and have always positioned well without doing this. Two of our main competitors do it and they typically outrank us. We've tried doing "real" link development (focus on real sites and real traffic) but we haven't had enough progress to beat out these two competitors. Combined with that is the fact that some of the newcommers have started blog and directory spamming and are now making some gains on us. Because of this we decided about 6 months ago that our current link development was inadequate and that we would try to outsource it. Our goal was *not* to do blog and directory spamming, but the goal was to do link development for SEO purposes, i.e. search engine rankings.
I put a project into one of the outsourcing systems requesting link development. I defined very clearly my parameters in order to avoid directory spamming. Things like "no pages named links", "no pages with more than 25 links", "on topic sites only", "no reciprocal links will be given", "no bad neighbourhoods", "PR4 or higher sites only", etc. etc. My hope was to find someone who would go out there and truly "sell" the virtues of our site to real sites in order to have them link to us.
I received a few proposals but only one that looked worth it. They told me they were a company in NYC and that they were ISO9002 certified. I checked out their site, read their reviews and talked to them. They seemed to talk the talk and understand what I was going for. I hired them.
Things started off very procedurally. I was assigned a project manager and given a long questionnaire to fill out. It was apparent that things would proceed according to their procedures and less according to my definition of the project. I decided this was ok because they were responsive when I pointed out discrepancies and I figured this is typical of an ISO company. The other thing that became apparent was that this company was in India. Eveyone I talked to had Indian names and accents and they only communicated very early in the morning.
My first deliverable was 50 links. Exclusively directory spam. Violations of my original request everywhere. I got on the phone with them and discussed it. It was clear that they had their way of doing things and everything else received a "does not compute". I was able to get them to replace the worst offenders and decided to continue to completion. First, they were all on-topic sites, all had some PR and I was able to reject any with more than 100 links. I was also able to give them some variations on the anchor text. Second, I decided it was no worse than what my competition was doing and it was working for them, so why not allow a little for me. Finally, I figured the proof would be in the affect to rankings. If things went up, then I could call the project a success.
The rest of the link deliverables were pretty much the same. I let the links cook for a little while and then did some evaluations. The issue that I saw was that they'd pointed them all to the homepage with only a few anchor text variations. However, I was ranking #1 for one of the less common variations and overall (it's always hard to tell) I think my rankings had improved. I decided to change my tactics a bit.
First, I asked them to do another batch of links, but this time I sent them my own titles, descriptions and links. I made them all deep links with many variations on title and description.
Second, I put out another request for a blog and forum writer. I realized that I needed to manage the project on a very granular level; i.e. "I need these kinds of links from these kinds of sites on these kinds of pages with these kinds of surrounding text and you solicit with these kinds of communications". Because of this involvement I decided the most I could handle was to find a writer to participate in forums and blogs and drop strategic links. I didn't mention link development or SEO because I realized this would invite my outsourcers to use their own tactics.
I received several proposals to my second request. I hired a few and they recently got started. So far I'm getting much closer to what I expected than the first project. It requires explaining things like how I don't want links in forums that don't actually link the url or show the link or that they can't leave the www. off the front of the url or that they should use a deep link instead of a homepage link when possible. It's too early to tell what the affect of this is.
Yesterday, I received a bit of a shock about my first project (the one I'd extended with the company from India). One of my customer service reps forwarded me an email she'd received. It was a site owner complaining about the spam email she kept receiving requested that her site reciprocate a link. It turns out that the company doing the link development is basically impersonating my company in link exchanges. They set up a site like www.someweirdname.com/mycompanyname which is a "directory" of links. They find sites with reciprocal link pages, then they post a link on this impersonating site. They then send emails to the site owners that look like they're comming from my company. The from address is email@example.com (kind of thing). The signature was "webmaster mycompanyname"! Wow, did I fly off the handle.
So, that's where I'm at. I'm not going to make any recommendations on what might work for you and your site, I'm still not sure what will work for mine.