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Buying links recommended by our SEO firm
Should we do it?

 2:27 pm on Sep 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

We're paying an SEO firm some big bucks. They have recommended that we buy links to our website from directories including Yahoo!, BestoftheWeb, Family Friendly Sites, Gimpsy, Business.com, GoGuides and several others.

They also mention in their report that paid links are frowned upon by Google. Yet they still think it will help our rankings a lot.

I've been under the impression for some time that Google will actually penalize a website, and even remove it from results if you pay for links -- due to intentionaly manipulation of their search results.

It all seems a bit odd. I mean what do you do? Anyone who is performing any sort of SEO is surely attempting to manipulate Google search engine results. So if they frown upon paid links they should frown upon all SEO (after all time is money essentially).

It seems odd that Google would ban a site for paying for links, yet they don't ban sites that perform any other SEO tactics, that are performed purely for the sake of improving rankings (artificially manipulating SERPs).

My boss is asking whether it's safe to buy these links. I'm pretty sure Yahoo! is safe and a few of the others on the list. But what makes one paid link safe and another not, excluding a no-follow?

And don't say it's because they refiew your site -- only a total idiot would pay $300 for someone to review their site. We're blatantly only interested in the link. And we only want that to improve our rankings right?

What are your thoughts?



 11:59 am on Sep 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

there is... no direct penalty for buying links.

I direct you to Webmaster Tools, where you'll find a form for reporting paid links to Google.

I don't think they can completely discount Yahoo

I can definetely see value in the Yahoo! Directory -- far more so in the free directory than the annual subscription directory. But I can also see how spam websites are highly unlikely to get listed in either, so it does help filter some of the crap (to a tiny extent). Without charging for this, the directory might simply become corrupt like the mythical corruption among DMOZ editors -- where there is money to be made, money will be made.

I do trust our SEO firm. They have a proven track record and they rank number one for several broad terms themselves.

We had a conference call yesterday and it's interesting what they say. They say that a lot of the top finance related websites in Google are paying up to £5000 a month on link development and this cost is well worth it for the traffic they are getting by being in the top five for terms like credit cards, mortgages, loans etc.

I can see how this could really pay off. It gives the opportunity to perfect your website landing pages by doing some decent split testing using the huge amounts of traffic. The investment seems well worth it.

The conclusions I would draw from this thread are:

1. Paid links can work -- only go for well established trusted sites that review your website and therefore can...

sprinkle trust

...(i like that) on your website.

2. Sometimes your money can be spent better elsewhere -- e.g paying to have your website developed so that it becomes a "link building machine" (Altroft, 2008).

3. The reporting of paid links probably does improve Googles results but doesn't properly solve the underlying problem.

4. People don't buy links for the direct traffic.

This has been a really informative thread -- thanks everyone for your advice. I hope we can properly clear this subject up once and for all as it is certainly one of the main areas of Google SEO controversy and misunderstanding.


 4:22 pm on Sep 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

there is... no direct penalty for buying links.

I direct you to Webmaster Tools, where you'll find a form for reporting paid links to Google.

Oh it might be me, I haven't made myself clear.

I repeat, for it might be important for your future decisions:

there is... no direct penalty for buying links.


None. No such thing.
There were instances of 'lowered REPORTED PageRank' ( *whoa* scary ) for SELLING links, but that wasn't automated either.

The buyer side was never ever penalized.
If you'll take your time to think about it...
You'd understand why it *can't be* penalized.


The main issue, of which made you start this thread was:
fear of getting banned for buying links.
I wanted to inform you, that there is no such penalty.

Keep an eye on the great match between Google Propaganda vs. Google Procedures.


 6:15 pm on Sep 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

I may be a little slow today but I'm still not completely clear on this.

From the Google Webmaster Tools Paid Link Reporting page:

Report paid links

Help us maintain the quality of Google search results.

We work hard to return the most relevant results for every search we conduct. To that end, we encourage site managers to make their content straightforward and easily understood by users and search engines alike. Unfortunately, not all websites have users' best interests at heart. Some site owners attempt to "buy PageRankô" in the form of paid links to their sites. Buying links to improve PageRank violates our quality guidelines.

Google uses a number of methods to detect paid links, including algorithmic techniques. We also welcome information from our users. If you know of a site that buys or sells links, please tell us by filling out the fields below. We'll investigate your submissions, and we'll use your data to improve our algorithmic detection of paid links.


 8:08 pm on Sep 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

Keep an eye on the great match between Google Propaganda vs. Google Procedures

Presumably Google also has methods of judging paid links that are reasonable and not abusive of the system. All links (in my world) are intended to manipulate the results; paid links are just a part of that. However, I also try to watch my step. Content is king - but I gotta have the links to help sell the content to Google (not just the customer).


 2:02 am on Sep 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

PublicSphere, yes, that is the propaganda side.
Please think about it, it's really simple.

Level 1 ( easy ):

"penalty on the buyer side"

Buy links to your competitor.
The worse the better. $1 a month.
Buy ten of these. $10 a month.
Suppose your site is at #11.
Buy some links for everyone in the top 10. $100 a month.
Alert Google through the reporting page you mentioned.

...see the problem yet?


The reporting tool was part propaganda, part an attempt to gather information that could be used to find ( just FIND ) link SELLING sites. The targets of the links can't EVER be confirmed to be buyers. But a seller's blatant intent *might* be clear ( i.e. 'BUY LINKS HERE' ).


 2:58 am on Sep 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Miamacs you are totally wrong. It's obviously not as simple as just buying a handful of links to a competitor, but Google does/has nuked many sites for buying links, you don't hear too much from them because they pick off people who they think won't kick up a fuss. They also do it in ways that aren't as obvious as a flat out banning, by holding sites back, and penalizing themsitewide. I guarentee you if anyone of the SEO bloggers got picked off there would be hell raised.

Google takes even high quality sites that buy links and nukes them to the ground, while leaving trashy+junk sites who are far more spammy+aggressive at the top of SERPs. That's just the Google-world we live in.


 3:51 am on Sep 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'd like to see empirical evidence of that, Baller. These things can often be interpreted many ways. Site A buys links from B, C & D and otherwise has very few incoming links. Sites B, C & D get penalised, no longer pass the juice, so site A bombs. As many have said before, the secret is in link diversity.


 6:39 am on Sep 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

People give Google way too much credit. The machine is not that smart, organized, or efficient. Yes, from a nerdy technical POV the engineers there do some impressive things, but the fact remains we all fight against its 'stupidity' every day when we try to extract meaningful information from the web. Google has set vague rules and notions of how the internet is to be organized. The result is search results dominated by corporations and interest groups, web sites written for machines not humans, and vile regurgitated content. But you have no choice, you must play the game. Be weary of guidelines.

All the directories you mention are rubbish. At $300 Yahoo is the worst. Forget about silly notions of human review, trust and high regard. What matters is link juice and traffic and those directories give neither in sufficient quantities. It's easy to throw money at them because they are so accessible, but you're going to find the game requires much more effort than that (unless you have lots of money). Yes it is a game. Artificial and manipulated.

Buying select links is like buying advertising. There is nothing wrong with it. But remember in this context there is no "wrong". Google can and will punish you at its discretion for whatever reason it wants (including its favorite random punishment to keep everybody guessing). Your goal is to thrive in that environment, which is much easier if your company has some money.


There is nothing mythical about the corruption of the DMOZ. It annoys me greatly that Google's first recommendation to new web masters is to get listed in dmoz and get a Yahoo directory listing. Completely irresponsible and demonstrative of how out of tune they are. Then again, dmoz's corruption completely pails in comparison to Google's home made money printing machine [adwords].


 7:53 am on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think I might be more confused now, than I was at the start lol


 8:31 am on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

I've received a few private emails from people asking for the directories our SEO firm have recommended we get listed in.

I'm not sure whether it would be OK to give this information away -- I don't think it's hugely confidential but my SEO firm might want to keep it private. So I'm going to have to hold off on that, out of respect for them.

They are all very common directories though, that you might find by searching Google. All of them are well established. I haven't checked but I would imagine they're probably listed in DMOZ or Yahoo! in some specific category -- they might be good places to look.

Which is quite ironic and also quite poignant based on some of the earlier posts in this thread!


 4:42 pm on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

Is paying someone to build links the same as buying links ?


 5:19 pm on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

I guess it's all about intention really. Anyone whose objective is to 'build links' is attempting to manipulate search engine results, since it is their intention to improve the rank of a site, through link building.

Whether you do it by paying a website owner to link to your site from there's or you build a 'link machine' or 'link bait', the intention is the same, only the strategy differs.

The only difference with directly buying links is that you can improve rankings without having to create quality content. Therein lies the problem in Googles eyes I suppose.

Clearly Google doesn't/can't discriminate between content created with the intention of maniplulating their results and content published for other purposes and they don't see the need to do this.

Whether there is a need, is debatable.

Years back you could get a site ranking by adding keyword metatags, keywords in your title, headings and paragraphs and just a few free links.

Then came meta tag based spam, content based spam and link exchange based spam.

As SEO's have worked around the penalties associated with such spam, they have realized 'link bait' is one of the best ways to spam Google. While this may not strictly be spam, since it is humans who decide whether to link to the content, it's still fits into the same category, when categorized by *intention*.

I don't really consider link bait as a route to spam though because it's success is almost entirely governed by the human element. It is humans who decide whether the content is worth linking to.

The problem of course is it is only a small category of web users -- the webmasters -- who have the power to make the ultimate decisions on which web pages rank highly, based on these rules.

Fortunately those rules force content produces, to produce quality linkable content. A characteristic of quality content is orginality.

From a searchers point of view, the search experience is unlikely to be enhanced by search results that are influenced by paid links.

If content is high quality and highly relevant to the user, why should the webmaster need to pay other webmasters to link to it?

Whereas if you pay an SEO team to write content that fits the criteria of a keyword search better than any other content on the web, that page should rank number 1.

The only problem is, you have to convince webmasters of this, not all web users.


 11:16 pm on Sep 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

Great post, PublicSphere.
A clean and superb summary.


 9:14 am on Sep 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

Slightly off topic...but here's a walk down memory lane...

I 'resisted' for about six months when Yahoo! had the 'nerve' to start charging for directory inclusion.

Now, for you youngsters, Yahoo results at that time actually CAME solely from that directory...if you got the right keywords, you could be the ONLY result that was returned for a search.

Pay per click didn't exist yet, so this was the first thing that actually charged money. No ads on search results pages, no one had ever heard of Google, there was no thing as pagerank, no one really cared about links, etc.

I also was at the top of every other search engine, so I really didn't think I should have to 'pay' to be added to another one.

In hindsight, my six month 'rebellion' cost me at least a hundred thousand dollars.

...boy, I showed them.


 3:32 pm on Sep 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

I also was at the top of every other search engine


I remember the days when I commanded the top of every search engine for the broadest of keywords, without dishing out much more than £500 and a week of work.

Things have certainly become saturated.


 12:56 pm on Oct 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

I do not prefer these kind of SEO companies..


 1:31 pm on Oct 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

I have to ask what did your SEO company say when you asked them this question? when your accountant tells you something is a tax write off do you go to an accountancy forum and ask whether it really is, or do you trust that your accountant is an expert in his/her field, and treat that expense as a tax write off? If you don't trust that the company you are paying to answer these questions for you, better then a bunch of strangers whose level of experience you don't know, and who have no vested interest in your site, then you have serious issues with the company that you are with.


 6:04 pm on Oct 21, 2008 (gmt 0)


just keep on buying quality links discretely as everybody else is doing it. Google is on a dead end road and tons of junk sites are dominating many No. 1 pages what does show, how much wasted their PR system is.

If you don't buy, others will do it anyway and you will left behind.

... while leaving trashy+junk sites who are far more spammy+aggressive at the top of SERPs. That's just the Google-world we live in ....

also my observation!


 8:21 am on Oct 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

when your accountant tells you something is a tax write off do you go to an accountancy forum and ask whether it really is, or do you trust that your accountant is an expert in his/her field, and treat that expense as a tax write off?

I think SEO is a little different to tax. If you're not sure why that is I suggest you have a browse through a few tax forums and a few SEO forums to get a better understanding of the subjects!

better then a bunch of strangers whose level of experience you don't know

I consider SOME of the posters on WebmasterWorld to be the most experienced and knowledgable in the world on the topics they post about -- and I value their opinions.

Google is on a dead end road

I think Google does have some peoblems producing the most relevant results. However the truth is they dominate the search market. If you want decent traffic you have to get it from Google.

I have to ask what did your SEO company say when you asked them this question?

Our SEO company are skilled at what they do. They have attained top rankings for clients. I'm just interested in determining as many possible problems before taking any risks. No-matter what they tell you, no SEO company is full-proof and no SEO company can guarantee anything. They've basically said that the tactic works providing you understand it's a calculated risk and that you spread your links over a number of varied sources. Buying links is just a small part of their link building strategy.


 10:59 am on Oct 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

I suggest you have a browse through a few tax forums and a few SEO forums to get a better understanding of the subjects!

While I appriciate your concernt about my SEO and PPC knowledge, and I understand that tax and SEO are very different (having first studied to be an accountant prior to getting into search, where I have now worked for 3 years, and currently work in one of the most competative online market place in the UK)The parallels I was drawing is that people hire an accountant, to provide advice on an aspect of business, which they then leave in the most part to that specialist. If you second guess every piece of information that every specialist gives your company, you will spend an aweful lot of time getting very confused.

I have had clients who have consulted forums in the past, and out of 30 replies, some of which are given by experts, and some of which are given by novices, the client rarely comes away with the correct take on the situation, and this can be damaging to their campaign in the long run.

The point of my question was really to try and find out what your SEO company said, did you speak to them first, and if not why not, and to get you thinking about whether you trust this company, because at the end of the day, if you don't you have far bigger problems then whether or not to buy links.

You may want to consider getting a professional audit of the work your SEO company are doing, if you have concerns about their ethics.


 12:11 pm on Oct 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

If you want decent traffic you have to get it from Google

A sad 2008 reality. Often the best content has no chance a tricksters occupy the first pages wizj all kinds of garbage.


 12:46 pm on Oct 23, 2008 (gmt 0)


I was only being semi serious.

Thinking about it there are some paralells between tax/finances and SEO/Google. I guess the major similarity being calculated risk.

With this paid links thing though it's not just me that's confused. I think our SEO firm are as well! Despite the fact that they are very skilled at what they do. In fairness, does anyone (SEO expert or not) really fully understand how to deal with paid links?

Google tells us that if we buy links without a no-follow, we are at risk of being banned from their listings. Yet if we buy *certain* links we stand to improve our rankings vastly.

So what's the deal?

The way I see it, if Google wants to clarify their message, the only way to do it is to reduce the value of any site offering links for sale, to nothing. If you work in Narcotics for the police and your job is to reduce drug usage in your city, you don't go after the buyers you go after the dealers. But if all the drugs in the city suddenly changed and no-longer had any effect on users (either to quench their addiction or make them feel good) then none of the users would buy drugs anymore.


 1:37 pm on Oct 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

Here's the thing. Buying/selling links distorts the 'webscape'.

Take the 'perfect' universe where SEO does not exist, just perfect W3C standards compliance (which usually falls under SEO these days).

All sites are technically perfect, differentiated only by content and inbound links.

This is the world Google would work best for. PageRank for real people to 'vote', content for relevence. Hence, G tries to ignore or rebalance everything the detracts from this world.

Google doesn't want people to buy or sell links. They make it public they will punish those that do. Some think this is 'FUD'. Others take it as gospel truth, beleiving the omniescence of G to immediately recognise link transactions.

There seems to be a loose consensus that G devalues link SELLER sites, so no PR passes. Apparent panalties for buying can be attributed to the sellers' site suddenly not passing juice, so ranking drops suddenly.

The main argument for link BUYING not being lethal is that you could buy links for competitors just to kill them.

As with most thinks SEO, a little may be good, but a lot is bad- if only because your hard-earned cash has gone to someone who no longer gives the boost you paid for.

Basically, PageRank (originally) worked when links were earnt on merit, rather than traded for cash.


 8:56 pm on Oct 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

Google tells us that if we buy links without a no-follow, we are at risk of being banned from their listings. Yet if we buy *certain* links we stand to improve our rankings vastly.

So what's the deal?

Actually, they've 'fixed' that - Google has removed the line from their guidelines that says you should sub to yahoo and directories.


 5:16 pm on Oct 25, 2008 (gmt 0)


No offenses to people talking here, but I see nothing bad in buying or selling links.

I buy and sell reviews and that too very cheap.
I don't spend even $100 for each one them.

And they WORK!


 10:33 pm on Oct 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

ashanka, there are many members who would agree with you. There are also plenty who think they have seen 'penalties' (correct usage or not) for buying or selling links.

My company has been very successful without buying or selling links, but so I cannot give personal experience. However, two things are undoubtably true
1) Google STATES the will crack down on the link trade (or are doing so already)
2) Trading links distorts the way Google has chosen to analyse the internet (the original PR algo)

Even if Google doesnt have the ability to penalise automatically, I think it would be a stretch to say it is risk-free given these points.

Also, reviews are differt from links. It is infinitely harder for a human (much less a machine) to spot a fake review than a fake link, and an editorial link embedded in a review would appear to be a very natural link- as long as the same review doesnt appear on lots of sites.


 8:09 am on Oct 27, 2008 (gmt 0)


The way we deal with the paid links issue, is to look at it in terms of risk. A high risk strategy would be to get lots of paid links, this would be high risk, low reward. A low risk strategy would be to buy no links, this may be low reward. PAid directories aren't generally an issue, but if you are nervous about it I would ask your SEO company to look at other link building methods, and take the low risk route. I would be nervous using any company that weren't sure about their own methodologies.


 3:36 pm on Oct 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

I would be nervous using any company that weren't sure about their own methodologies.

I guess I am a little.

What we need really is for Google to come along and clarify the situation here on WebmasterWorld! Hint hint.

(never gonna happen of course)


 3:57 pm on Oct 29, 2008 (gmt 0)


Thats Google's stance. Don't do it.

The only question therefore is how much can you get away with before it becomes a problem. To be particularly unhelpful, the answer is
1) None. Google is omnienscent. The know all, instantly. YOU WILL BE PUNISHED. Mwa ha ha
2) Lots. Its FUD. Google just doesnt want everyone to do it or it wrecks their business model.
3) Some. Fly under the radar and reap the benefits. Err on the side of caution as TrustRank is KING.
4) None of the above :p

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