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Link Development Forum

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Content is king? - Cash is King When it Comes to Links
My analysis shows that all the top sites in my niche buy links

 11:29 am on Oct 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

After many years of building what is easily the most comprehensive site in my niche I am beginning to realise that great content alone is not enough.

I have the content, I have the visitors looking for that content but the related monetised content is so competitive that I don't see why anyone would link to yet another site selling bla bla.

I do OKish in the SERPS for some of the competitive terms but am getting pushed out by sites that just focus on the money stuff. Looking at their back-links they are all buying them.

So there we go. Is anyone going to try and dissuade me from doing the same or is that just the way it is?



 12:45 pm on Oct 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well, it's almost the way it is.

Yes, buying links will get you ranked. And I'd like to say that buying too many links will get you banned. But you're right, these days that seems to happen only rarely -for most folks it just gets them ranked.

Here's the only counterpoints I have:
1)you can rank without paid links. It's harder, but can be done.
2) If you don't buy links, you'll outlast the sites that do buy links, whenever the SE's finally decide to get rid of the ranking sites that buy links. And it will happen. It's been a couple years since there's been a real housecleaning - but I've been around long enough to see roughly two of these major shakeups - and lots of people go out of business then. I admit that the probability of this happening seems low the longer this practice continues - but don't discount it completely. Plus, you need to consider that while the risk may be low, the results are catastrophic.

At least that's what I keep telling myself :).

Fact is, there's risk

[edited by: tedster at 5:43 pm (utc) on Oct. 24, 2009]
[edit reason] clean up technical issue [/edit]


 7:31 pm on Oct 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

I agree with wheel that it doesn't need to be so. That everyone else is doing something does not mean it's the most powerful way to accomplish it. It simply means that's what everyone else is doing it. Those scenarios can often represent an opportunity to go in and wipe them out with a different strategy.

I can't think of hardly any niche, even adulton, for which this formula for free links wouldn't work:

Content + Authority of content writers/subjects of content + Awards/Blog or Media Citations = A site that can generate free links.


 12:51 pm on Oct 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

While I don't buy links I have always seen the appeal. Hypercompetitive serps are filled with sites using underhanded tactics, including paid links, making it almost impossible for the average small company/website to compete.

Wheel: To a degree I agree with your second point about SE's cycling through periods of paid links housecleaning. However, my experience has been that while the housecleaning is taking place there's another wave of others using different--acceptable at the time--tactics. They could care less about being around for the long haul and use aggressive tactics to maximize the amount of cash they can make in a short period, then do it all again.

These SEOs buy links as a part of a well though out site strategy knowing that their days are numbered--then they turn around and do it again. Low barriers to entry in this here Internet game.

In the end it hurts us all and discourages development.

surfgatinho, perhaps consider nicheing your topic a bit or focusing on optimizing your conversion funnel/page.


 1:21 pm on Oct 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

well, that's competition for you .

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a fellow bodybuilder many years ago (don't laugh - when I was younger I did a bit of competing). I was moaning about steriods - couldn't beat them. His response? "Are you prepared to do what it takes to win or not?"

The difference is that buying links isn't illegal, immoral, or health endangering. It's just business, with associated risks. Are you prepared to do what it takes, along with the associated risks? If not, quit complaining :).

If you are, then as has been noted here many times, one way to limit the risk is to do this kind of stuff on a secondary domain.

And when google finally does crack down, we'll have a slew of posters crying about destroyed businesses, the very same threads that go through here every 2-4 years. then people forget and do it all again.


 2:21 pm on Oct 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

ya, exactly. It's ultimately the issue.

I've managed to do well in the link building area over the years without having to resort to such tactics, but it's hard man! And every few months there's a new spammer out there that suddenly comes out of nowhere.

Best thing I've found to do is keep moving forward cycling through copy n links, copy n links, copy n links...works.


 10:13 am on Oct 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

Basically I run an authority site for a popular travel destination. I am cited on many, many pages on Wikipedia. Unlike many of my competitors in terms of information the site is up to date, dynamic, interactive and viaually appealing.

However, as you are all aware, guide books aren't where the money is - accommodation is. And I have to compete with sites that are purely regional (or national) accommodation sites. Yes I have more listings (as I offer it for free up to a point) than the competition.
But, my point is my site has the links, but to the content, not the money! The only way I can see of getting these links is with reciprocal (yawn) or buying them.

I'm always working on link bait content, but like I said it never goes straight to the accommodation.

I know I can do OK for niche terms BUT, I run an authority site and know that with the right paid links pointing to the right pages I can do well in top tier search terms.
Seems like a no brainer in the short term.


 10:21 am on Oct 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

Operative words are "short term." Make that decision "long term or short term" and go. I tend to go long term.


 1:25 pm on Oct 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

The only way I can see of getting these links is with reciprocal (yawn) or buying them.

Then you're not thinking hard enough :).

If your site is an authority and your inner pages aren't ranking, my first suspicion would be to look at on site optimization. I'm no onpage expert - but pretty much all I have to do on my site is add a page on a search term and it'll rank reasonably well just from that.

I disagree that your only choices are buying or recips. If you've got the linkbait done, then you're just not asking enough people the right way. Building links to good content is pretty easy - just ask. Ask 10 people, get 1 link. Ask 100 people, get 10 links. You want 10 good links to an inner page? You know what you've got to do - ask 100 people.

Another easy option for inner pages is some good quality directories that allow rich text links to inner pages.


 7:43 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

>Is anyone going to try and dissuade me from doing the same?

Yes and no. I want to look at your reasoning.

You're seeing competitive sites that buy links. And you think that's a significant observation. I'm not sure it is.

Here's why. You're not seeing the NON-competitive sites that also buy links. If 99.99% of sites buy links, and 99% of COMPETITIVE sites buy links -- then logic would say buying links is counterproductive.

Without knowing how many of those link-buyers are failing, you don't know whether you're seeing that link-buying leads to success, or that they're so many link-buyers that they can't all fail abysmally (compared to so few non-link-buyers).

Do what you want, it's no phlegm off my tonsils either way. But ... just because all the successful people around you own a car, doesn't mean car ownership is the road to success.


 9:01 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

If we step back a minute an imagine we're not on the web and that Google doesn't have 'rules' about paid links. Just imagine you're a normal company doing competitive intelligence.
You notice that all of your top competitors are doing this type of advertising and it seems to work pretty well. It's not illegal. Companies use this method and seem to stay at the top of the pack with years with it. Sometimes maybe this method results in them falling out of the top of the pack. At which time they start a new campaign (site), use the method again, and are back at the top of the pack.
Any 'real' company in their right mind would use this advertising method without thinking twice.


 9:08 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Back-link history is like your credit history, it stays with you for a long, long time. The temptation to buy links is indeed attractive as Google seems incapable of filtering out paid back-links. I think everyone probably agrees though that Google wants to filter out illegitimate links. When/if that day comes, site owners who invest for the long haul will be rewarded while those who don't will see their rankings decline. Nobody knows what the future holds. My reasons to avoid buying links:

- It's the easy path. Once you go down this road you won't come back. This will divert your attention and resources -and perhaps change your company culture- from one focused on quality, creativity and innovation to one focused on chasing the low hanging fruit.
- Paid links aren't sustainable. Once you buy them you have to keep buying them forever and also buy more and more of them with each passing day. Before long you are spending thousands and thousands per month on paid back links all while you anxiously wait for Google to punish you. Instead, why not spend that same tens of thousands per year on better content and creative link bait ideas?
-Build what Google wants, sleep easy. Trick Google, and wait for your house of cards to fall one day. It will happen one day. Someone at Google (or elsewhere) will find the algorithmic solution to better identify "good" links from "bad". That day arrives and you will have to unravel years worth of back-link spending and possibly start over.

As tempting as it sounds, buying links is just not worth the risk unless your business is nothing but a short term cash generation vehicle, in which case buy links all you want.


 9:12 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

that's all it is at the end of the day -- an advert. you're buying an advert on another site. it's only because google said they don't like it that everyone thinks it's bad.

google put millions of paid links on our sites every day, through their adwords/adsense program, but they don't consider that bad.

i reckon as long as the links look like normal HTML and there's nothing else wierd about them, then what's the problem in doing it.

[edit].. i don't think google will carry on weighting links as much as they do now anyway. because they've got better ways to work out the popularity of a site with all these user behaviour measuring things that they've got.
if you think about it, a link to another site might just as easily be a vote against it, saying how rubbish it is. or maybe it's a paid link, they don't know. or maybe the site has spent a stackful of money sending out emails begging for links. google knows that it can't sort the wheat out from the chaff. but if google sees that people are spending five minutes reading your page, or spend a day searching for a piece of info and then stop searching as soon as they visit your page, then that is a far better way to rank the site.
a year or two from now and all this link building stuff will fall by the wayside, i reckon.


 9:48 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

or maybe it's a paid link, they don't know. or maybe the site has spent a stackful of money sending out emails begging for links. google knows that it can't sort the wheat out from the chaff.

So what is the difference between asking for links and paying for links? As a philosophical point it doesn't affect the quality of your site, whichever you do.


 10:32 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

I disagree with the statement that paid links won't last. When you get to number one for paid links you will attract more non-paid links. The fact that you are number one builds links. If you monitor your links and see that you are getting lots of new non-paid links you can stop paying for your links.

Many of us watch very competitive terms and have consistently seen the same sites stay number one for years. It all comes down to authority and a broad link profile. You can't just build your rank with paid links.

I know several areas that are famous for buying links and many other black hat techniques. Everybody knows including Matt Cutts. But for some reason nothing has ever been done about it.


 12:52 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

google put millions of paid links on our sites every day, through their adwords/adsense program, but they don't consider that bad.

Any Web publisher who doesn't understand the difference between an ad (such as an AdWords) and a straight HTML text link is cruisin' for a bruisin'.

Still, nobody (not even Google) is saying that you don't have the right to buy or sell links. You have the right to link however you wish--but Google has the same right, so it makes sense to follow Google's guidelines if you're counting on Google Search referrals. It's naive to think that you can have your cake and eat it too.


 2:57 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

The top two adwords results look a lot like the 'natural' serps to me. Maybe in the not too distant future, paid links will be ok, as long as the payment goes to google instead of the 'bad guys'.


 3:48 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

As a philosophical point it doesn't affect the quality of your site...

As a practical matter paid links CAN affect your ranks negatively if someone blows the whistle on your site.


 4:23 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

Any links to my sites are paid in "Thank You!"... if I have time to send one. To my thinking there are two kinds of paid links: Those gained by expending filthy lucre and those you earn by hard work and sweat of brow. The latter, I believe, will pay off more in the long run.


 5:25 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think there are two ways to buy links. The first is just buying links left right and centre for a spammy no/little content site that is looking to rank (even just for the short term) to make a quick buck, selling some stupid get rich quick scheme e-book and/or MFA. These types of web site will certainly suffer and are likely to get penalised at some point in the future.

The second is buying a few quality links on web sites related to your niche and from quality directories to give a new and quality content rich web site an initial boost in the serps. I dont see any harm in this at all. Once it is ranking for certain keywords, if it is a quality and useful web site, people will start linking to it from web sites, forums etc and it will start ranking higher and for other keywords. All you need to do then is keep on optimising it, keep it up to date, and sure enough it will receive links from here there and everywhere.

Content IS king and will prevail over time. If a web site is useful and informative and meets a demand for information or a service, people will automatically link to it and recommend it to others. If every single web site that had ever paid for links got dropped from google and other search engines serps, search engines would become pretty much useless.


 7:36 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

Sometimes maybe this method results in them falling out of the top of the pack. At which time they start a new campaign (site), use the method again, and are back at the top of the pack.

Not all companies can and should simply pack up one domain and start another. Cue the word 'branded domain' here.

Any 'real' company in their right mind would use this advertising method without thinking twice.

Is that so? There are many business owners on this forum that choose not to do that. The real kicker is that they have been around for years - often for that very reason. As Martini mentioned paid links can hurt. And when they do they often REALLY hurt to the tune of layoffs.

The debate about paid links will go on and on for as long as Google holds particular value in suggesting that they hold the right to penalize domains caught buying and selling. Remove that property by simply devaluing paid links behind the scene, and much of it would stop. No one in their right mind would purchase links for the purpose of ranking if improved ranking doesn't occur.

I would have to agree with you that sometimes the cards seem stacked in terms of websites with paid links.

However, I am a firm believer in unique content. The only problem is unique content awareness requires action on the part of the website owner / marketer. You need to get out to the quality websites, the authorities and show them why your content is "so" good compared to others. Dig deep, and look at old websites that rarely give others links. Be creative.

-Develop widgets, badges, site of the day programs.
-Put in a good word for another company on a less-used related topic on your website in return for the same from them
-Remember that aged, quality and on topic domains that are hard to get links from (take real work) can also be diamonds in the rough for your rankings.

I believe link diversity is the key, depending heavily on the type of website.

Just the other day, after literally 6 months of emailing and chatting with the webmaster of a popular EDU, I got two links back to my website - one from a pr7 page, and one from a pr6 page. Both pages have very few links on them. I doubt many websites will ever get listed there. It was the byproduct of:

- Action on my part - you have to 'get out there'
- Understanding and respecting others and 'asking for what you want'

That is the kind of value you want to achieve through your work that will set your website apart in rankings from 99% of the others in your genre.


 9:21 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

another reason why i think links will be downgraded in the future, is because they are useless when it comes to ranking new sites. they actually act as a block on new sites rising up the rankings. unless new sites start a campaign to attract links (either by emails or money) then they might be suffering for months and months. search engines are encouraging the behaviour that they are trying to stamp out by making it necessary for new sites go in search of links.

it's like a catch-22. how do you get more traffic? by getting more links and rising up the rankings. and how do you get more links? by getting more traffic. the only way of getting around it is to beg for links, plant links yourself or pay for them. it's a dumb system.

if you downgrade the value of links, and increase the amount of user behaviour measuring that you do, then this problem disappears. user behaviour can't be manipulated.

roll on the day that links are downgraded.


 9:59 am on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

If you want to succeed then buying anything is good, be it buying decent links, good content, fast hosting, top notch design, all these things make success.

If you invest you move ahead.


 12:04 pm on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

user behaviour can't be manipulated

...so you think Alexa is an accurate tool. =0

I think search engines should use a mix: links, user behaviour, on page content and human editor's scores.

It is almost like in the real life. Tn #1 lawyer is the most known, makes customers happy solving their troubles and gets good reputation between his colleagues.
Of course, his name and phone number is in a lot of business cards (links) spreaded for years. Any lawyer can too buy ads (paid links) to get this popularity in less time.


 12:44 pm on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

...so you think Alexa is an accurate tool. =0

google's got a lot more data though... they can take it from the search engine, toolbar, chrome, analytics, adsense code


 1:51 pm on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

There's clearly lots of opinions on this matter, because much of it is based on risk tolerance. However the following is relatively factual:
- paid links work. Many top ranking websites employ this method as their primary strategy.
- paid links have been working for years.
- they purpose of the paid links is to manipulate the SERPS, and Google's claim is that they want to stop that.
- to date, google has not stopped it.

From there you can go into speculation mode. Will Google stop this? I dunno - I think it's tough to do. And some people will say that Google actually doesn't care - if good sites use paid links, then what difference does it make to the end user? So Google may not care that much about if the end result is OK.

For site owners, you've got to evaluate the risks of your site getting smacked. How much money can you make in the meantime? (lots) How long until it gets smacked (apparently not anytime soon). Can you limit the risk to your business? (have two sites, one long term 'quality', one short-midterm paid links).

I'm very cautious about paid links, my branded site I build to last forever in the serps and I'm too busy screwing around with other edgy techniques on other sites to get into paid links in any way. But....in terms of this technique getting you burned, I was speaking to someone in my industry a couple of years ago. He told me he was sitting in his 5000 sq. ft. home 'that Google built'. He'd made a killing in a few short years by getting ranked by pushing Google's TOS. He site eventually got banned. His response? He didn't have to work for a few years - he was calling me becuase he hadn't done anything in a while and was considering getting back in the game. But he wasn't in any rush, he was already pretty much set.


 2:12 pm on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

Good content always wins overall but all that rubbish about good content getting your rankings because search engines "knew it intuitively", was for the most part, a) the preserve of blogs seeking to inflate their own following, or b)search engines pr strategy seeking to protect inherent weaknessess in their technology. It was not really based on the actual factors that makes a site rank high. It's a personal view and I'm not slating anyone in particular.

Success online can be defined in terms of two critical components. On the one side you have good content, and on the other you have the SEO/SMM/SEM. When these two components are combined, that's when you get killer success because that is essentially, the winning formula.

Miss either and you get mediocre, or trickle flow.

I've also seen areas of search where it is literally impossible to rank, which leads me to believe that irrespective of what you do, some search queries could require special agreements to obtain results against the keyphrase.



 2:32 pm on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

another reason why i think links will be downgraded in the future, is because they are useless when it comes to ranking new sites. they actually act as a block on new sites rising up the rankings.

Rewarding longevity isn't necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, it tends to discourage the opportunistic get-rich-quick crowd (remember when thin affiliate sites and disposable domains were all the rage?).

In any case, links are just one factor in search-engine ranking algorithm, and it's pretty clear that the leading search engine (Google) gives more weight to some links than it does to others. Links may or may not be "downgraded" over time, but how they're handled and weighted in any given instance is bound to evolve as search engines continue to improve.


 2:55 pm on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

that's true, but on the other hand the internet is supposed to be an instant thing. that is the whole point of it.
...if the greatest widget site in the world came out tomorrow, then they might have to beat down ten sites with more than a million links each to make it to the top, built up over years and years.
if they stuck to the rules and relied on word-of-mouth links then they'd be at it for ages. the internet isn't supposed to be that slow.
weighting user behaviour above links will get them to the top a lot quicker.

and another problem with links... the majority of internet users have no opportunity to place a link on a site anyway. they are just users, not contributers. they just go to a site, use it and leave. their voice is being ignored when you place so much weight on counting links.

which is more successful... a bookshop that sells more and more books every month but attracts few links, or one which gets more and more links but dwindling sales. in the search engines eyes the second one will probably appear the best, which is nonsense. if you weight user behaviour, then the first one wins every time.

links are going the way of the dodo.


 3:57 pm on Oct 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

the internet is supposed to be an instant thing. that is the whole point of it.

The Internet is just a means of transmission. Some things are supposed to be instant or nearly instant (news, tweets, video uploads on YouTube), while others are "evergreen" (academic papers, reference sites, etc.). It's like print: In the print world, you've got newspapers that are fresh every day, but you've also got books like the King James Bible that never change.

IMHO, the people who run the search engines are smart enough to understand differences between various types of content (Twitter tweets, news stories, Wikipedia articles) and in how linking relates to those different types of content. The SEO value of brute-force linking may well decline (as it already has declined, at least with some search engines), but that doesn't mean a search engine shouldn't give more points to a page that has inbound links from, say, an academic library or THE NEW YORK TIMES than one that has inbound links from sites like Ozzie-the-Opportunists-Thin-Affiliate.com.

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