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Paid links - where's the risk again?

     

wheel

1:14 pm on Apr 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



I woke up this morning thinking about how I'm going to promote a couple of my secondary sites. And I got to thinking about all the effort I put into hand building white hat, quality links. Sure it works.

But so do paid links. And I'm seriously starting to question how big the risk is. More to the point, I'm starting to think that the risk is minimal.

- paid links have been around for years.
- they're easy to get
- they work. people rank just on bought links, and on very competitive terms.
- except in a very few cases, Google isn't doing anything obvious to stop them. (which would be the risk).
- Google hasn't been doing anything obvious to stop them in years.
- The serps are filthy with people ranking over the long term using paid links.
- the serps are still fine. Nobody's complaining Google's serps are full of spam or junk. In fact, there's probably less complaints than there were before paid links became commonplace.

In short, the risk is having your site penalized or booted out. But that's not happening -and hasn't happened in the long term. I was concerned about risk over the first year or two, but year after year after year people continue to rank without problem using paid links.

So remind me again, what's the risk? Why am I not doing paid links as a primary strategy?

Rugles

6:49 pm on Apr 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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At some point it's an idle threat.


Not an idle threat when you get caught. I have a site that was hit with a -50 after purchasing 2 links about 18 months ago. These links were purchased through a broker who assured us many times that nobody will find out. Guess what, 3 months later the site was hit with a -50 penalty. After the paid links were removed the rankings came right back in a few weeks.

So its not an urban myth or a hollow threat to this webmaster, Mr. Wheel.

physics

7:50 pm on Apr 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I'm going to have to quote the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition on this one

#62 The riskier the road, the greater the profit.

JamesRock

1:24 am on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I don't see how it is any different from any other form of advertising.

I've done it with plenty of success and never seen penalties. Screw Google.

leadegroot

1:49 am on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Isn't that what the nofollow attribute is for?

I'm probably off on a slightly different tangent to what this thread is really about.
I'm not so much talking about 'paying for the link' as I am paying them for the time and trouble to put the link there. It takes time and effort to make a change to a website - not much for me, but quite a deal for some of the people I request links from.
How often have you asked for the link, and they kindly place it - but they are amateurs, and they get it wrong. Half the time I just leave it (thinking 'diversity', and 'too hard to explain') but sometimes I politely ask them if they could do it slightly differently. Its a big drain on them, as they slowly figure out how to make a change on their site.

Look at it this way:
In Australia, most companies that deal in personal information must have a published privacy policy. Part of the official line is that 'a reasonable charge may apply to gain access to information'
ie, if you ask them to do something they are entitled to compensation.
(I am in no way claiming Google is bound by this, its an analogy on a similar situation where you ask a company to do something)
I ask another business person to go out of their way for me. Its a perfect link and there's no reason for them not to do it. But they are busy. I've stopped them doing profitable activities. And, yet, by Google rules if they were to take a reasonable fee for the work involved in creating the link, they should nofollow that link - when they were only trying to cover their time.
It just doesn't seem right.

Sgt_Kickaxe

2:58 am on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member sgt_kickaxe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



Post your website topic here and buy as many as you like, that way others can fill the hole left by your site when it goes *poof*.

CainIV

5:34 am on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

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The biggest issue is that smaller businesses are not treated the same as the big boys when paid links are detected en masse.

tangor

5:38 am on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I've never paid for a link. I don't do quid pro quo (ie. link exchange). I add links if there's value to my visitors (and my site) and respect those who link to my site for the same reason. These natural links, IMO, have greater value than over the long term anything which can be bought.

wheel

11:34 am on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



o Post your website topic here and buy as many as you like, that way others can fill the hole left by your site when it goes *poof*.

And my point is, that's an idle threat. Look around. How many sites go poof for this vs. how many sites rank just fine through the years doing this? Not many going poof, droves of them ranking.

Edge

12:25 pm on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

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The biggest issue is that smaller businesses are not treated the same as the big boys when paid links are detected en masse.


Can you provide an example?

iNET_SEO

2:16 pm on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

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There is a risk when buying links but there is a trick to it and pretty much, just leave as little of a paper trail as possible (if you must to it). The worry occurs if you are buying links on a site that is known to sell them to Google - and Google is good at finding these!

trillianjedi

2:57 pm on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member trillianjedi is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



I have a site that was hit with a -50 after purchasing 2 links about 18 months ago. These links were purchased through a broker who assured us many times that nobody will find out. Guess what, 3 months later the site was hit with a -50 penalty. After the paid links were removed the rankings came right back in a few weeks.


I've seen that happen too (with 95% certainty, eg as much as you can ever have, that this was the direct cause).

Which makes it a great way to nuke your competitors of course.

Any algorithm Google employs will look for a sensible balance between natural and paid links. If you keep it reasonable, you'll probably fall into the category of "is advertising".

Very very hard to police, which is why despite all the PhD's that Google have, they still haven't quite managed to get it quite right yet.

Keep it below the radar.

Shaddows

4:59 pm on Apr 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Link saboutage became a big weapon about 12-18 months ago (form memory). It was a hot topic over on the Google section for a while. I imagine that for every member that posted about how dangerous it could be, several lurkers thought "why not?".

Google simply couldn't go penalising paid links like they used to. Possibly they have something sophisticated coming, but I doubt it.

As a rule of thumb, if you're big enough for a third party to spend money on bringing you down, you become immune to penalisation. If you're too small to bother with, Google assumes YOU bought the link, and *poof*

Link devaluation and SemanticRank [my name to convey point] play a bigger role in policing the link market, along with reducing or hiding the TBPR of suspected sellers.

MrHard

12:31 am on Apr 16, 2010 (gmt 0)



Penalty should be coming sooner or later. When it does there's not time to get rid of the paid links, it will be too late.

graeme_p

11:10 am on Apr 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I've never paid for a link. I don't do quid pro quo (ie. link exchange). I add links if there's value to my visitors (and my site) and respect those who link to my site for the same reason. These natural links, IMO, have greater value than over the long term anything which can be bought.

I want to agree that thats the best way, and its what I have always done. That said, I have hit a brick wall in moving my main site any further up against its two biggest competitors, so alternatives are tempting.

That said, my plans so far still do not include paid links, just better link building in other ways, and building some new sites.

HenryUK

4:13 pm on Apr 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I went for a job interview once with a large online retailer - no real brand, selling mostly "everyday" items. Between accepting the interview and turning up at their office I dug up a huge, complex network of interlinking sites and massive quantities of paid links.

I knew with my white-hat history that the job wasn't for me, but I went along out of curiosity. (Part of their reason for advertising the position was to move from "black" to "grey", but I wasn't the person to take them on that journey.)

I asked them about the paid links and they were up front about it. They said it was the only way that they, as a low-visibility, online-only retailer of largely non-sexy items, could compete.

They had very good success with it - outranking famous manufacturers and well-known online stores on some very competitive and valuable terms.

I asked if they didn't feel that they were standing over a trapdoor all the time, with a reliance on traffic from Google based on tactics expressly forbidden by Google.

Their answer was twofold: first, they felt that Google would only ever penalise link-sellers, because of the potential for link sabotage; second, they paid their SEO agency a very good commission on a results-only basis - ie they had a portfolio of terms and they would only pay when they were #3 or above.

They had been doing this for years and as far as I can see are still doing it. I wouldn't expect a crackdown any time soon.

One last irony - objectively speaking, their pages were probably pretty good results for users, but they couldn't get position without black-hat methods.

[no axe to grind, just sharing!]

jkwilson78

7:00 pm on Apr 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Just so I am clear:

The fear of paid links is rooted in the belief that Google will develop a detection algorithm that will be able to detect topic relevant links useful to visitors purchased through a site that doesn't use a link broker or other automated placement means that will leave a footprint? And they will be able to do this with consistent accuracy across all markets and niches?

Riiggghhht.....that will be out any day now :-)

The more likely scenario is that Google can only detect the most blatant and obvious link buys with any kind of accuracy and as a result constantly spew hell fire and brimstone to scare people into not buying links (which from this thread seems to be working.)

I mean they don't seem to be too worried about good old fashioned cloaking because that are probably pretty good a detecting a lot of it. (at least the kind of cloaking all but the most advanced cloaker would use)

If Google can effectively automate a process you rarely hear them talk about it. Seems a lot of the stuff they constantly mention and try to scare people with is probably the stuff they aren't so good at.

physics

9:31 pm on Apr 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I bet if you dig up a thread on this from five years ago it would look almost identical.

MikeNoLastName

3:59 am on Apr 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Sooo, if I "buy" a membership in my local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce for (what is it these days a couple $hundred a year) and as a condition of this membership I get a link from their membership list website to my company website, do you think G considers that a paid link?
If so we had better all run and report them all right now (along with most trade organizations and other clubs). If not then if you want to sell links on your site, just sell memberships to your domain club and give all the club members a FREE link.
Yeah, I think I know G's upcoming big plan to detect selling links.... it's really a logical next step for them. An Adwords-like, commission-driven link brokering system. Only those links between sites brokered by them will be considered 'unpaid'.

bouncybunny

9:42 am on Apr 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I still find the whole thing very confusing.

If a site sells banner advertising on their site by the month, and not by impressions or click through (so no need for JS links and so on), is that the same as selling links? There must be millions of web sites, that have never heard of Google's policy on this, who run advertising on their sites for relevant products and services. Most probably link to the advertiser using ordinary HTML and don't even think about it. Are they going to get penalised? Are the advertisers going to get penalised?

Have Google specified somewhere that advertising on a site must not contain spiderable links, or must use the no_follow attribute?

I came across a site recently that had a paragraph of off-topic text with a link randomly inserted in the body of some article. It seemed very spammy. But do Google treat this differently? And if so, how to they spot it?

Whitey

7:43 am on Apr 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I bet if you dig up a thread on this from five years ago it would look almost identical.


But likely greater awareness from FUD

bears5122

6:25 am on Apr 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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If you make your paid links look somewhat natural, I don't see how they can ban you. There are simply too many sites blatantly doing it that see no repurcussions.

I still see most of this as FUD. Their guidelines don't seem to work. First off, how can I demand another site to link to me in a certain way? Beyond the fact that it's rude to e-mail someone who gave you a link and demand they do it a certain way, you just can't always keep up on who is linking to you. It also opens the door to competitors doing this and getting your sites banned.

A real life example would be <snip>. They sponsor <sip>. Now I'm sure they could care less about the link they are receiving from them and whether it's a nofollow or not. They aren't doing this for SEO reason but instead spreading their company brand by sponsoring an event. But according to Google's guidelines, <snip> would be in violation and could be banned.

Even small or medium sized businesses run into this issue. My business has sponsored a charity event. We didn't expect any link or promotion, just knew the people behind it and offered up a donation as a favor. But they put up a link thanking those who helped and just so happen to link to us. Technically that's a paid link, but I'm not going to e-mail them and demand that they change that to a nofollow.

I guess what I'd say is that they won't penalize paid links because they can't. It would kill too many good sites that are doing nothing wrong. I still think they will target blatant attempts at it when they find it. But as long as you aren't going overboard, there is no harm in buying a link here and there to throw into the mix.

[edited by: martinibuster at 12:43 am (utc) on Apr 22, 2010]
[edit reason] No real life examples, please. See TOS. [/edit]

internetheaven

8:33 am on Apr 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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And I got to thinking about all the effort I put into hand building white hat, quality links.


Ah, welcome brother wheel! I had the same theological dilemma regarding our great God Google's ten commandments last year.

It costs so much more and takes so much more time to do what Google suggests ... and then they don't reward you for it. Time after time it is standard SEO that wins out. Controlled backlinks from controlled sources with controlled anchor text.

If Google have no intention of rewarding sites that play by the rules then they have no right to dictate such rules.

Maybe Google's review team are not like God ... more like Santa ...

FlSem

3:12 pm on Apr 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I say buy them. Risk? Sure. However, if your site is not adaptable, then you will never last anyway.

Consider the time it takes to build a site naturally. Add a few natural elements, than buy some under the radar links and watch your ranking improve in a couple weeks. If you get burned, change up the domain, then start over. The revenue you will gain in the time you are ahead in the rankings will outweigh the down time spent trying to regain position.

Grey hat is the way to go. Revenue trumps reputation with Google. I have wrote in about some link buying from my competitors almost a year ago, and guess what they are still there. Google does not care that much. Plus, I take it as a personal challenge to outsmart the big G's algo.

YouDontKnowMe

12:30 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I think selling links is riskier than buying links. I'm not sure which you are referring to.

Think about it, if buying links would penalize you, that means your competitor could just link to you from his own link farm and then you would get penalized/dropped? Doesn't really make sense.

micklearn

6:34 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member



Wheel, are you talking about buying links from popular, yet completely unrelated sites/pages?

I don't think that all paid links can be traced -- but, sometimes I wonder if the people sending me requests to buy links on my site have been instructed to do so by *someone*... Maybe something like, "Let's tempt them...and see what they do...if they're willing to sell links, they're probably inclined to buy links, as well"..."If they sell you a link, let's kill the site's rankings."

I don't buy or sell links because I can't really know who I am really dealing with via email/phone/snail mail when I'm contacted. I decline either way (buy/sell). This comes from my understanding that employees of *some* companies are allowed to own their own websites, and monetize them for purposes unknown. Therefore, I steer clear of all paid link requests. </tinfoil hat>. And buying any organic rankings just doesn't sit well with me.

I do find satisfaction in the link request methods that you mentioned in another thread here, which I have done for years. Just be honest, share your thoughts about why your site might deserve a link. If it's worthwhile content, you'll receive a worthwhile link most of the time, as I'm sure you already know.

But, it does seem like link buying/selling might be the achilles heel of search engines going forward, if a large part of the ranking algorithms are based on links.

tangor

6:52 am on Apr 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

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if a large part of the ranking algorithms are based on links.

Still a factor, but not nearly as large as it once was. Too many threads here that explore opinions and results as to how the G algo is working. Me? I don't pay for links, and I certainly do not accept pay to be linked to... that's a red flag!

YouDontKnowMe

2:59 pm on May 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I'm pretty sure Google mostly penalizes the sites selling the links, not the buyers. Because if Google penalizes buyers then this could happen.

Suppose, that I am sitting in position #2 for a keyword. I want to get #1. So instead of building up my own backlinks to beat the current #1, I just go buy a link for his site, and then report to Google that he is buying links to stay #1. Then Google bans him and I become #1?

That wouldn't make any sense. So think about what would happen if Google starts banning sites for buying links. I think they mostly ban the sellers, because the sellers have full control over their own pages.

wheel

7:53 pm on May 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



They don't neccessarily 'ban' sites. But they can penalize a site for buying links. Google's publicly stated, to paraphrase, 'it can be done, but it's difficult'.

MadeWillis

4:52 pm on May 3, 2010 (gmt 0)

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They don't neccessarily 'ban' sites


I agree. I believe Google is using the reports to find a better ways to detect the link buying and just discounting any link juice passed along. Not really a penalty, but once the juice is gone so are the rankings.

However, I've seen it happen both ways, penalties and discounting of links.

neildt

8:44 pm on May 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member



I've seen many websites where by the links are NOT paid - but reciprocal. On those pages where the links are outbound, google has removed the PR. The page is still being indexed by google on a weekly basis.

Should we continue to do link building in this manner ?

Also, on other "similar" websites, google has not removed the PR. What is happening ?
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