Are Paid Links a Necessary Search Engine Optimization Evil?

This is a guest post written by David Brown.

What do nearly all high ranking websites have in common? As a search engine marketing consultant, I am confronted with the task of evaluating the inbound links of thousands of websites each month. In doing so, I have come to the realization that top ranking websites continue to pay for links despite Google’s public disapproval. Google’s minimalistic efforts to combat paid link building force ethical search engine marketing companies to buy links in order to compete. If done poorly, paid linkers run the risk of having short-lived benefits and potentially harmful consequences. The following tips will help you identify paid links that have positive and long-lasting results on search engine optimization efforts.

If a website requiring payment for a link is less of a directory, and more of an informational resource, Google is unlikely to detect and/or punish website owners for purchasing links from them. Furthermore, it is important that the sale of links be done discretely. A website that does not include a rate sheet for purchasing links is very unlikely to be detected by Google. It takes too much time for Google’s quality control team to pose as website owners and obtain incriminating information. Lastly, I advise against paying for links in directories that offer to submit your link to other directories. These services are Google’s primary targets.

Say I want to be number one for the phrase, “Portland Search Engine Marketing.” I would type this phrase into Google and begin looking for websites that I can get links from. One of the top results is a .org website for a Portland search engine marketing association. If I become a corporate sponsor I can get a link to my blog placed on the right side navigation of this relevant, nonprofit website. It is highly unlikely that Google will ever combat this form of paid linking because membership in a professional organization is a sign of credibility and you are paying for membership rather than a link.

Scrolling down to the bottom of the search results for, “Portland Search Engine Marketing,” I noticed the freelance designer directory. This directory is pretty blatant about selling links, yet Google does nothing about it. Some indicators that this is one of the safer directories are that a free, nonreciprocal option is available, there is an abundance of relevant text, it ranks on the first page for competitive key phrases and Google approved them for AdSense. Getting credit from this site may be short-lived because they are breaking Google’s rules by charging for links and not using the “nofollow” element. However, it is unlikely that websites with links from this directory will get punished because Google will also be punishing those who opted for a free listing.

Since implementing efforts to combat paid linking, Google has done a lousy job of making paid links obsolete. At the current rate, Google will be able to detect intelligent link buying in approximately… never. I consider myself to be an ethical search engine marketing consultant because Google’s unenforceable rules are less important than my ethical obligation to generate leads for my clients. Whether or not their opinions are publicly stated, I can say with confidence that nearly all reputable search marketing companies take part in paid link building. If you don’t believe me, analyze their inbound links.

David Brown is a search engine marketing consultant with Westhill Media.

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