Fools Gold – The Risk of Buying Links

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Get away from the edge, just calm down, back away, there is a better way. Just don’t buy a link, work for them. I am not talking about paid ads, I am talking about the sneaky practice of making a paid link appear to be a naturally occurring link. There is some confusion in the industry concerning the practice, but it is clear to me. If you have paid for another site to link to you, then you better consider it an ad, and the ad better be clearly positioned and marked on the page as an ad, then there is no problem. A fine example are the sponsor sections you see in many blog sites, with graphics of a company name or image, or even the Google Ads down the right side and top of a Google results page, these are obviously ads, we all know a sponsor has paid to be there. But if you have paid another site to place a link on a page, and they are attempting to make it appear to be a natural link to the search engines or site visitors, then it is questionable SEO at best, and it should be avoided.

The reason this practice still goes on is simple… it’s fairly simple, and it still works at driving traffic in the short term, but at what cost? The other day I read post by Jim Boykin which brought to mind another post from back in December by Rand Fishkin. Both were discussing the purchasing link process, Jim’s was about the value of links, and Rand’s about purchasing, and his disagreement with Google’s stance on the practice. Both posts are worth the read.

I personally find it odd that in an industry as beleaguered as SEO for questionable ranking tactics, buying/selling links is still considered viable, and is even endorsed by top SEOs. The very concept flies in the face of what search engines are attempting to provide, and hopefully what most of us desire when we search, organic (without manipulation) search results based on relevance. It is also important to note that Google has more or less condemned the practice in a statement here, and whether you like it or not, they have the resources, technology and will to do something about it. So is it really worth the potential harm? When is comes to link buying, I think it is best to just stay away, avoid the confusion, just get the whole so called “opportunity” out of your mind. If we are so desperate for a site traffic spike, we are willing to pay for links to either keep our business afloat or help it become more profitable more quickly, then perhaps the original business plan wasn’t as well conceived as it should have been in the first place. All traffic is not alike, don’t be fooled.

Back in September I decided my perfect 10, former Miss Utah, wife was going to find “other companionship arrangements” if I didn’t do something about my 5′ 11″ (I am 6’0″ with my big shoes on), 235 mound of round physique. What did I do? I started hitting the weights 3 times a week, doing an hour of cardio every other day, and cut out my daily intake of the cheesy french fries (oh the good ole days). The positive results haven’t been overnight, I knew they wouldn’t be, sometimes it is miserable, but the progress has been good, and I am pleased with the slow, steady improvement. That is what we are looking for in SEO practices, steady improvements over time.

On the contrary, I have a couple of just plain lazy acquaintances, who have chosen to not change their lifestyles, but have instead visited the plastic surgeon to have their fat sucked right out of them, via some sort of lipo-suction procedure. Yuck, we now have overnight weight loss options, with the accompanying potential health hazards. Plus, this “bought” weight loss result, just plain sounds unhealthy and wrong? I see buying links in the same vein, a quick fix, with serious potential risks. Add now Google is out to stop this behavior, which would be like the plastic surgeons just deciding to stop performing the fat sucking process anymore? Not good for those who are depending on the fast results. So the question must be… do we want our sites to be fit for the future, or just short-term suckers?

Another point, talk of buying and selling links inevitably includes discussions concerning the chance the search engines discovering the money for link exchange and punishing the participants. This discussion not only confirms the risk is real, but raises questions on the ethics of those accepting of the practice. It is akin to perhaps deciding to take steroids as a player in the NFL… any comments Mr. Merriman? That lapse in judgement cost Merriman the NFL Defensive Player of the Year honor, 4 games of pay, not to mention his reputation. Was it worth it? With buying links… you may not get caught, you might get lots of traffic, but why would you take the risk with your business? The potential harm to your site is real, even if we don’t fully understand the full extent quite yet.

The point is this… if you want good links to your site, then work for them. Create awesome content, think, post cool blog entries, write with passion, and let the creative juices flow. If you don’t have passion for your site topic, why are you involved in the first place? Money? Okay fine, then find something you are passionate about, and build the site the right way, and the money will come if you have what people want. It won’t be tomorrow perhaps, but this isn’t supposed to be the lottery (which is another thing that makes my blood boil). At PubCon we heard panel members who created unique Widgets as link bait; great idea, great concept, essentially giving the public something to be excited about, and the links and traffic will come NATURALLY. It can be widgets, information, insight, whatever, you create the buzz, you take charge, you give the public what they want, and you will grow. With a bit of ingenuity and dash of brilliance, you might even hit the big one and get a link you hadn’t considered possible.

Case in point… Wouldn’t it be nice to have a link from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.com? TechCrunch is ranked as the 481st most popular website on the web, with some 139,000 subscribers. In fact Rand Fiskin himself ranked Arrington number 2 on his list of the top 10 most influential search marketing experts this week. So in the field of search marketing, TechCrunch would be an excellent link to pick up. Well, my esteemed partner, Michael Jensen, put a little experiment together earlier this week, using MyBlogLog, Opera, and TechCrunch.com he was able to exploit a potential spamming problem within the MyBlogLog system. He ran the test using TechCrunch.com and about 20 other sites, then revealed the experiment results in a post here. The result? Michael Arrington himself wrote about the experiment in his post entitled MyBlogLog Got Spammed (and so did we). Michael Jensen is a person with a real passion for learning, discovering, and sharing things, he values MyBlogLog, and he saw something that caught his eye, so he ran a few tests and logged his findings. His post turned out to be pretty interesting to many, and the traffic, and natural links, have followed throughout the week.

In short, the hocus pocus needs to be out of your SEO strategy; there isn’t an easy way to do it fast and big. Good SEO is something we need to think about, we work at, we improve, then when the higher ranking comes, it is legit. When the SEO industry finally quits attempting to buck the system, the cries of SEOs everywhere to be taken seriously by the mainstream tech world might be heard. Until then SEO will continue to be the target of Diggish disdain.

Ultimately, when SEO finally rids itself of non-natural, banned practices, then search will finally reach its full potential and become a more efficient tool, delivering to visitors the most relevant, best managed sites on a level playing field, no longer manipulated by deep pockets and sleight of hand SEO tactics.

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