Purchase Links… Is it Moral or Ethical? Is it Legal?

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JusticeI was led to a post by Jordan McCollum on Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim today. It was there I read, to my horror, that V7, Inc, a hosting company (voted best hosting company in 2003, which is interesting) is now going to sell contextual links (links contained in the text of a web page), which they claim will be undetectable by Google. Based on the blog post and the resulting comments, I think a very important the point is being completely overlooked. There is a good discussion of whether buying links is ethical or moral, and whether we should care what Google suggests we do and don’t put on our sites so they will rank well. But the discussion must go a bit deeper than this. I personally believe buying links is illegal, which then makes the ethical and moral discussions moot. Especially in the moment the FTC gives you a call and asks if they can come over for a short visit tomorrow.

In a comment reply I made to my post entitled Fools Gold – The Risk of Buying Links I wrote the following:

“Ads (can be a link, copy or graphic) are bought for placement on another web page, with the intention of using the host site to drive traffic back to your site. Hopefully these ads are clearly marked as paid for by a sponsor, or clearly identifiable as an ad to the consumer. If a link is paid for, and is not clearly marked, and obviously an ad, it is deceptive behavior at best. But I also believe it is illegal, not to mention frowned upon by Google. Let me refer to the Federal Trade Commission’s Truth In Advertising Policy. The FTC clearly states that “an ad is deceptive if it contains a statement – OR OMITS INFORMATION – that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and is “material” – that is important to a consumer’s decision to buy or use the product.”

And if you paid for it, no matter the format, it is an ad. The reply continues:

“The point is clear, if you are attempting to pass a link off as organic, to drive traffic from a trusted site, it is deceptive. Also, it could be argued that the site hosting the bought link has used their influence or reputation to assist in the effort. I would suggest this site’s influence is material in a consumer’s decision to visit and perhaps buy from the referred site, and the truth-in-adversiting guidelines have been broken.

Some might disagree, and may consider link buying/selling a “gray area,” open for interpretation, but in my experience mucking around in gray areas leads to red numbers in your buisness’ bottom-line eventually.”

So the question on whether buying links is ethical, or moral is a good one, however the answer might simply be, it is legal?

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