SEO Question: When people talk about buying links and how they don't help you, does this mean if I were to buy a link on cnn.com it wouldn't help me. Or are they talking about the pages that have nothing but 1,000+ links?
SEO Answer: Most of the paid links on major news sites that are sold are probably discounted in Google as far as their direct effect on SEO.
Many link buyers buy from multiple sites that are obviously selling links. They further compound their problem by not doing things like mixing anchor text and not also building up a wide variety of link types.
Many link sellers sell many outbound links on the same page in a small block. Others sell links to anyone willing to buy them, perhaps even selling highly off topic.
Most people do not try to stay below the radar when buying links, and those link buys that are not below radar attract other link buyers and link selling activity. The end result is that many of the links will still be devalued.
Much like how you can compare hubs and authorities many paid links might be easy to view as a network.
Keep in mind that I do not think MSN and Yahoo! are as good at detecting paid links as Google is.
If you listen to Matt Cutts talk long enough you might want to avoid doing press releases, syndicating articles, submitting to too many directories, and buying links, but his posts are sometimes more about in an ideal world than in all actuality.
Keep in mind that all major large scale search engines sell links. Google proudly sells off topic links, links on WAREZ sites and links on sites they banned for being spam. On top of selling links in the Yahoo! Directory, for a great deal of time Yahoo!'s Yahoo! Shopping channel looked like it was one of the largest link buyers as well. You have to take their opinions and statements with a grain of salt.
Many smart link buys and marketing efforts drive direct traffic and have a viral effect to them as well, so you have to consider that something that may not provide much SEO value may still provide good value from direct traffic or social connections they create. Some of my press releases, articles, and ad buys have helped lead to further organic natural coverage. I also have recieved free secondary marketing worth thousands of dollars based on aggressive or creative ad buying techniques.
Those editorial links that may be created are hard for competing sites to reproduce, and help augment the value created in an ad spend.
One of my theories is that people are going to talk about someone or something. To the extent within my abilities I may as well make that someone be me. Exposure leads to more exposure. Keep in mind if you are doing things like buying hidden links on the Financial Times someone is going to find it.
Some link buys may also be great at hiding why you are ranking. If you are already ranking great and profitable in huge markets like online flowers, mortgages, or insurance those markets may provide enough profit margin that it may be worth buying links that you know will be discounted just to cloud up your backlink profile to make it harder for competitors to do competitive research. The Internet.com partner network does a great job of making competitive research hard.
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