Buying Links vs Buying Rankings vs Stealing Content vs Selling Scams

SEOmoz Recommends Black Hat SEO Techniques

Remember back when Rand was saying that he thought it was a good idea for SEOs to police the action of other SEOs?

"Outing manipulative practices (or ANY practices for that matter) that put a page at the top of the rankings is part of our job"

It looks like he finally gave up on that bogus (anti-SEO) mindset, as SEOmoz just recommended buying and 301 redirecting expired domains for their links to boost your Google rankings.

They certainly can't justify blogging about cleaning up manipulative spam anymore if they are going to offer that up as a friendly SEO tip.

Google considers redirecting expired domains for links to be a black hat SEO practice. Danny Sullivan recently quoted Matt Cutts on buying domain names:

"The sort of stuff our systems would be designed to detect would be things like someone trying to buy expired domains or buying domains just for links." - Matt Cutts

What Matt reveals is how Google would work in an ideal world, however some domains slip through. If Google ever finds them then they may ignore it or they may burn everything to the ground based on some small percentage of the site's link profile relying on expired links. Matt Cutts got started building the webspam team at Google when he found an expired domain (with a link from the W3C) that was converted to a porn website.

Screw Buying Links, Buy Rankings

If Matt Cutts claims that he does not like the buying of sites for links, what about buying sites for their rankings? (Isn't that what the links are for?) Could buying rankings possibly be any better? Bankrate's CEO admited to buying for Google rankings in the media (and in a press release published at )

"As an affiliate of Nationwide Card Services, which we acquired this past December, we have worked with CreditCardGuide and have been able to watch their growth and momentum firsthand," stated Thomas R. Evans, President and CEO of Bankrate. "CCG has done a great job of developing its organic traffic and ranks highly in a number of important credit card search terms. Adding more direct, high-quality traffic to our credit card business will grow our revenue and improve the margins in this important category," Mr. Evans added.

If I issued a press release about buying a site for its strong links or strong rankings the Google engineering team would probably burn it to the ground on principal. It would not last a day. But it is ok if BankRate does it.

Many Businesses Are Built Off Search

Lots of sites are bought for their links. Business models are built off of extending out a shell of a site with links. Look at the (low) quality of content published on sites like eHow. Would such incentivized user generated content like that have any chance at ranking if it were not built on an old trusted domain purchased for the project?

If Google wants to corrupt many new links with nofollow and put excessive weight on old websites then people will buy old sites. It is simply a game of economics. Every algorithm move causes an obvious reaction. There is already a market in selling Facebook profiles. What is so bad about buying and selling domain names and websites?

Search Engines Aid Illegal Businesses

Content is bought and sold. And sometimes it is stolen

If Google was concerned with what was "fair" they wouldn't wrap nearly 70% of the stolen content on the web in their ads. Google knows about that stat, but since it makes them money they look the other way.

It is no secret that Google is being called the next pirate bay. And with good reason, for anyone selling content online. If you sell desirable content, Google will recommend the torrent, a practice which likely makes them liable for contributory infringement and/or vicarious infringement.

Have cash and want some editorial links? There is probably a good court case to be had suing Google for that infringement.

It hurts the mainstream media's credibility when they steal a bit of content, but most of those millions of pages of stolen content wrapped in AdSense have no brand or legitimate business to protect.

Just like the scammers offering "free" government grants (complete with reverse billing fraud) through AdWords. Google's public relations team lied to ClickZ and the FTC when they said they cleaned up those grant ads over a month ago, as those scam ads are still running.

Google's Lack of Morals

Which is worse

  • buying a link or site that may have a commercial offer on it
  • claiming to be the moral police of the web, while knowingly selling ads to advertisers that are defrauding consumers, and lying about cleaning it up once questioned by authorities?

Google added a feature to search for similar images and has a claim your content feature for video, but what is taking Google so long to create a similar system for textual content? It won't appear until they get enough blowback that it makes financial sense for it to appear.

Search is Not About Relevancy (or User Experience)

If search engines were concerned with user experience they wouldn't sell ads to scammers (and lie about cleaning it up).

If search was about relevancy go compare would at least rank for their brand name. But they don't. And so would John Chow and Text Link Ads. But they do not.

Search is not about relevancy or the user. It is about ensuring profits and maintaining the perception of control. It's simple as that, really.

Published: April 23, 2009 by Aaron Wall in marketing


April 24, 2009 - 1:58am

Solid post, and not just because you gave me the public, reputable reference I needed to bring a radical (somewhat black hat...whatever that means) tactic to one of my bigger clients ; )

April 24, 2009 - 4:22am

You had me until the "claiming to be the moral police of the web" part. That being said your point is well taken. Google would do well to police their adwords buyers, adsense pubs and unscrupulous sites (like RoR) with the same gusto that they attack link buyers/sellers/builders etc.

April 24, 2009 - 8:23am

Come on Aaron, this is linkbait at its worst.


Did you read the article in question? It started:

"Lately I've noticed a lot of questions in Q&A centering on purchasing expired domains. A lot of our members have expressed interest in buying old domains for a variety of prices (some are cheap, some are going for upwards of $50k) and want some advice on what to do with the domains once they've been purchased."

- That's not recommending it whatsoever - that's answering questions aimed at it, and they broke down the various options of what to do with the new domain afterward.

Weak Aaron. Weak.

April 24, 2009 - 1:32pm

There was no warning saying "hey we don't recommend this as it violates Google's guidelines" what they wrote was

I generally recommend one of three different options for an expired domain

did you even read their post bazzlad. Talk about being lame, thumbs down for you. You might do well to learn to read something before disagreeing with A DIRECT QUOTE from their post.

And 301 redirecting an expired domain into your main site for SEO purposes ***is*** considered black hat search spam by Google.

So, actually, yes, they were recommending spamming.

April 24, 2009 - 1:50pm

Whoa, talk about a harsh reaction - did I touch a nerve?

What they've written Aaron is what they recommend for people who HAVE an expired domain. They didn't say - "we recommend you buy expired domains." They've given recommendations to people who have BOUGHT said domains:

A lot of our members have expressed interest in buying old domains for a variety of prices (some are cheap, some are going for upwards of $50k) and want some advice on what to do with the domains once they've been purchased.

They do not recommend buying expired domains, just what you can do with one should you have one.

With your logic, if my Doctor recommended me three different treatments for curing Genital Warts, he would be recommending me getting genital warts, no?

- Don't take this as personal Aaron, I'm not an SEOMoz fanboy, nor am I a "hater", I'm just pointing out what seems to be a huge flaw in your argument.

April 24, 2009 - 2:06pm

To give you a general analogy, if you write a blog post about "the best way to use cocaine (when you already have the drugs in your pocket)" then you are writing a blog post that is advocating drug use.

If my argument sounds flawed it is only because you may not know all the background information.

  • There was no disclaimer saying that they generally do not recommend buying these domains for SEO purposes
  • There was no warning about risk level or Google not liking the practice (other than the edit that appeared after I wrote this post which said that the practice may not work)
  • That disclaimer said "buying a domain and redirecting to your site for the link benefit may not work since the links may not pass credit from expired domains" ... it did not say "and Google might burn your clean site to the ground along with the expired domain if they catch it" ... a key point worth considering when handing out tips to the public.
  • that last point is particularly important to consider, since this same company writes "I could go on about Linkscape for ages, and I probably will in future blog posts, pointing out all the shady links we've uncovered"
April 24, 2009 - 10:09pm

There is one thing that this situation shows: the level of lack of information and responsibility in some circles that profess to be pros. Unfortunately this is not the first time we read something that can hinder SEO efforts by providing public tips without really understanding all angles and measuring the repercussion of such information. Strategies like redirecting an old (squatted) domain to an existing domain have been known by SEO pros for a long time, but carefully implemented because of the intrinsic danger. However, the average online user perhaps does not know the implications and the potential penalization this can create. There are several examples, perhaps the most recent was

If there is one thing the mozzers should be thankful for is that their flaws are pointed out in the open, so that they can work on changing this lately unfavorable trend that is hindering their reputation. Take this comment as a constructive criticism too, because many of us would love to see the good old SEOMoz back.

April 24, 2009 - 10:39am

I can't see why there should be a problem with buying an existing site (at least in part) due to it's ranking. Isn't this similar to buying a bricks and mortar shop because of the footfall and number of potential customers that come through the door.

I can see how redirecting a purchased site/domain to an irrelevant site (educational site forwarding to porn, etc.) would be out of line. But maybe there should just be a relevance check on the forward. If links point to a domain that has recently been given a 301 - are those links still relevant to the domain you reach after the redirect.

Eric Shannon
April 24, 2009 - 12:38pm

Google makes loads of money on the backs of job seekers who are fooled by scams right at the top of adwords results. at a time like this with so much pain and suffering going around already, that's a scandal.

but, without those scams and without ads from job boards that charge jobseekers (for access to listings that are widely available for free), Google would probably be left with 15 or 20% of their current revenue stream on jobs.

-- Eric

Jane Copland
April 24, 2009 - 1:36pm


This could have been a good post about the pitfalls of Google's moral logic--and it really still it--but there was no need to start with a snipe at SEOmoz. Your subtitle for the entire post is a jab at the company, a move blatantly designed to attract attention, links and tweets. The post has nothing to do with SEOmoz or Rebecca's article. You didn't need to do that in order to write this, and I have to agree that it's a weak tactic.

April 24, 2009 - 1:50pm

If you look at traffic stats from sites like or the number of Tweet mentions this site gets I clearly don't need links or Tweets. And I suspect that if I would have left out the SEOmoz mention that the post would have actually got more Tweets and you are wrong on presuming intent there. I am a bit more aware of marketing than you give me credit for.

My goals with this post were:

  • to show the absurdity & hypocrisy of Google's position
  • to rid the SEO industry of recommending public snitching

I don't think it is particularly bad to recommend black hat SEO techniques...that was part of the point of the post...anyone credibly in the SEO field should be pushing the boundaries at some point (see my recent Bob Dylan post). After all, what is most black hat SEO? High profit strategies that are so profitable that Google pushes to try to regulate them to reduce the potential profit.

My point was to try to make snitching look more self-serving and less cool, in a hope that it goes away. And I think it was effective. Only time will tell though. :)

April 24, 2009 - 3:19pm

I find it fascinating that fans of SEOmoz have come over here to personally defend the brand.

Speaks to the power of building a strong and loyal community (many would come to Aaron's defense in a heartbeat if someone ripped him elsewhere)

No amount of paid links, shady coding, 301-redirected domains, etc...can measure up to that particular marketing tactic.

April 24, 2009 - 1:50pm

After some 8 years of using AdSense, I've decided to quit. A recent article I read said it best - when you go through so much trouble to gain respect from your readers, why on earth would you place ads that take them to shifty websites, scams and other pages that tarnish your own reputation? Besides, when you've been working a website for nearly a decade and have attained a good enough rank, it's laughable to be making less than lunch money every day on the ads that have prime real estate on your site (especially if the ads suck).

April 24, 2009 - 8:51pm

SEOmoz and SEO Book are all guilty because they are trying to be profitable. Utopian decisions aren't made when the bottomline is at stake. Google is worried about it's quality as much as it will improve their profits for the stock holders, that is all it really is about. Stockholders demand to see quarterly increases and a company is dead when it stops performing.

April 25, 2009 - 10:23pm

I made the above post knowing it would likely have a negative impact on my bottom line for this site. What would that make me guilty of?

April 25, 2009 - 3:26pm

calm down guys

April 26, 2009 - 6:59am

I don't think this was an attack on SEOMoz at all. It very clearly discussed a post on SEOMoz that gave specific advice, and Aaron cited previous public statements by Rand Fishkin, the CEO of SEOMoz.

I do think that seomoz often defends itself by claiming others are "attacking" them. They have done that to me as well. That sort of reactionary defense can work well with an ignorant, passionate audience, but others see thru it for what it is.

I'd prefer people be allowed to speak honestly, provided they are factually accurate and fair in their criticisms (as Aaron appears to be here). If we jump on everyone who is critical, claiming an "attack!" defense or suggesting it's a "personal" vendetta or whatever, we stifle free speech and that sucks for everyone.

April 26, 2009 - 8:01am

those who present themselves as moral police of the industry and snitch in the process should be held up to higher standards and called out if they engage in practices that they themselves are preaching on.

Good job for calling them out Aaron

Eric Shannon
April 27, 2009 - 8:28pm

hi aaron, i just did an update on Google adwords spam in 'jobs' category-

I think you may appreciate this.


April 27, 2009 - 10:09pm

that's pretty sad Eric.

April 28, 2009 - 4:54pm

All SEOMoz controversy aside, Aaron's core message here is simple: "The Emperor has no clothes."

We all know this issue is sticky. Call it 'ethics in advertising', 'end-user protection', 'Internet morality', whatever you want, it is NOT a simple issue. There are no clear definitions. There is a ton of miss-information. And most importantly, there are all sorts of competing forces here - including profit motives on all sides...

Regardless of where you fall on the issues discussed here, you have to give Aaron some props for having the guts to say publicly that "The Emperor has no clothes."

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