An Unjust Fear of Link Buying

So Worried that You Forgot to Compete

While on the link buying panel at WebmasterWorld's Pubcon a few people were pushing that you might need to consider how Google will view your current link buys 5 years down the road, and that they may hurt you then for what you do now. Upon hearing that I said something like "less than 5 years ago I bought spammy links and if I did not I probably wouldn't be speaking here right now". That got a cheer from the crowd. Who wants to be worried about what Google thinks or does 5 years from now? That is no way to innovate or take marketshare from current market leaders.

Reviewing Result Quality

When engineers view your site they don't just look at "if you have a few spammy links" but they try to consider the quality of user experience and the ratio of clean links to dirty links. If your site is good and ranks for years then you are going to get many natural links that dwarf any spammy links that were part of your site launch.

Building a Real Business

If your business model is entirely reliant on Google 5 years from now, your user experience is sub-par, and you haven't built up any brand equity after ranking for 5 years then there was not much effort put into building a legitimate business, and it deserves to fail. But the sites that rank get self reinforcing exposure. If SEO is part of your brand building and site building strategy you simply can not sit around waiting for the rankings to come in.

Inferior Sites Ranking #1

It is easy to lack objectivity when talking of the quality of your site, but in some fields I compete in, many of the top ranked competing sites are ran by people buying a slew of spammy links and pointing them at their (quite obviously) English second language sites. Because they rank, those sites get some number of self reinforcing links. If I did nothing but create great content they would still outrank my site. You have to buy marketshare in one way or another (public relations, AdWords, link buying) if you are trying to gain marketshare and your market is competitive.

Who Buys Links & Uses Push Marketing to Buy Marketshare?

That does not mean that I am an advocate of bad user experience or poor quality content, but if you care about SEO and have a new site in an old market, user experience and content quality are not enough unless you do some push marketing at launch.

  • AOL sent out millions of spammy CDs to market their service.
  • Google pushes their logo onto ads they distribute all over the web, has the largest push ad network on the web, has some of the dirtiest domain traffic partners (many cybersquatters), recommend infidelity, and bundle Google Checkout usage with lower ad prices and free links.
  • Yahoo! has an in house SEO team and a few years ago Yahoo! was one of the leading link buyers.
  • IAC buys a ton of links and aggressively cross links their sites.
  • Microsoft has got in trouble for launching new products by bundling them with their old products and steals traffic by sending traffic to their live search product.
  • owns a ton of thin lead generation sites.
  • eBay pays affiliates to spam Google.
  • One of Google's large ad distribution partners tried setting up a deal with me to rank their ads in Google's search results using aggressive black hat spammy techniques, in which I declined to participate in.

We Don't Write the Algorithms (or Hand Edit Search Results)

As an SEO you simply give the engines what they want. Looking at what they rank and how they market their sites gives you better insights for how to rank than blindly trusting the tips they give you to prevent you from ranking and suggesting you buy their ads. All of the web portals you know and love use push marketing to build their businesses. Why shouldn't you?

Published: December 6, 2007 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


December 6, 2007 - 5:37pm

This is one of the best posts I've read on the Link Buying situation in a while, Aaron. Fine work.

I could go through and list the points I agree with, but that would be one long list.

Most important among them, though, is about avoiding a business model that relies on Google. That is really some shaky ground to build your business on.

People seem to have this reverence/fear for Google that is absolutely irrational. When Matt Cutts asked webmasters to report link brokers I had to laugh - for a SE that touts itself as an adept combatant of spam I had to think to myself, "they're getting desperate here."

Google will do what is in Google's best interest, naturally. If buying links is in my best interest I won't hesitate for one second, regardless of what Mr. Cutts has to say about it.

December 6, 2007 - 5:45pm

Holy crap, Aaron! That's a great way to look at the link-buying climate.

I used to have balls about this topic back in the day, but I've since moved on to content building and community building as a means for increasing market share and branding. Kudos to you for keeping the faith.

I'm still plugged into the major link-buying cartels, even though I've bowed out both as a seller and buyer for the most part, and I couldn't agree more with your stance.

December 6, 2007 - 7:43pm

I agree completely with what you said. But, why is this discussion necessary at all? Because of one old rule that persists to this day. In ancient Rome, there was a wise saying: Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi, which means, what is legitimate for Jupiter, isn't legitimate for oxen. It's the same as in George Orwell's Animal Farm: some animals are more equal than the other ones. If you are "small", who cares - it is the law of the strongest which rules the day. Basically, Google does whatever is good for them, be it ethical or not, or any shade of gray in between. Yet, as a PR stunt, they stomp on the little guy, to show their clients (and the public in general) how respectable they are. Yes, I agree that link buying is a completely legitimate way of promoting new brands, products and communities. If one can buy ad space in a magazine or a daily paper, why not on the Web? Just because there is a juggernaut company pretending to be policing around the Web? This kind of treatment of the little guy will make people turn towards the competition which will be more inclined towards a rational policy, or just non-hypocritical.

December 6, 2007 - 7:46pm

Great post Aaron. I haven't bought any links myself as I am relatively new to SEO, but I'm sure I will and it's good to get some insight into the situation.

December 6, 2007 - 7:58pm

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt and not facts are leading to many sites making link buying decisions. If you lead your business based on speculation and fear, then you will likely not succeed at hitting your goals. Thanks for reminding everyone that you can approach issues like link buying with intelligence, not speculation.

December 7, 2007 - 8:06am


December 7, 2007 - 3:02pm

Great post! Nowadays I wonder what will do Google to discover all the links that people are buying and selling daily in the secret market. maybe they plan to hire millions of people to check the websites manually. :-)

I really think Google wants to clean the search results by taking the spammy sites out... but with the current alg putting a lot weight on links, it is a titanic (maybe impossible) task. So, maybe for that reason they need to generate fear. :-)

December 7, 2007 - 4:58pm

Google only has a problem with paid links because you are not paying them. Your website is your business. Your business relies on traffic, and any meansto get traffic is ok. If buying links is what you need to get eyes on your content then do it.

December 7, 2007 - 6:05pm

This is, by far, an intuitive hands-down approach guide on link buying. I would try and recommend this.

Nicholas Hamilton
December 7, 2007 - 7:54pm

I can understand the negative about really spammy links on unrelated sites. That aside, isn’t google ad words buying links?

If I run a google ad word account and have an ad running on a non google site and it is doing a good job bringing in leads. This is acceptable to google. Now I contact that person directly and say how much to replace your google adword block with just my ad. I am now buying an add (which could easy just be a link with text). Then is this just not buying a link? Now google thinks this is bad? They loose out on there share?

If I want to build my site with not thinking about search engines, then I would be looking at linking buying to bring customers to the site. Now this is considered wrong. So I seem to see it as you have to just use google and they get there cut, or they do not like you.

Sounds a bit like the protection money scam, pay us or bad thing will happen to you.

December 7, 2007 - 8:08pm

Hi Nicholas
It may sound / look / feel that way, and that may be the corporate intent of it, but people working in each section of a company that big may just try to focus on pushing the goal of their job without realizing how it fits into the bigger picture.

The big distinction for Google is if it passes PageRank or not, but I think it is hard for Google to talk about wanting to keep a clean search engine index while pushing for mind polluting education campaigns by pharmaceutical companies.

Putting a bit of spam in the index is nowhere near as bad as getting a person hooked on a pharmaceutical drug they do not need.

December 7, 2007 - 10:08pm

Aaron, it was great seeing you and Gio again; you definitely need to make it out to Scottsdale.

Why Scottsdale?
1. Numerous golf courses
2. World reknowned spas
3. See Cygnus at work in his secret Heretix enclave

Have fun in Europe if I don't see you again before then.

December 8, 2007 - 12:29am

Good seeing you too Cygnus. :)

Igor The Troll
December 8, 2007 - 2:38am

Aaron, is there no natural way to building a Website presense verses LinkBuying?

December 8, 2007 - 6:42am

Hi Igor
What I was saying is that most natural forms of link building occur only after you have an established market presence, and to establish that presence you need to use some form of push marketing.

Igor The Troll
December 8, 2007 - 11:50am

Aaron, I am pushing a big rock up the hill..:)

Actually, I think we both are!

January 3, 2008 - 11:49am

I first wanted to have this sub title for the article:

"Hi, Matt Cutts here, I am not a doctor but I play one on the Internet

January 3, 2008 - 11:58am

Nice nice nice :)

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