In the scalable world of white to grey to black hat SEO, buying links is generally thought of as a manipulative practice, up there with cloaking and keyword stuffing. However, when asking people for a clear definition of “buying links”, you’ll often come across a multitude of answers ranging from the rigid to the ridiculous.
Some clarity on “buying links”
To begin with a seemingly obvious example, paying for a “no follow” link from a valuable, niche directory is clearly link-buying – however does having the “no follow” tag on this make it an acceptable practice? Also, if the link is for the purpose of bringing your site traffic and brand recognition rather than improving rankings isn’t this a positive action? Similarly, are annual subscriptions for article websites that post a resource box “paying for links” or is this simply an effective way for promoting quality content? The concept of link buying itself seems a broad one and defining the parameters open to individual interpretation.
Undeniably, this tactic still works. Why? There are still no clear boundaries as to what officially counts as link-buying. The practice is seen as manipulative, however arguably anyone working in SEO is guilty of manipulation to a degree. As soon as you link-build or optimise content and web pages for a specific key phrase you are effectively manipulating the search engine algorithms.
Policing the practice
There are teams of dedicated link-builders out there – how would they know what is allowed and what is not? Parameters and rules would need to be clearly defined to correctly identify those in breach of them. On another note – who would be held accountable? The SEO that bought the links, the company selling them or the website owner who could have been completely ignorant of the fact that links were bring bought. Appropriate penalties would also need to be thought of and scaled to the severity of the impact the purchased links had.
Link-buying still works because policing it effectively and defining parameters at the moment is not possible or effective.
Traceability and best business tactics
For those bigger companies with a widely recognisable brand such that gain thousands of links per month naturally, are 200 paid links really going to be noticed amongst all the others? Tracing the bought links amongst the natural would be a difficult task. Even if the search engines had a fool-proof way of determining which links were paid, how would they trace who had purchased the link?
The business world is ruthless and the bigger brands are unlikely to be deterred by a minor moral dilemma. If it’s more cost-effective to buy links for competitor’s sites, reducing the competitor’s ranking in order to improve their own, what’s to stop companies buying links for this purpose? If sites that have paid links become heavily penalised, surely this could become an adopted tactic.
To conclude, ethically it is encouraged to build a strong brand and great content that will naturally yield links back to you. Forging relationships through social media, outreach and other channels I believe is generally acceptable but this topic conjures so many “buts” and “what ifs”. Please share your thoughts below!
This post is provided by Charlotte Waller from SEO Gemini – an internet consultant that works to provide affordable search engine optimization for small to medium sized businesses in and around the UK.
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