Current State of Buying & Selling Links

In a continuation of response to what Matt Cutts had to say about links yesterday on his blog, what about paid links? How does Google view these, how good are they getting at spotting them and what actions do they take when they do find them?

While Matt discussed reciprocal linking more then anything else, he did have this to say regarding buying and selling links:

“In March, some people on WebmasterWorld started complaining that they saw none of their pages indexed in Bigdaddy data centers, and were more likely to see supplemental results. After looking at the example sites, I could tell the issue in a few minutes. The sites that fit “no pages in Bigdaddy” criteria were sites where our algorithms had very low trust in the inlinks or the outlinks of that site. Examples that might cause that include excessive reciprocal links, linking to spammy neighborhoods on the web, or link buying/selling.

He did not go into any detail on how they are spotting paid links but one of the obvious methods would be any links close to text that says “Sponsored Listing”, “Marketplace”, “Advertisements”, etc. To combat this, many that sell links have simply converted these to graphics with no revealing alt attribute text. However, Google and other engines are getting better at spotting paid links within navigational areas, headers and footers of sites. In reviewing recent patents of Microsoft (PDF) and Google, Bill Slawski noted the following:

“The closest patent I can find to that concept doesn’t talk about discounting links from sections of a page, but it’s a very very (deserves more than one very) obvious next step after they break down a page into sections, and can easily recognize which sections are the nav links, the header, the main content, and so on.”

Debra Mastaler, one of the leading authorities on link building had the following to say in a recent entry on her blog:

“With link buying, my recommendation is to stay out of “typical” link buy areas (navigational areas) and focus instead on negotiating for space in content areas – (think infomercial). Site wide links still work in some cases but usually not for long and not like they used to. You might as well color them neon to the search engines they’re such a dead giveaway.”

“A great place to buy targeted ad space is in an online conference handbook. They offer content areas, actively look for sponsors, are archived on busy and usually well ranked sites.”

“If you go ahead and buy text links on your own, consider staying away from sites that have sponsored ad boxes. Nothing draws attention to a paid link like an ad box!”

Buying and selling links is not going to go away anytime soon. It is marketing and has been in existence before Google ever came on the scene. Link buyers and sellers simply need to be a bit more crafty on how they set up those links so as to keep them out of the radar of Google and other engines looking to find them and discount them.

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses. Follow +David Wallace on Google + as well as Twitter.

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