Are Paid Links Still an Effective Link Building Strategy?

Paid links, also referred to as “rented” links, have been around since Google’s rise to fame at the beginning of this millennium. Google hates them and yet the very reason they exist is Google’s own fault. And with all the measures Google has put into place to try to devalue them and even penalize sites who sell and/or buy them, the golden question is, “do they still work?” In short the answer is “yes!” However before you go out and take advantage of this proven strategy, proceed with some caution.

First understand that any good link building strategy will utilize various methods of acquiring those links. Although paid links are relatively quick and easy to obtain, they should not be your only method of acquiring those valuable inbound links.

Creating “linkworthy” content such as Infographics, white papers, videos and the like of which you can then push via social media and community outreach is currently one of the best ways to acquire natural links. Compliment that with things like sponsored blog reviews, article marketing, creation of social media properties, online press releases and even answer sites such as Yahoo Answers and you then have a good strategy in place. In other words, don’t throw all your eggs in one basket.

With that out of the way, here are some guidelines to take into consideration when buying links.

Domain Authority

Make sure the domain you are buying paid links on has a decent number of inbound links. Don’t let PageRank fool you as I have seen sites with what appears to be great PageRank but very little inbound links pointing to them. The PageRank usually doesn’t last long and even if it does, domains with few inbound links may not pass much link juice to the site receiving the links.

Single Page Links Only

Avoid the temptation to acquire tons of links all at once with “run of site” links. It is much better to get one or at the most a few from any single domain. Run of site links are very easy for Google’s algorithm to detect as they have the appearance of being very unnatural. Sure there can be scenarios where someone links to you in their “Blogroll” which would then run throughout the site in most cases. However, what I’m suggesting here is to avoid actually paying for links that run throughout a site. You’ll get much better value out of single page links.

Avoid Obvious Signs That Links Are “Sponsored”

Make sure there is nothing on site you are acquiring a link from to give away the fact that they are paid links. Text that says “sponsored link,” “partners,” “site supporters” and the like are dead giveaways that the link has been paid for. If the linking site uses a graphic image to indicate the links are somehow paid for, make sure that the image itself does not give it away such as indicating links are paid for in the image alt attribute or even the file name of the image itself.

I also suggest that you avoid sites that promote paid link brokerages (Text Link Ads, Text Link Brokers, Linkworth, etc.) either by directly linking to them or through some kind of affiliate code. While I have nothing against any of these companies (we’ve even utilized their services), a site that links to them is essentially shouting out loud to Google, “We sell links.”

Relevant Sites

Although you don’t have to necessarily get a paid link on your competitor’s site (not that they would allow it anyway), you should make sure when buying paid links, that you are placing them on sites that are somewhat relevant to your industry. For example, if you have a local legal practice, your link really does not belong on a tech related web site, that is of course unless you largely represent the tech industry. If your business is travel related, seek placement on travel related sites. If you are a home improvement company, seek placement on home improvement related sites.

Relevant Company

In a natural scenario, a web site owner is only going to link out to sites that are either somehow related to the linking site or are deemed useful to their audience. Therefore if your local pest control site is listed along with sites that sell Viagra, are Casino related, and the like, it’s pretty obvious that this is a paid link. Rather, make sure you are in good company not only buying links on sites that are somewhat relevant to your own business model but also making sure your “paid link neighbors” are relevant as well.

Content Area Please

Paid links can be placed pretty much anywhere on a web page. However, links within or near actual content are the most valuable in my experience. Links within content look more natural than links in for example right or left sidebars. Try to avoid footer links as they are an easy giveaway that the link is paid for.

To Follow or Not To Follow

The general rule when paying for links on an ongoing basis is to make sure they are “followed” or in other words do not have the “nofollow” attribute attached (e.g., rel=”nofollow”) to them.

Keep in mind however that having both followed and nofollowed links in your inbound link portfolio looks more natural so don’t always avoid nofollow opportunities. You may simply want to test out their effectiveness by possibly targeting an obscure key phrase or a long tail key phrase to see if “link juice” is actually being passed.

Too Much Competition

The less outbound links any given web page has, the better. I typically favor paid link opportunities where there are no more than 6-8 outbound links. Sites that sell 1-2 paid links per page are golden. The more outbound linking, the more diluted the linking value actually becomes. So, look for opportunities where there is little competition for that valuable “link juice.”

There you have it. Again, I can’t stress enough that paid links, although still effective if done right, should not be your only link building strategy. Utilize them wisely to compliment the other tactics you are employing as well.

Did I miss anything? Please feel free to add your own tips and/or opinions in the Comments section of this post.

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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