The Paid Links Industry Needs To Go Underground

If Danny Sullivan’s report over the weekend that Google is in fact reducing the PageRank for sites that are suspected of selling paid links isn’t enough to send the entire paid links industry underground, then I don’t know what is. Add to this the storm of controversy that recently occurred over Rand Fishkin outing sites that sell paid links. Now I don’t sell paid links for the sake of ranking better in the organic search results, however, as one who buys paid links for client sites, I have been a proponent for some time now of the entire industry, those who buy links, those who sell them and everyone in between, working to make it more difficult for Google and other search engines to identify paid link strategies. Currently we are making their job way to easy.

Let’s face the facts – marketing is war. If you are a good marketer, you are fully aware of this and yet we are so quick to reveal our strategy to the enemy. This could be for the sake of convenience as is the case with paid link brokers making their inventories to the public or having affiliate programs that easily identify those selling paid links. Another motivation in revealing strategy to the enemy is the desire for press or buzz as is the case with so many bloggers disclosing secrets all in the name of an interesting blog post that draws attention (or links). People, when are we going to wake up and stop shooting ourselves in the foot?

How often during the current war on terror have I been amazed over the amount of information that is revealed on television, print or some other means, disclosing strategy that the enemy can see. I recall an incident during the early phases of the war in Iraq where Geraldo Rivera gave away the location of Allied troops he was stationed with, all in the name of “reporting the news.” Some of the troops stationed with Geraldo were so upset with him that they would “scratch themselves” before shaking his hand. I don’t think I need to say anything more there – you get the picture.

We have witnessed situations in our own communities where for example a criminal takes hostages in a bank robbery attempt, a domestic dispute or some other scenario, and the news helicopters and other media are ordered by the police to keep a distance so as to not disclose their strategy to the hostage taker, who may very well be watching everything unfold on television.

Even before Danny received confirmation on the fact that Google is lowering PageRank for sites it suspects of selling paid links, I saw it happening. For no apparent reason, sites that had PageRank 7 were now reduced to a 5, or sites with a PageRank 5 is now reduced to a 3. Some sites have been reduced to zero. Prior to this there was the report that directories were being hit by Google, having their PageRank scores lowered or even being tossed from the index.

So, what will it take for us as search marketers to wake up and realize that Google is watching everything we do? Here are some examples of what Google sees each and every day.

  • Marketers that publicly disclose their paid link acquisition and selling strategy.
  • Publishers that sell paid links and so doing, clearly identify themselves by things like placing html text such as “sponsored links” next to the ads or even worse, identifying themselves as affiliates of paid link brokers.
  • Paid link brokers making their inventories available for anyone to view, including Google.
  • Bloggers disclosing high profile links such as .EDUs, .GOVs or other sites that carry a lot of authority, all in the name of trying to get the attention of the blogosphere with an interesting post.

It is time to stop informing our left hand what our right hand is doing. Google has declared war on paid links, which they clearly have the right to do. We however have the right to fight back. Because we are at war, we as search marketers should be a bit more tight lipped about our strategies, making it more difficult for Google to combat this very effective means in helping sites to improve their visibility in the organic search results.

I recently wrote a piece highlighting five things that bother me regarding those who sell paid links. I still stand by that list but additionally make a plea for paid link brokers to begin to take their inventories underground, revealing them only to trusted sources. Additionally I make a plea to anyone who is the game of marketing sites online to think twice before you speak. In other words, before writing that juicy piece revealing your own or someone else’s paid links strategy or identifying juicy paid link opportunities you discover, think about the possible outcome of your actions, which in most cases are not going to be good to the marketers, publishers and brokers you expose.

The reason why Google is waging a war on paid links is because they work. However they are not going to continue to work if we don’t begin to be a bit more secretive about our strategies. While I would consider myself an “aggressive” white hat search marketer, meaning I may venture into the gray if needed, I see nothing wrong with buying quality, relevant paid links to help with on page optimization techniques. I will continue to do so so long as it is effective.

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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