I could have also placed “people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” in the title of this post. The question is, “Are you a search marketer that reports paid links?” Your answer would be either a definite yes, a definite no, or a sometimes, but for competing sites.

Patrick Altoft asked the same question in a post at Blogstorm and admitted that he had reported them in the past, but only when the site buying or selling them was a direct competitor and ranked higher than him.

My first inclination is to say, “shame on you, Patrick.” However, I guess it really depends on how you view paid links.

There are those who view them as spam and would not hesitate for a minute to report a competitor (just as they would with any other spam technique). However, if you buy or sell paid links but also report them to Google all in the name of trying to curtail the efforts of a competitor, well then that kind of makes you a hypocrite. Sorry, there is no easier way to say it.

Now I like Patrick and think he has an excellent blog. Therefore I am not trying to point any fingers or even saying that he is doing anything hypocritical. However, Patrick’s post did get me to thinking that possibly many search marketers report paid links in a scenario where a competitor is beating them.

I know very well that it can be tempting to submit a spam report on a competitor that is kicking your butt in the SERPs. I have even reported them myself a couple times in the past, not for paid links, but rather domain spam. However, reporting paid links, especially if you buy them yourself, is just so wrong.

First of all, it is fact that Google has declared war on paid links – both those who sell them and those who buy them. It is also a fact that web sites need links, even good web sites. Paid links are one of the means of getting those links. They are not the only way and certainly not always the best in my opinion, however they do work quite effectively, especially for sites that are not going to attract a lot of natural links (e.g., e-commerce sites, small business brochure sites).

So why would a search marketer who is in the game of marketing sites want to help Google win the battle in eliminating paid links and as such, eliminate one of the weapons of their arsenal?

Secondly, reporting the paid links is kind of like shooting yourself in the foot. Sure you may place your competitor in the sights of Google’s big guns but at the same time you just killed the potential of the site selling the links to pass any link juice. Wouldn’t it be wiser to join your competitor in buying a link right along side of them? Isn’t that what we used to do (and still do) as far as “link requests” go?

Finally, the old adage “what goes around comes around” is still relevant. If you buy paid links but will report a competitor doing the same, don’t you fear that will come back on you? We all start reporting each other and guess what – all the good sites selling paid links are now useless or won’t sell them period or if they do, add the nofollow attribute.

Search marketers really need to work together on this paid links thing. Brokers need to go underground, revealing their inventories only to trusted individuals. Sites selling them need to stop marking them so clearly so that Google can detect them. And if you are a search marketer, you need to put aside any temptation to report them to Google, especially if you buy them yourself.

This reminds me of my three children who hardly every got away with anything while growing up because they never figured out the benefits of working together to hide things from us. Rather they worked against each other all the time.

Why? To make themselves look good or to take our eyes off their own faults and place them on their siblings. Me and my siblings used to work together all the time and got away with murder.

Now that I’m a parent, I’m kind of glad my kids didn’t discover how to be allies instead of enemies until after they had grown. How about us search marketers? Will we continue to help Google in their war on paid links until paid link opportunities cease to exist? Or will we work together to keep good quality and relevant paid links alive and working to our advantage?

So to answer Patrick’s original question as to whether I report paid links – an absolute no. Not even if a competitor was buying them and beating me. I would rather follow the advice “if you can’t beat them, join them” as far as paid links go.

Now do I think that irrelevant paid links are spam (e.g., Viagra links on a tech site)? Yes I do. Do I believe that sites selling paid links should mark them as such? Yes I do but discretely. Do I think paid links should be a site’s only strategy? No I don’t.

The bottom line really comes down to this – if we would spend more time making our sites the very best they can be, we might not have to worry about what the competition is doing because we will be so far ahead of them to even notice them in the first place.

David Wallace

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.

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