Are Paid Links Evil?

Dec 4, 2007 - 3:27 pm 1 by
Filed Under SES Chicago 2007

Google is on a rampage to devalue sites who engage in link buying and selling. Do paid links ruin the integrity of search engine results? Are they evil? From the conference description: “Search engines, especially Google, say don't do 'em. But some search marketers say paid links work. Are paid links subverting search quality? Or are they simply a fact of life, here to stay?”

Moderator: Chris Boggs, Manager, Search Engine Optimization, eMergent Marketing/BRULANT, Inc. [Chris provided background information for SEO newbies: Inbound linking is the method by which search engines judge the importance of any given pages. SEOs use “unnatural methods” including buying valuable links. Chris also explained “NoFollow” which means that you don’t actively endorse the page you’re linking to.] Speakers: William Leake, Founder and CEO, Apogee Search This topic has flared up quite a bit over the last 72 hours and over the last few months. It’s important to disclose to clients whether or not linking strategies, which may include paid links, are high risk. Do paid links work? They do. Google’s attempts to discount paid links have had moderate success at best.

New link discounting practices only lead to new types of link building. For example, eco-system-wise, we’re seeing that directory links don’t have less value than they did previously, but paid blog posting is becoming more pervasive. While paid links are effective, they are just one component of a successful SEO campaign.

In hypercompetitive spaces (like mortgage, insurance, and dept consolidation), paid links are a necessity to survive. Compare that to negative political ads that are also necessary. Competitive forces have more influence on marketers than Google preferences. I.E. ROI is more important than a Google blessing for most advertisers. Balanced SEO campaigns are the best. Paid links should never be the only strategy. You need a well rounded approach.

Advertising without disclosure is a deceptive practice and the FTC has spoken out against it. All paid links are not necessarily deceptive. Google does not determine ethics for the industry and Internet. Yes, there are likely cases where search result quality is subverted but the impact is not significant. Overall, Google still provides high quality listings.

Sage Lewis All link campaigns must start with content which is the “horse.” Sage says not to put the cart before the horse. The cart is the links and the horse is the content. In order to develop a link campaign you must have some appeal for liking sites. “What’s in it for the users?” Link worthy sites are hard to come by. They require time and dedication.

Here are some value propositions for building organic links from great content: Integrate the community into your corporate events. Promote the good work you are doing in your community. Help your audience succeed. When you build a site that has value, is worthwhile, then building links becomes easier.

Brian Boland, Director-adCenter, Microsoft Corporation Search engines see paid links as a technical problem which MS is “not throwing in the towel on like some other engines” The average search takes over 11 minutes to find appropriate results and paid links are an algorithm problem which can be solved. He discussed how easy it is for search engines to dissemble the linking universe for any site and that MS will solve the “technical issue” of paid links.

Their goal is to “100% protect user experiences.” The statements surrounding the “ethics” of paid linking are fascinated and should not be couched in terms like “good and evil.” MS cares ab out quality. Users who have a lousy experience try another engine. There is no cost to switch engines.

***Note this is “live” unedited blog coverage of SES Chicago 2007. Some typos, grammatical errors, or incomplete thoughts may exist.

Marty Weintraub writes for aimClearBlog and is President of aimClear, a Duluth advertising agency specializing on organic / paid search along with social media marketing.


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