Weighing in on Link Buying (again!)

The debate continues to rage on about link buying. Rand posted yesterday that he disagrees with Danny and Google, and Jim Boykin adds his comments early this morning. Clearly there is a lot of confusion over this. So here we go again … in this post, I will try to put forth what I believe the Google position is. Note that I am not a Google representative, so this is simply my interpretation of what I have heard.

Google wants to value a link for it’s editorial value.

This is the essential point in all of their logic. Editorial input by third party web sites is at the heart of all ranking algorithms (I believe that this applies to the other search engines as well). There are certain types of links that do not pass editorial value:

  1. Purchased links
  2. Reciprocal links that are traded without regard to relevance
  3. Links from domains known to be untrustworthy (or perhaps even links from domains that are not yet trusted)

Danny, in his comments in Rand’s blog, argues, with some merit, that Google is trying to put a genie back in the bottle. People are out there buying links, and it’s a fact of life. It’s also true that there are links that you can buy that are “under the radar” that Google will not detect.

But let’s return to the essential value proposition of Google’s search engine. Their goal is to offer the highest quality search results on the planet, bar none. Links offered on an editorial basis are used as a voting system to find the sites most likely to answer a question relevant to a user’s search query. Note that an essential part of this process is the relevance of the links to the query, and the relevance of the content on the page to the user’s query. That said, links carrying editorial value are at the heart of their algorithm.

While the genie may be out of the bottle, don’t expect Google, or any other search engine for that matter, to relent on this point. It’s about the core value proposition of their search engines. Having the most relevant results can equate to increases in market share. A drop in relevance can lower their market share. Purchased links are seen as a threat to their business.

A follow-on note about buying links from trusted directories, such as Yahoo, Best of the Web, and Business.com, are, in our opinion (yes, it’s just an opinion) treated a bit differently.

These directories all have published policies where they can reject any submission, even though you have already paid them, and your money is non-refundable. In addition, they can take your listing and put it wherever they want, even if it differs from your suggested location. Thirdly, they are seen as businesses whose basic value proposition is centered around the quality of their editorial process.

This results, again, in our opinion, on these cases being a scenario acceptable to the search engines for purchasing links. This is notably distinct from lower quality directories that have not earned the trust of the search engines for the quality of their editorial team (note: my list above is not meant to be a complete list of “trusted” directories).

I don’t think that the search engines will offer up any other scenarios that they consider acceptable. They are running multi-billion dollar businesses that depend on their algorithms, and purchased links just don’t fit into that.


  1. says

    Hi there,

    The only place Google wants us to buy a link from is through their adwords campaigns. It’s amazing how hey are talking about buying one self to top of the SE. But this is just a basic marketing concept.

  2. says

    I think you put this pretty well, Eric. Search engines want links to be real: editorial votes based on quality and merit.

    With Yahoo, you’re paying for the reviewing service; Yahoo rejects plenty of submissions.

  3. says

    Good information Eric-and the debate goes on! I don’t buy links but always have link building campaigns under way. If I like the site and their material I’ll generally ask if they would like to exchange links and have found it to be pretty successful. But at the end of the day, I’d rather my sites be making me cash flow than worrying about a ton of links 😉

  4. says

    “With Yahoo, you’re paying for the reviewing service; Yahoo rejects plenty of submissions.”

    That might make sense for the first fee, but when you get to year 2, the logic falls apart. How is a fee for reviewing when you pay each year to renew it?

  5. Eric Enge says

    Peter – Interesting point. But I think if you read your renewal invoice from Yahoo, they go out of their way to make it clear that their editors will re-review the site. In fact they do, because it is Yahoo’s objective to make sure that there are only reasonable quality sites in their directory.

    Just because a site was not spam when they first reviewed it, does not mean that it didn’t become spam during the year, and they want to verify that.

    In any case, the most important thing to draw from Matt’s statement, whether or not you feel it’s consistent, is that a Yahoo directory link is OK.

    As for me, I try not to worry about what’s right or wrong about Google’s policies, I just try to understand them so I can do the best job possible in growing the businesses I am involved in.

  6. says

    But Matt – paid links are real links. Google has published patents for a couple of years on how to devalue links according to certain criteria. However, a paid link is not necessarily a low quality recommendation.

    I think the big problem with the entire links debate is the presumption that all paid links are low quality, even spammy – which IMO is tarring an entire business sector unfairly.

    Ultimately, is the link relevant and useful I think is key question, not whether it was paid for.

  7. Chris says

    What about Sponsorship/advertising links, how does Google view this? If I was to advertise my site on another site for traffic, just like you would with using G Adwords, is this viewed as a problem?

  8. Eric Enge says

    Hi Chris – Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing, MSN AdCenter, and ad networks of this type are not considered problems because these are easily recognized by the crawlers.

    Where it gets more complicated is when you buy text link ads from individual web sites. Those that are labelled as “sponsored” or “advertisement”, or something like that are fairly easily detected by the search engines.

    They are fine with your buying ads for traffic, but prefer that you use the “nofollow” tag, something that very few sites do.

    In any event, my understanding is that if you buy links you run the basic risk that they will not pass any page rank value. If you are happy with that (i.e. all you want is the traffic), you are probably OK.

    It only gets more complicated if you buy lots of links. In this case, you may find yourself in a situation where a human reviewer will look at your site to determine if you are deliverately buying links for page rank purposes. If they decide you are, you can get banned.

    All of this is my understanding of Google’s position, and I don’t speak for them by any means. But this is what I believe I have heard them say.

  9. says

    Eric- thanks for the shout-out and for clearly and succienctly explaining the directory editorial process. We get questions all the time about our editorial process and quality criteria, and I think you hit the nail on the head with this summary:

    ‘These directories all have published policies where they can reject any submission, even though you have already paid them, and your money is non-refundable. In addition, they can take your listing and put it wherever they want, even if it differs from your suggested location. Thirdly, they are seen as businesses whose basic value proposition is centered around the quality of their editorial process.”

    As you stated above, the guidelines and review procedures apply on the renewals as well – our editors spend a fair amount of time re-reviewing sites to ensure the same original quality standards are still intact. We reject a lot of sites that don’t meet our guidelines both on the initial review as well as upon subsequent annual reviews.

    As Matt mentioned above, webmasters need to understand that when they submit their site to high quality directories, they are paying for the editorial review – not the listing.

    It’s not a perfect science, but it seems to work and we’re sticking with it!! 😉

  10. says

    Deep linking to relevant content is the key

    Study the difference between Amazon and CNN and how people link to them

    Are all those links to Technorati editorial?

  11. Sun says

    I live, breath, eat, drink and sleep Google. And up until Matt published his request to tattle, which I believe only sparked retributive vengance by some, and maybe a bit of honesty by others, I had a problem buying into the whole “Google don’t be evil” theory, but I have to admit, that perspective had quickly changed. We do not buy links, but we do exchange them with sites that we believe to be owned by the best of the best, as we consider ourselves, and we refuse to exchange with those who do not meet our criteria. And we do not charge for any link.

    So, can we please take a step back – out of the Google-fear box – and consider this from an unbiased and highly objective viewpoint? What is the difference between adsense being published on a bunch of monetized websites – comprised of a single page nonetheless – than spending hard earned cash on buying a link on a highly valued website for the purpose of marketing to a targeted and key market?

    Would those who do G AdWords not agree that they desire the same mentality? (That a person would rather click on a paid link that run through a bunch of poorly written sites or worse yet – those endless one pagers).

    If Matt would like my opinion, and he did get it in an email – I’m all for taking down those single page monetized sites that happen to be filling Google’s pockets to the turn of some odd billion per year, but I have a hard time understanding how anyone, a few of the present company included, can fear a giant who says – G can make money, and you cannot. I have a harder time respecting such a company… and I have loved dear Google for many years, but this went over the top. Not only is Google sayins that they can monetize the web, but the web cannot monetize itself (and we do not monetize), but they are also saying that you and your time are of absolutely no value. When was the last time Matt created a website -and I’m not falling for blogging being a website – that added value daily, that gave its all to provide information that people need and want, that spent hours doing so? Is that not worth some value? Or is only Google that can reap the benefits of my labor in spending a minimum of 6 hours a day writing for websites?

    Yes, indeed, Matt was way out of line on this one! Junk the one pagers and let people buy position on value adding sites. (Again, I repeat – we do not sell links, nor do we buy many, with the few exceptions being on major networks who publish our articles).

    And I thank you for having this blog.

  12. says

    Articles also play some part in internet marketing. As articles are read by visitors there are more chances for visitors coming to the sites. Articles should be relevant to the theme of the site

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