V7Nâ€™s Contextual Links offering received a lot of online coverage and comments, first here on Marketing Pilgrim, then at Search Engine Journal and Matt Cuttsâ€™s blog.
The debate may rage on over the â€œethicalâ€ nature of paid links. A more important subtext to that debate is the overall effectiveness of link buying as a strategy to improve search engine rankings. But now the ultimate link authority, Eric Ward, has spoken.
Eric has written a short-but-sweet article in todayâ€™s Web Marketing Today called â€œThe Pros and Cons of Buying Links.â€ Eric warns against buying links to improve search rank, whether theyâ€™re â€œundetectableâ€ or not. He offers three basic rules for link buying:
First, if you want to buy links because you want to improve your search rank, don’t. It’s that simple. Do not buy links for search rank. I cannot say it any simpler than that. Why? Because if you do, the engines reserve the right to penalize you for it. Google considers buying text links for ranking purposes to be a violation of its quality guidelines. Don’t believe it? Read this: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-links-and-pagerank/. Play that game with your eyes wide open, or don’t play it at all.
Second, think of paid links as advertising to the readers of the site where the link will reside. Nothing more, nothing less. Forget rankings. Is the site a logical place where the readers who encounter your link might be inclined to click on it? Your site sells plumbing tools? Then don’t buy a link here. Buy one here.
Third, while you will hear stories or anecdotes about how someone improved his or her rankings by buying links, is the risk of being banned by the search engines worth the potential for improved rankings?
Eric takes a strong stance on link buying: it shouldnâ€™t be used as a method to improve search engine rankings. He doesnâ€™t say that you should never buy links, however. Just not for that reason.
Whether or not paid links work for improving rank, there is the risk that search engines will detect them and get medieval on your site. Does Google set the standards for the industry? No, but it does get to set the standards by which the industry can legitimately and ethically (“white hat”) interact with Google in its terms of service.
Eric concludes his article:
[R]emember these two simple known facts.
A.You cannot know if your rankings really will improve until you buy the links, which means you assume all the risk of the known penalty with no knowledge of the outcome or reward.
B.You cannot know if any improvement will last and impact your bottom line to a high enough degree to offset the loss to your bottom line should your site vanish completely.
I’m not saying don’t buy links. I’m saying you need to be honest with yourself about your intent. Advertising via links is smart business. Chasing rank isn’t.
His closing advice is a good reminder to anyone whoâ€™s been working in natural search engine optimization a little too long. Eric Wardâ€™s last word on link buying: Instead of chasing rank with tactics that search engines have clearly spoken out against, use link buying as advertisement and find another way to build incoming links.