For a long time now Google’s Matt Cutts has made it clear that purchasing links will become a hazardous business both for the link seller and the link purchaser. Recently Google has cracked down on the sale of links for the intention of selling link popularity and to that end has penalized a number of well-known sites and site networks. This penalty has caused those sites to lose much of their PageRank, especially what shows within the Google toolbar. This has reduced the marketable value of the links coming from the penalized websites and in many cases also cost the purchasers a lot of money for links that most likely will not accomplish what they formerly did.
Purchasing links from websites purely for search engine positioning seems like a poor idea, especially as a long-term solution to obtaining solid SEO rankings. I think what has become clear to is that in the near term purchasing links will still continue to work, but purchases should always be made with the intent to acquire traffic from those links and brand the business so that should the site where the links are being purchased from receive a penalty from Google or another source, the money spent on the links is still money well spent.
With that said I believe that long-term, established businesses need to begin building their own networks of sites in earnest. Now when I say this I do not mean spam filled doorway pages, but honest to goodness content sites that can become mini brands in there own right. The potential business benefit, asset development, and cost savings in developing a business’s own network over the long haul seems to far outweigh the near term benefit of purchasing links, on others’ sites, that will eventually go away and have to regularly be monitored and evaluated for ROI.
In my mind a business that spends $5,000 a month in purchasing links would be much better off spending that money developing 4 of its own sites. That leaves roughly $15,000 a year per site for design, development, content, and hosting. This seems like an immensely doable project and after 1 year the business will have 4 assets that can be used to for links, traffic, content, branding, email acquisition or any other type of marketing the business should choose.
I believe eventually it will become harder and harder to purchase links purely for the manipulation of search engine positioning. But if and when organizations have their own networks then the hazards and expense in buying links can be completely avoided. Clearly this is not an overnight project, but preparing now for the future can and should ensure that the businesses looking ahead will be in the best position to take advantage of the ever changing search engine landscape.