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Why Paid Links Are Good

August 31st, 2007 · 20 Comments

If you’re a searchspotter (they’re a bit like trainspotters only more geeky) then you can’t help but have noticed the furore over the SES San Jose session about paid links. SEOmoz has a nice write up of the events, Michael Gray has posted his infamous presentation and there’s a great video interview with the pair of them over at WebProNews just in case you’ve missed out on all the fun. There’s an alternative version available at Dave N’s place too 😉

In essence, in case you’re not a searchspotter or you’ve been on Mars for the last couple of weeks or you’re just too damn lazy to click on the links, Google are getting tougher on their stance on paid links and this has caused something of a backlash within the web publisher community.

One of the commenters over at Graywolf said

I do not like the idea of a “paid” internet

This comment got me thinking about the future of t’internet and where we’re going to be in a few years time. How is it going to be different and how can we draw parallels with current, more established media?

I’m going to stick my stake in the ground and say that the Internet as it currently exists will not be around in 5 years time. More and more publishers will move to premium content sites which are only available to subscribers. Some of these will be charge based, others will be RSS based. Examples of this are already out there with SEOmoz charging for premium content and Aaron Brazell only making certain posts available to RSS subscribers.

The availability of publishing tools means that anyone with web access can create a site within 30 minutes. Buy your domain name for $10, get some hosting for $100 (or get it free entering my competition), install WordPress and slap up a website. Voila! Instant publishing. Now that’s no different to what we’ve got now but I believe, despite what some people may say, that blogging or, more importantly, user generated websites will continue to grow at an exponential rate over the next five years.

The last Sifry report showed that 120,000 new blogs are created every day. (Incidentally, who will take this over now that Dave Sifry has left Technorati?) I’ve read in some places that most people who are going to write a blog are already doing so but that’s bullshit. Blogging or – again – user generated content is only going to get bigger for the simple reason that kids are now growing up aware of their ability/right to publish online.

There are 13 year old kids out there running successful online businesses. Now I’m going to be 38 in a few months time. When I was 13 the only thing I had on my mind was when I was going to have my next wank. In todays world, success on the Internet has become something to aspire to so the desire to make money online is not going to go away. It’s going to get bigger and more competitive.

So, how does that all fit in with the paid links debate?

Well the Internet is the new TV.

When I was a teenager, in between vigorous bouts of self abuse, the only other entertainment medium I had was half a dozen radio stations and the four TV channels available in the UK. There only used to be 3 but Channel 4 launched on my twelfth birthday giving me Carol Vorderman as further inspiration for my nocturnal activities. The problem was that almost all of the programmes available on ITV and Channel 4 were crap. Part of the reason behind this were the constant ad breaks.

Now you have to remember at the time that the British TV viewer was used to watching the BBC where there were no commercial breaks. For non UK readers, there is something called a TV licence fee over here which costs you $250 a year to fund the making of BBC programmes. In return for paying this fee you get top quality programmes without any adverts. Or at least you used to. These days you get programmes like “When Vets Go Bad” or “Single Parent Lesbians Renovate Your Home”. Still, at least there are no ads, right?


Every single programme on the BBC carries adverts. Now they might not be obvious but they’re there. It’s called product placement and it’s something that I’ve touched on before in my disclosure policy post. The fact is that the BBC are not only charging viewers to watch the crap they churn out, they’re also making money on the sly through product placement.

Product placement on TV = paid links

It’s illegal for the BBC to carry adverts on their stations due to the licence fee agreement but the fact is that they continue to do so. Sure, they’re not obvious about it but it happens.

Let’s go back to my film I mentioned in the disclosure post. Would it have got made without the use of product placement to pay for the on set catering? Yes it would. Would the quality of the film have been as good without the much needed cash injection from the company in question? No it would not for the simple reason being that feeding 200+ people per day for a 10 day shoot costs money. If that money had not come in from the product placement then other parts of the production budget would have had to be cut.

Sooooo…back to the paid links debate and the whole point that Graywolf made in his presentation.

How can Google decide algorithmically what benefits the user and what doesn’t? On the face of it, having a supermarket van in the background of a number of scenes for my film doesn’t enhance the users experience BUT it does. Without that van, corners would have been cut and the overall experience of the viewer diminished. Likewise someone selling a text link on their site might not directly improve the readers experience but if that financial contribution helps keep the writer publishing then that’s got to be good, right?

Ultimately the Internet is moving at a great pace. The point I made earlier regarding the ability to produce online content means that people will need to do more to differentiate themselves from everyone else to give a perceived value. Now that will be done by using subscription based services or by making content only available to RSS users (cable/satellite TV) or by spending money on making their sites bigger and better than everyone else by using alternative funding (product placement).

It’s called evolution and there’s nothing Google can do to stop it.

Tags: Making Money Online

20 responses so far ↓

  • Mike // Aug 31, 2007 at 11:00 am

    For a slightly more light hearted approach to the subject, have a wander over to PaymentBlogger and have a read of Is selling links a crime? I’m loving the graphic – made me spit my coffee out!

  • Tim Nash // Aug 31, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Cheers for the link Mike I hope you spat your coffee away from your computer I wouldn’t want to indirectly be responsible for the death of your machine 😉

    Great article by the way, well thought out and reasoned, though your case with the BBC is a bit on the grey side no company pays the BBC directly, they offer props and other services it is a great example of what will happen with Paid links by charging in Google will simply make Link buyers change their habits links will be more subtle and ultimately the distinction between an editorial controlled but sponsored link and a normal editorial link will vanish. Then big G really will be up a tree without a paddle.

  • Mike // Sep 3, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Controlled coffee spitting. That’s the way forward 😉

    The point re the Beeb is a fair one. I guess what I was trying to say was that not all paid links are necessarily as transparent as Big G would have us believe.

    Thanks for dropping by and for the Stumble 😀

  • Iantrepreneur // Sep 3, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    I just started using paid links I am waiting to see the results for my page – I am still trying to search though around the internet about if google punishes you for getting paid links

  • Mike // Sep 3, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Hi Ian,

    The only potential penalty Google can levy against a site displaying paid links is to restrict the amount of link juice being passed. As per the direct quote from Google’s Matt Cutts in my Scwewy Webmaster post, “link sellers can lose trust, such as their ability to flow PageRank/anchortext”.

    Now it all depends on the format of the paid links. If they have a link condom applied then Big G consider those to be acceptable. Equally, as I said in the post above, they don’t appear to be actively pursuing TLA at this stage either.

    What sort of paid links are you using? Is it through a broker or direct?

  • Chris Lodge // Sep 5, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Probably one of the most sensible posts I’ve read on the whole issue (well, apart from knocking one out over Carol Vorderman).

    Google are out of step on this one.

  • Mike // Sep 7, 2007 at 10:43 am

    I would have thought that alone would have made the post more worthy 😉

  • Mike // Oct 13, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Interesting post at SEOmoz regarding Google product placement in movies.

    Pots and kettles, anyone?

  • Aspire // Nov 29, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    I agree. Paid links are worth it especially if the PR is high.

  • Ibnu Asad // Feb 16, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    A very interesting read :)

    IMHO, I’m on the edge…some paid links are good and some are not.

    Yes Google can’t stop people for selling & buying links but they can sure to drop or penalize a site for doing so. It’s kinda like a cat & mouse game 😀

  • Mike // Feb 17, 2008 at 10:40 am

    The problem as I see it, Ibnu, is that Big G are dictating the rules on this one. Sure it’s their index and what they say goes but the fact is that they’re effectively a monopoly as far as search is concerned so if you don’t play by their rules, nobody is going to find you.

    They’re also not going after all paid links, are they? They’re targeting the obvious links through the brokers. The real paid links – the ones purchased by SEOs for clients in a real attempt to get some search engine lovin’ – the ones which have been going on since before Google were around – these links will still continue to be sold for one simple reason. They work.

    Actually two reasons. They work and Big G can’t find the buggers!

  • Ami // Jul 12, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I hate to poop on the party, but Google is seriously clamping down on paid links if what webmasters are reporting in the forums is true

    Just stick to free methods. They work as well and they won’t get you penalized

  • Mike // Jul 13, 2008 at 1:16 am

    Absolutely. Big G are gunning for the major link brokers, cutting off the revenue streams of a lot of the smaller bloggers/publishers and being seen to banish paid links from their index.

    However all it has done if drive paid links underground. Which is where they were before the link brokers went mainstream. Paid links have always happened and they will continue to happen. How they are purchased has changed, that’s all.

    In a lot of ways this is more about making a public stand on paid links than it is about stopping the practice. Big G penalise the smaller publishers (i.e. the majority of web publishers) by kicking the public link brokers into touch. The smaller publisher writes about it, believes that all paid links are evil and then reports people for buying/selling via the handy option in Webmaster Tools. Job done, right?

    Maybe not. What really happens is that Big G wipe the major players off the map but the day to day buying and selling of links carries on behind the scenes. They’re tougher to detect. As Graywolf points out, they’re not always plainly labelled as paid links.

    So what’s really happening?

    Big G created the whole paid links situation by placing so much trust on sites interlinking. They know that. We know that. A large chunk of their algorithmic process is based around link weight so they can’t kill that off overnight. What they can do, though, is posture publicly and make a “stand” on the issue.

    You’re right that sticking to free methods is a great way to work. You get the links and you can sleep at night. However if I had a client that had an aggressive deadline to meet and shareholders to appease, would I stick within the guidelines? Well I’m not going to answer that publicly 😉

  • David Hughes // Jul 21, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I recently bought PR-5-PR6 links for my website. They have helped me rank higher for my subject. I would reccommend buying links.

  • Mike // Jul 23, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Hmmm…not sure I’d admit to that publicly, David 😉

  • Daniel, The Hosting Blog // Oct 4, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    I am not so certain about paid links anymore. Google is getting really good at detecting and devaluing them. It sucks because all that money you just paid is now worthless.

    Paid links can definitely help you for a temp boost, but I think eventually you will get caught up on. Also, it is really easy to get scammed with paid links. Once they get your money, BOOM, link removed. That is why I tell people to pay month to month if they HAVE to buy a link.

    Obviously not every site will scam you but its definitely very common these days.

  • Mike // Oct 7, 2008 at 10:32 am

    One other thing to consider, Daniel, is that the FUD Google have created around the whole thing means that when webmasters like me get approached by people to buy links on my site, they are wary that it may be Big G fishing.

    I know it sounds paranoid but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there isn’t a section within Google that fish for link brokers.


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