SEO: Buying Links is Risky Business
Garnering inbound links from websites with good PageRank is a mainstay of search engine optimization. Links are like votes for a given website in the eyes of search engines, and their number and quality have much to do with determining the outcome of search engine results. That’s why – as long as links matter to search engines – you’ll see them being bought and sold.
A new service called InLinks.com matches advertisers (e.g. link purchasers) with bloggers (e.g. link providers) who get paid to have links added to their blog content. The website says, “InLinks allows you to purchase links within the content area on web pages. You search for instances of your top keywords and replace those static keywords with a hyperlink back to your website.” Essentially, bloggers sign up to sell their PageRank while advertisers sign up to buy it. This is nothing new; paid blogs have been around for a long time, and those blogs often – if not always – include links.
Locates keywords on other blogs
What InLinks does differently is cut out the need for focused blog writing, instead brokering links within existing content. In other words, InLinks goes out and looks for requested textual terms and phrases already existing in the content of member blog sites, and then offers to turn those terms into anchor text with an active link for a fee. A listing of link opportunities, sorted by PageRank and date, appear for the potential advertiser. Once that advertiser selects a particular opportunity, the link is added for $10-to-$12 a month.
InLinks is betting that Google and the other search engines won’t find these paid links, or will at least have trouble spotting them. However, betting against Google hasn’t historically paid dividends, and while InLinks’ methods may have a chance, I think the chance is slim.
Google no like
Google doesn’t like the buying and selling of links (and, by definition, PageRank) for a number of reasons, but primarily because it taints the honest and accurate voting that links represent for them. Matt Cutts, Google’s number one spam and link cop, says in his blog, “If you want to buy or sell a link purely for visitors or traffic and not for search engines, a simple method exists to do so (the no-follow attribute). Google’s stance on selling links is pretty clear and we’re pretty accurate at spotting them, both algorithmically and manually. Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.”
Cutts has also responded specifically to the controversy that InLinks.com’s launch has caused. Commenting on a recent TechCrunch story, he wrote, “The reality is that accepting money to link to/promote/market for a product without disclosing that fact is a very high-risk behavior, in my opinion.” Sounds like Google has already spotted and targeted InLinks.com.
Worth the risk?
While gaining more inbound links should be important to every ecommerce website, purchasing links is always a risky endeavor. In very specific situations, paid links can be helpful and worth the investment, but the rule of thumb should be to stay away from them. There are many ways that Google and the other search engines could identify paid links incorporated by InLinks, most obviously by identifying new links added to old content. Generally, once bloggers post to a blog, there is little or no editing that goes into the blog. The sudden addition of outbound links in the text of an existing blog could be easily identified by search engines. The new paid links model represented by InLinks.com is interesting and may even be successful, but caution is recommended.