Paid links are something that use to be common practice for most SEO’s and agencies – simply spend, spend, spend and thou shall receive. This all changed when Google stated that manipulating search rankings from paid links should be avoided at all costs and if advertising is carried out then the appropriate “rel=nofollow” tag should be implemented to stop the flow of Page Rank.
While many SEOs headed back to the drawing board to think up new and innovating ways to attract links to websites some SEOs have continued to play the paid links game. I’m not one to judge, if you buy links, there are risks, if the pros out way the cons then go for it. There are plenty of large brands out there who have more than obvious paid links strategy, yet never seem to receive any penalties, in fact they seem to get rewarded by great rankings.
I get questions from people and clients asking “is there a safe way to buy links?” well the short answer is no – but there are ways that websites seem to avoid detection which cut risks. From my analysis of competitors over the last 12 months there are methods which are used:
1. Link Brokers – These give you access to a selection of websites that are willing to sell text ads. Usually the system is automated, sellers place code on their sites allowing brokers to distribute links throughout networks. These seem to be the most obvious method that is identifiable by Google.
2. Unrelated content – If you buy links on a website that has no relevance to your own content then what value does this give the users? None. Organic or natural links more often than not will link to relevant content, providing added value to their website and the users that visit the links.
3. Anchor text – In an ideal world every link established naturally would contain keywords and phrases that you want to rank well for. Unfortunately this very rarely happens, natural link growth will include nofollow tags, banners, brand terms and a selection of utterly useless keywords such as “here” or “this website”.
4. Link relationships – Having 100% followed links with targeted keywords will undoubtedly set some Google alarm off somewhere. A natural link relationship look will have a selection of followed, nofollow, affiliate and tracking parameters.
5. Link increase – Something that is often overlooked by other SEOs is the natural versus manipulated link growth. A natural increase will be slow but generally consistent, with maybe a few spikes due to new content and site updates (which I believe Google checks). A manipulated increase will be quick with many spikes and even overall drops – people do forget to pay for their links. See the diagram below to show how a natural link increase usually looks and a blatantly obvious manipulation:
6. Link placement – A sure way to get found out for buying links is placing your link in the footer of a website where there are no other relevant links or too many external links. If you’re stupid enough to think doing this will give you any ranking value or traffic think again. Natural links usually get listed on resource pages, blogrolls, in blog posts (not paid) and perhaps the body of website copy.
7. Looking for Page Rank – It is true, people still search the high seas looking for page rank, alas this will do no good. Content and site relevance plays more of an important role these days than page rank in terms of obtaining high quality links. If a new website suddenly gets 10 page rank 5,6 and 7 links pointing to it then I fear its life in the Google index will be short lived.
At the end of the day as you can see trying to create a paid links strategy is a long, time consuming process which does hold risk. If you get away with it, you’ll achieve great rankings (which many top websites do) but the more rewarding ethical method is of course to create a linkable website with valuable content. Google will undoubtedly have 101 other paid link identifiers in their algorithm, plus they already have the option to report paid links in the Google webmaster console. If a linking opportunity arises be sure that you are within the Google guidelines to be safe.
About the author
My name is Matt Ridout, I've been working in digital marketing for 9 years; worked for agencies and currently Head of SEO at fashion startup called Farfetch. Try to test my own theories.