I was reading a great post on Bruce Clay about paid links last week that tied up really well with a current client that is constantly battling against competitors with glaringly obvious paid link profiles. For those individual SEOs and agencies that have complete ethical and risk free link building strategies its always a challenge but even more so when paid links appear to go unpunished.
There are a few techniques which I see still work very well in manipulating rankings which perhaps avoid automated detection by Google. Hopefully by highlighting them here people will know what to look out for when looking at ways to get ahead of competitors that pay for paid links. These methods are by no means new or groundbreaking but can sometimes get missed when looking for paid links:
Paid links within CSS style banners
This is something that I’ve seen systematically work time and time again for competitors over a multitude of industries (although most common in finance and travel verticals). The process would usually work by providing a piece of code to the site selling a link(s) – this code consists of a CSS style, made up of colour, boarders, widths and fonts, then at the location of the “banner” the <div> calls the CSS class making it look like a normal banner. In reality the text in the visual banner is search engine readable as are any links too. So to many (and seemingly search engines) this goes usually un-noticed.
Drop Down Boxes with Paid Links
I’ve seen this become more popular within the last few months. Works on the same princible as the CSS banners but instead of appearing visually like a banner it looks like a harmless drop down box. Again the coding is unique to the drop down box so doesn’t interfere with any existing site style sheets. The links dont look external and again seem to go unnoticed.
Blogroll Paid Links
A couple of years ago I talked about how and if Google would ever discount blogroll links as so many blogs sell links in these locations. I guess the answer is no (for now), but it’s the easiest location for bloggers to sell links and it’s a genuine area of a blog that would usually contain external links so to Google it probably appears “normal”. This happens most effectively on blogs that link out to relevant websites in their blogrolls - even for manual paid link reviewers there’s no way to distinguish paid and natural links here.
Personally I feel that blogrolls are part of blogging and help people share genuine resources and useful related websites, just on occasions this is used for paid links.
(NB – I do not sell blogroll links on this site, I’m just using an example of a blogroll)
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.