Why is Buying Links a Problem?

Early last week, Jon Christian dropped a story about Jayson Demers promoting his own clients with links he dropped into Forbes, Entreprenuer, Inc and others.

There was shock and horror from people outside of the digital marketing industry. Look at how a portion of the public (and our President) currently treats reporters and journalists. Add this to the list of reasons journalists get a bad rap and are not trusted. Everyone in digital knew this was happening and we all turned a blind eye. (Anyone surprised big deal Neil is involved with this as well?)

Buying Links is an Open Secret

Inside the digital marketing industry, everyone knew this was happening. It was an open secret. Anyone who does link building will receive several emails per week on how to get listed on high authority websites. The market is open to purchase a link for X hundred or thousand dollars on thousands of websites, including Jon’s employer – Buzzfeed.

Selling links on high profile websites is a lucrative business because links are still one of the top drivers of higher rankings in the SERPs. You can also include Private Blog Networks, spam, and blog comments in this group as these methods work to drive rankings, and can sometimes work really well.

Much of the time, the people paying for links on Forbes, HuffPo, Entrepreneur, Inc, Buzzfeed, etc are people new to the industry or those who don’t really know what they are doing. Reason being, Google is now smart enough to understand what these links were and what was happening with them so G began discounting these links a couple years back. Either way, the business of selling links still stands.

Links Still Matter

The business model works because links are imperative to ranking. Google doesn’t like to admit that anymore but it’s obvious. In the past, Google has been caught buying links for the purpose of  ranking their own properties (G Chrome). They “penalized” themselves for the behavior, but why would they add a link if links didn’t matter?

This happens all the time when one company is bought by another company. Look at the Amazon website footer:

These websites are hugely popular and link to many of their other brands in their footer. It works. Also happens on a smaller scale with friends linking to friends, small businesses and other services. Google says these links are fine. They help rankings. How is this not considered a paid link?

Should Buying Links be Punishable?

Back to Jayson Demers. Jayson was fired from his writing gig, Forbes said they would remove some of the links, and other publishers have taken down some of the posts. What are the publishers going to do with the other posts which are still up? Leave them? Nofollow the links? Is G going to punish the sites? Does it even matter?

A bit of a separate issue than buying links, dropping client links in any publication without disclosing they are a client is shady at best. Jayson deserves to be removed of his writing obligations with these companies. The more pertinent question I’m pondering is, should buying links be punishable as well? What if Jayson had disclosed the links were his clients. Would the links have been discounted? Would anyone have cared? I have my doubts.

Google continues to rank the websites selling links (Forbes, Inc, Buzzfeed), and the businesses linked in articles on those sites. How does this stop? Does it need to? Should it be punished at all?

How is buying links any different than sponsoring a parade/5k/conference which provides a link back to your business on their “sponsorship page”? Isn’t that a paid link? What about companies who spend money advertising on TV/Radio/Print and get a link back as an advertiser? The budget is an advantage smaller businesses don’t have. If companies can afford to spend money on offline advertising, shouldn’t it be permitted online as well?

Aside from going against Google’s Guidelines (which they may not enforce anyway,  and even break the rules themselves), what’s the problem with buying links?

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