Last week, I spent time at the SES (Search Engine Strategies) show in San Jose, CA. Personally, I found the show to be even more energizing than the years before. Not only because of my increased involvement and knowledge of the field of Search, but also because of new friends made, like Bruce Clay, Michael McDonald (WebproNews), Vanessa Fox (ex-googler, now Zillow). Listening to some very engaged search marketing speakers, vendors and customers only added to this feeling, shared by many, I thought.

Outside of the developing areas of mobile search, local search, PPA=”Pay Per Action” (in Beta at Google) video and social search, the paid links session became the biggest, loudest dialogue at the conference. Even Google, represented by “we hate spam” artist Matt Cutts was feeling the heat, and became somewhat embarrassed when the controversial SES paid links discussion got underway.

What is a paid link?

A paid links program involves communication and a money transaction between to parties (buyer, seller) to offer a text link on the seller’s page, possibly both. It is only these two parties that will *ever know* that the page(s) contain paid links, by the way. 

Doesn’t this sound like good ‘ol, solid commerce? Sure, but not when you include Google looking at it. They want to control you, because the issue of PageRank (the voting system that Google brought to market) is a valuable thing, and they don’t want it messed around with, un-naturally.  If you could spend $10-$100,000 and buy links outright, and gain in search engines and competitors, who would prevent you from doing that? Google is trying and always will.

Do paid links work?

Yes, they work – if done right.

Don’t buy a link from a home page, but find a relevant, interior page with low link counts, few to no other paid links and don’t always use the anchor text, but balance between your domain name, keyword, etc. For example, companies subscribe to the Yahoo Directory (, not only for traffic, but authority and relevancy (again, if done right), and while $299.00 and continual annual updates get expensive – it should not be missed. Paid links are like paid advertising to many. Check the Link Love Directories list for more information.

Google’s stance on paid links:

Paid links are ok, just make sure you manage link equity correctly, via a javascript or a “no-follow” (custom tag within an HREF, invented by Google). I’m para-phrasing here, but they’re saying they don’t mind paid links, just make sure you don’t buy link juice to elevate your own pagerank/authority.

Google’s search engine analyzes links all the time.  It looks among other things at the link neighborhoods, the page’s and site’s relevancy – and can easily discover which links are useful and relevant.

Back to 1998 and common $ense.

When the Google search engine was created, it was about capturing number of links, relevancy and importance (authority) of those links. The engine itself seeks out the most relevant content to a search query, and presents the listings. This is still very true today. If you are applying sound techniques for external link profile building, you should be sure to get links from related sites. If you are selling Fruit Baskets, you should not pay or solicit links from a Vitamin Shop. Also, do not buy loads of links at the “run of site”, like a footer – and in existence with other paid links (you will have to research, or contact an SEO’er). A great link to get is inside the body text of an article or story, preferrably with additional keywords that support your landing page. Use common sense, and don’t spam, and don’t buy bunches of links in a short period of time, red flags everywhere.

Can Google track paid links?

No. While it’s true that there are more obvious sites than others, it’s not something you want to be that concerned with, just apply sound techniques, as discussed. If somehow they do in the future, it means you did a poor job anyway. Some folks may report sites, and encouraged by Google, but again – do a good link positioning job, and don’t worry.

Google – Hypocrites?

The embarrasing moment for Google came at the question of “…Doesn’t Google sell links? That’s what the whole Adwords system is based on …”. Google is happily grabbing Benjamins from advertisers there, but is trying to control the paid links advertising medium… An uncomfortable moment, to be sure.

My take on this paid link discussion is whether it’s a paid link or not, if it’s highly topical, relevant, Google should not worry about this.  Buying links as well as sharing links has been going on for a long time. Google is here to try and change the course. It will be a long battle, and never truly resolved.

Grab the fun and provocative paid links powerpoint that started it all: Click Here (Ed Note: not a paid link… ;-))

Where do you draw the line of what’s paid or not, and what experience do you have with paid links?


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Entrepreneur Magazine says Jon Rognerud is one of the most sought-after Digital Marketing Experts. His clients extend from high-end brands and middle-tier businesses in both B2B and B2C. His SEO website optimization book, "The Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Website" from Entrepreneur Press is in bookstores now.