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Paying for Search Rankings - Is Everyone Doing It?

Kristi Hines
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Paid Links BudgetPaid links are taboo in the SEO world, and many, many link building companies will swear up and down, left and right, that they don't pay for links. And companies that perform DIY link building probably wouldn't admit that they're doing it either, especially if they have been reading up on link building strategies.

Yet, if you do any backlink analysis of your competitors, you will see that there are plenty of links being bought that are affecting rankings, but they aren't directly named paid links. Some popular examples would include:

  • Directories: The strongest direct backlinks you can get generally aren't free, and the free ones generally aren't the type of site you would want to associate a link with anyway.

    Are directories bad? Not necessarily. Google tends to like directories that are human edited. One great example would be Yahoo's directory which charges a $299 annual fee for inclusion.
  • Advertising: Lots of sites, such as online newspapers and blogs with high incoming traffic, sell advertising space on their site. Not only banner ads, but also text links. Although they are supposed to make them nofollow, plenty of them don't.

    What should you look out for when it comes to advertising text links? If a site is selling them to you, make sure they aren't selling them to just everyone. It's just as easy to sell links to a targeted site as it is to a pharmacy or other bad neighborhood.
  • Press Releases: Some press release sites offer a free service to get your latest announcements spread across social and news networks. But there are also others that you have to pay to get advanced features which include adding text links within the body of your release.

    The only question is now, thanks to Panda, which PR sites are still valuable for backlinks as some like PRlog.org and PRnewswire.com were hit by the first update? You can view the full list of sites hit by the first Panda update here to make sure sites you are utilizing are Panda-safe.
  • Product Reviews: Businesses find writers who will write product reviews on their personal blogs or websites for a negotiated fee. And reviews can also be obtained by simply allowing writers access to their services or sending them free products which is still considered by Google a paid review as the service or product does have monetary value and was given in exchange for the review.

    While Google obviously has a strong policy against buying or selling links, one question that arose when it comes to reviews in exchange for something of monetary value was whether Google went against their own policy by giving away Android phones with the hopes that they would generate buzz.

Why Are More Link Builders Buying Links?

Webmasters and blog owners are getting smart. If their sites have PageRank and/or traffic, many probably receive regular link requests – from spammy link exchanges to offers to be compensated for the time it takes to make the requested changes.

Website owners are now privy to the game and know they can get something out of placing a link on their site, which is why link builders must be smart about how they write their link requests.

Buying Social Signals

And guess what? Paying for better search rankings isn't just limited to the link building world anymore.

Now that it's becoming more evident that social signals are affecting rankings in search, more services are cropping up to help businesses boost their social campaigns. You can buy tweets, social bookmarking, and even fans from via someone with thousands of friends recommending your fan page to their connections from sites like Fiverr.

While some paid links are considered relatively evil, others are much more mainstream and widely accepted. Some may not like to admit it, but the above (and more) can all be considered paid links because it boils down to money (or items with a specific monetary value) being exchanged for a link.

So what's your opinion on paying for anything that affects search rankings? Is it still relevant? Is it effective?

Will search engines ever be able to crack down on the above mentioned strategies? Why is a blind eye being turned toward some but not others? Your thoughts welcome!


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