I read with particular interest Rand's post about The Art of Buying Links Under the Radar.
One of the key points Rand makes is that when you are (really) smart about buying links, that it's just like buying a directory listing from Yahoo!. Let's look at this further by looking at what the best link buyers do:
- They buy only from highly relevant sites
- They make sure that the ad is not no-followed
- They make sure that there are no obvious clues that it's an ad (such as the word "Sponsors" nearby)
- They control the anchor text for maximum impact
So far, so good. You have gotten a really great link, and you can argue, perhaps in completely good conscience, that you have purchased the link for branding and traffic.
Here is where I feel the logic starts to fall apart though.
You are not dealing with Yahoo!. In fact, by definition, you are dealing with a business somewhat smaller than Yahoo!. There are several issues that result:
- Links might run something like $100 per month. Short money really. This makes it attractive for the buyer, but the downside is that the buyer has little hold over the seller.
- The person who sold you the link sold it to make money. They are probably interested in making more money. Their editorial judgment may rule the day today, but their thirst for cash may rule the day tomorrow. Suddenly, your perfect ad may be surrounded by less than perfect ads, and it becomes much, much easier, to detect.
- It's a volume game. It does not help much to buy a single ad. What really helps you is buying quite a number of ads. This increases your exposure to the prior point. For example, if a search engine discovers that you have been purchasing one really well disguised ad, they will begin looking at your other links. Have a lot of links that are divorced from the integral content (right rail, bottom of page, etc.)? Might not be easy for a crawler to detect, but a human may easily spot it. This is where you get into real trouble - once a human at the search engine believes that your intent was to deceive. The issue here is not what your intent actually was - but what the human reviewer believes your intent was. Keep in mind, nothing good ever comes out of a human review that you didn't request.
- The site may adopt a policy that causes them to label the ads as sponsored at a later date. Note that the closer the company is to truly acting on editorial judgement as a first priority, the more likely this is.
The point is that you don't know what the site you are purchasing links from today will decide to do tomorrow.