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Link Buying - Is it OK to buy text links for search engine optimization?

It never ceases to amaze me how one company (Google) can literally support hundreds, if not thousands, of other companies and industries. What I am referring to here is the unbelievable number of sub-industries that have developed around every nuance of Google or the other search engines. Think about some of the aspects of SEO, and undoubtedly you will find a niche industry with several companies who focus on that specific aspect, and make good money doing so.

Purchasing Links for PageRank

One such sub-industry is the linking industry. As you all (undoubtedly) know, Google bases part of its ranking algorithm on the number, quality, and variety of inbound links to a website. Lately Google has thrown in the wrinkle of looking more heavily at authority links, but the concept is still the same, and more importantly, the message is still the same to website owners: linking is important.

Link BuyingBecause getting quality links is important, entrepreneurs have jumped into action developing every sort of flavor of a company promising to get website owners hundreds (if not thousands) of quality inbound links. Among these companies are link exchange communities, software programs, article writing systems, blog creation systems (or splog creation systems), and link purchasing. Today we are going to just focus on purchasing links as the subject has been in the news lately.

Link Buying - What Is It?

Link buying is a very simple idea. Website owners need high quality (read high PR) inbound links. Websites that are of high quality are looking to monetize their websites. The opportunity is thus created - high quality websites open a section on their website where a website owner can purchase a plain text link with the hopes of improving their website ranking.

Now, admittedly, link buying has become a bit more complicated than this. What started off simply as one website owner asking another if they would link to them for a fee is now a significant industry. We have link brokers, advanced link management systems, etc. The idea is still the same, however - buy a quality link with the hopes of increasing your ranking.

Is Link Buying OK With the Search Engines?

Well, Google does not like link buying. It is Google’s view that buying and selling text links lowers the overall value and trustworthiness of links on the Internet. Matt Cutts posted back in September how Google and many of the people at Google feel about buying and selling links. In a word, they don’t like it at all. Although they recognize that some people would buy links just for the traffic, it is their opinion that if someone wants to buy a link, they should add the "nofollow" attribute to the link to make sure that it does not get included in a search engine ranking.

Yahoo has also come out against purchasing links. However, blogger Jeremy Zawodny, who also happens to be an employee of Yahoo’s search department started selling links on his blog. The link will be around for 1 month as he is testing various monetization methods on his site. These links, for those of you paying attention, do not contain the "nofollow" attribute. Although this does not constitute an official endorsement of buying and selling links, it does mean that at least one influential person at Yahoo is at least open to the idea of using link purchasing as a valid monetization of a website.

As a side-note, could this be a bit of a glimpse at how Google and Yahoo! Rank websites? We all know that Google puts a lot of emphasis on the meaning of links from one site to another, which is why they are fighting so hard to reduce link trading and link purchasing. Is this possibly a glimpse showing us that Yahoo does not put as much weight on links as Google? Or could it be that Yahoo is more confident in their ability to determine a page’s natural relevancy?

So Should You Buy Links?

It would be so easy to say that buying links is a decent practice and that you will never get in trouble for doing so. Heck, I would love to be able to buy a few links, including one on Jeremy’s blog. But the truth is, if you want to rank well in either search engine for the long-term and not face a future penalty, you should probably refrain from buying links. Google has stated several times (many times through Matt Cutts) that buying links is not an acceptable practice and that doing so can get you in trouble. Matt shows an example of where this is the case here. According to him, Google has gotten quite adept at identifying purchased links.

I have no doubt that there are thousands of examples of sites that have purchased links only to see their rankings improve significantly. I seriously doubt that Google or any search engine that places significant weight on linking can properly determine whether every link is bought or natural. You may be able to buy a link and have great success with it.

But when it all comes down to the choice you have to make, you have to realize that link buying is a risk. If a search engine catches you buying or selling a link, they will undoubtedly consider your site to be more questionable. What we must also realize is that they are no longer relying simply on scripts to identify what they consider to be spam, they are also using human eyes to confirm what their scripts find.

The Exception to This Rule

Every rule has its exception, and this rule is no exception. There is a legitimate form of link buying. One of the really good things that has come about from link trading, buying and selling is that we have learned that plain text links have the ability to bring in real traffic. If this is what you are after, then buy links to your heart’s content.

Of course, you might want to make sure that you don’t get in trouble for buying links, even if your intention is completely innocent. Although Google has gotten better at determining what links are purchased and what links are natural, they still can not determine a person’s intent. To keep yourself safe, always request that the person you are buying the link from adds the "nofollow" attribute. This will protect both you and them from getting penalized.

Overall Linking Strategies

The conversation of linking schemes and methods is one that has been played out in many different forms. Many people have had success manipulating linking schemes, and there are some very good organizations out there that can get you a quality inbound link. Regardless of what new scheme you hear about or even participate in, your biggest linking goal should always be to find those high quality, one-way inbound links that occur naturally. These would be the type where someone links over to your website because you actually have some quality content to offer rather than some money or deal to offer.

Linking strategies and schemes will no-doubt evolve. I have heard of a few recently which I think can be very successful, but nothing will ever beat a quality, natural link from a source that links to you because you have something to offer.

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