The Great Link Buying Debate

So I know the great link buying debate has been a VERY hot topic in 2011, mainly because of the penalties dished out to both JC Penney and Overstock. Personally I don’t have the time to blog that much anymore but thought I’d like to chime in on the paid links debate that hasn’t stopped since I first started in the industry 3 years ago.

To me it’s all about being smart regarding buying links. The plain ugly truth is that in almost every competitive niche online link buying occurs and has been for years and years. It’s just now gotten to the point where it’s been publicly debated like never before – because you have the content pushers who cry that Google should change this and change that and “links shouldn’t have such an impact on the SERP’s” – but at the end of the day SEO comes down to an algorithm and there is no specific review feature for every site that is out there in the web. Also, keep in mind that every link is somewhat “paid” for in some way, shape, or form. If you send product samples for a blogpost – you’ve sent a monetary value worth of product and hence – a PAID link! At the end of the day it comes down to the fact that not many people are not going to link out to your site out of the goodness of their heart so at some point it takes some negotiation – money, product, services like reciprocal linking or 3 way linking, a “gift”! Even if you publish award winning content – there is still a cost associated with publishing that content and getting it distributed – need to pay the writer, internet usage, building overhead, etc.

The only major change that I’ve seen since I started a few years back is the type and quality of sites that you can now acquire links from. For example, you can get PR 5,6,7 links any day of the week from some of the top newspaper publications in the United States through several online link brokers – I’m dead serious. Even crazier to me was the online conversation I had that is definitive proof that the link selling game has reached unprecedented levels. Basically a few months ago (before JC Penney & Overstock got smacked around for buying links and Forbes got the slap for selling links) I had a conversation with a link reseller on a webmaster forum asking me if I wanted to buy links on two of the TOP Toronto media sites. I kid you not I almost fell of my chair when I saw what the offer was.

Now I’ve personally debated for a while whether or not I wanted to discuss that these two leading Toronto media websites are offering BLATANT paid links (which are dofollow too by the way). I’ve decided that I will discuss the offer proposed to me (and it’s impact on SEO) but I will not divulge either of their names as I’m not a whisteblower nor do I want to be known as one. What the truly pathetic part about the offer is that these massive media sites reached out to link brokers on some webmaster forums who can’t even speak english to resell on their behalf, pretty sad times but hey, nothing has changed regarding paid links from my experience. The only thing that has is the rampant availability of authoritative, high PR sites that are now offering links as a form of “Advertisement” off the homepages of their sites. Anyways I’ll expand later on this point but here’s the conversations:

a) My request for links:

Hey there

looking for high quality links related to accommodations and apartment rentals in Toronto

want year links, sites should be relevant to the niche
be over one year of age
have good amount of backlinks and not sell adult, pharmacy, etc.

please pm me with “accommodations Toronto” in the title


b) Link broker’s proposal:

i have a great website related to Toronto that will give you great benefit to your site

pr 8
placement in content area under section “ads” – sitewide
$1000/per month
$2650/ 3 months

dmoz listed
high traffic website
5k alexa
453000 pages indexed
in august 2010 traffic was around 3,337,000 UV



c) My response:

hey there

where would the link be placed

I am from Toronto – how do you have the rights to post content on this site? are you working on behalf of them? did someone contact you directly?

d) Link brokers’ response:

i have direct contact with company

link will be sent first for approval

and you need to send 35% advance payment to process

remaining with in 24hrs after link placed

if any reason link not approved then you will get 100% refund with in 1 working days

approval process can take 2 business days

i am fair seller here you can check my itrades

you can check with another reputed member of DP “username”

he placed the order for three link with deposit

unfortunately his links are not approved and he get 100% refund with in 24 hrs

let me know if you are interested


(end of conversation)

And here was the second conversation:

a) Same proposal as before

b) Link broker’s response:


I have a quality site in the required niche in which you might be interested. PR 7/$400/month

Let me know if you are interested in the site.


c) My response:

how and where are you able to place links on this site?

d) Link broker’s response:


Thanks for showing your interest in the site.

Your link will be LIVE under ” Links and Offers ” section ( right of the middle on home page ).

Let me know your interest.


e) My response:

do you work on behalf of questioninsite2?

To be honest I find it crazy they are even selling links in the first place and for that price tag not sure how many clients can afford it?

f) Only limited spots are available for selling and yes they are selling the links. Let me know your interest


(end of conversation)

WOW! So there you have it, direct proof that both that a couple of Toronto’s most established online properties are now selling links through backdoor link brokers off of webmaster forums. Never thought it would come to this and I don’t like calling out businesses or competitors’ strategies in the SEO industry but felt that people need to know that this is going on as it’s a massive game changer with unknown implications.

Will Google step up and penalize these publications as it did Forbes? If so, will they send them a warning first? I can see from their perspective that this is just like selling any other form of advertising so they don’t want to miss out on the extra revenue dollars but at what cost? Do they even realize they are going completely against Google’s terms of service? I guess only time will tell.

A couple months ago Forbes was penalized by Google for selling links on this page:

Here is the source code as they have since deleted the text ads:

So as you can see from the source code major companies are taking advantage of the opportunity at hand to buy high PR, authoritative links. Now in Google’s eyes they would just like to see these kind of links nofollowed – they have no problem with text link advertising for traffic and branding purposes – but it crosses their link guidelines if these kinds of links are bought/sold in an attempt to manipulate both PR and the SERP’s.

Now all in all I’m not complaining by any means – I think link buying and selling is just something that occurs in competitive niches and if you want to compete with the big boys then it’s part of the cost of doing business. But to that point here’s a few points I’d like to add to help protect yourself from Google’s wrath if they should suspect you of buying links:

  • Never focus on just one link strategy – especially not just paid links as it doesn’t look natural at all
  • As my great friend Wisam (the best SEO professional I know) says “don’t kill a bird with a cannon” – meaning if you don’t need paid links to rank, then don’t use them!
  • In some industries you need to play the game  – sure you can cry wolf about paid links and hire a content dev team to pump out articles each day but in some niches you’re up against big budgets and massive link buyers. For example, in Canada one of the BIGGEST insurance companies continues to dominate the rankings based off of an extremely aggressive paid link strategy – I know because a) I’ve physically sold them links and b) I track their backlink profile each month just for fun.
  • Link velocity and link variation – are my two favourite terms that I’ve written about and one of the most important pieces of SEO advice I can share. Link building progression should be as NATURAL as possible. Meaning don’t have any massive spikes in the number of backlinks in any given month and always be sure to have link variation (sitelinks, directories, social media links, article links, etc) and always, ALWAYS make sure you focus on anchor text variation as much as possible.
  • TEST, TEST, TEST = Can’t stress this enough! I have a pretty extensive blog network (blogs for link selling, adsense & affiliate marketing) that I test different strategies on all the time. For me the best lessons I’ve learned have come from pushing the dial too hard – if you’ve never gotten a site penalized or banned then you really don’t know how far you can push the envelope.
  • Google is smart, but it’s a machine – at this point it can’t eliminate paid links or any other link strategy as the algorithm is based off of links. Also, always keep in mind that it’s hard to penalize a site based off links as a competitor could be buying the links to your site trying to get you penalized. At the end of the day Google is still link driven and it is very hard for an search engine optimization expert or company to compete without relying on links.
  • In conclusion, be smart about buying links if you choose to do it and don’t get greedy like JC Penney did and try to rank for every single term out there – eventually you’ll piss someone off and you may be contributing to the possibility of your site getting a manual review from Google.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.