What Can We Learn From The Latest Brand To Be Called Out For Paid Links?

Move over JC Penney. Another brand is getting attention over buying links, this time Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation. Today’s news is less news and more a reminder of lessons that SEO companies, clients and publishers all need to keep in mind, to avoid trouble.

Josh Davis drew attention to the DBCC situation in his post today, documenting how after receiving three link requests from the same person, he finally followed up, only to be pitched on placing a link from one of his articles to the DBCC site in return for $30 per month.

What’s Dun & Bradstreet — the nearly 200-year-old Fortune 500 company that brokers information about people and companies for business decisions — doing buying links? It’s not. DBCC was spun-off from D&B in 2010 and is a privately-held company, providing credit solutions to small businesses, with a license to use the D&B brand.

That DBCC isn’t a Fortune 500 company takes some of the “wow” factor out of the story. In addition, we’ve already had stories about big companies ranging from JC Penney to Overstock to even Google itself getting caught for paid links. That makes what DBCC was doing seem even less newsworthy to some. After all, doesn’t everyone do this now? What’s really new or unique here?

I supposed there is nothing particularly new, but clearly there’s a bunch of reminders that are useful to have out there.

Client Beware

Judy Hacket, the chief marketing officer of DBCC, sounded pretty horrified when I talked with her today about the situation. Her department was scrambling to discover how exactly it ended up with these links being purchased.

Davis connects the link request in his story back to iAcquire. Hacket wouldn’t say if DBCC is working with that firm, citing possible confidentiality clauses in contacts. She did say, however, “we have absolutely no agreement with iAcquire or anyone else allowing them to use any grey hat or black hat practices.”

Hacket was also adamant that DBCC had no desire to violate any of Google’s guidelines.

“We would never endorse something like this,” she said.

Of course, we’ve heard this type of denial / shock before. Recall what JC Penney said last year, after the New York Times profiled it for using paid links:

J.C. Penney did not authorize, and we were not involved with or aware of, the posting of the links that you sent to us, as it is against our natural search policies.

Curious to learn more, I asked JC Penney what those policies were after the New York Times story came out. A JCP spokesperson emailed me back:

We are not going to provide our policies, but obviously, they would include staying within Google’s guidelines.

Well, obviously! Except they didn’t, otherwise JC Penney wouldn’t have been banned. When JCP said it didn’t authorize or was involved with paid links, it meant that its SEO firm did all that. As I was told further in my email exchange:

SearchDex ran our SEO program. We do not pay for links as they go against Google’s guidelines. SearchDex was terminated because as our SEO provider they should have known. This was a clear failure on their part.

It was also a clear failure on JCP’s part, for not understanding what its SEO company was doing. The same is true for DBCC. Indeed, I’ve been joking that for some time, whenever some large brand gets dinged for paid links, it’s handy to have an SEO firm they can pin the blame on.

The reality is that for the large companies or brand names, this type of behavior seems to get a 90 day slap, then they’re back in Google’s good graces. It’s difficult for Google to permanently remove an important company that people expect to find. That means as a client, or as an important brand, keep these lessons in mind:

  • Do you fully understand how your SEO company will obtain links for you?
  • If you don’t want paid links, have you made that crystal-clear?
  • If you approve of buying paid links, are you prepared for a potential short-term PR black eye?
  • If you approve of buying paid links, is that worth a potential short-term Google penalty?

If you’re not a major brand or an essential resource that Google has to list, there’s really only one question you need to ask. Are you prepared to lose all your traffic from Google? That’s because for the non-essential people, being caught for paid links can be a death sentence, not a temporarily set-back.

SEO Company Beware

As for the SEO company buying links, you’d better be prepared for your client to toss you to the wolves, if a paid link campaign comes to light. Also do be prepared for that campaign to come to light, unless you’re incredibly careful with whom you are soliciting.

In this case, the SEO company pitched someone whose “About” page explains that he writes about marketing. That should have been a warning that this person is probably somewhat savvy about paid links, so some disguised pitch for one wasn’t wise.

I get these types of pitches myself. So does Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team. If I’d gotten this type of email sent to me on behalf of a major brand, I might very well have written about it myself and concerns about “outing” be damned. I’d view it as a protective service to the general human population. It’s like watching someone drive backwards on the freeway. They’re a danger to everyone.

As for iAcquire itself, it won’t comment on the case, citing client confidentiality. It won’t acknowledge that it was involved in any way, nor confirm if it has worked with DBCC. But the company did give me this statement:

We work with many of the largest brands in the world. It’s very common that we run into large brands everyday buying links from blog networks and large paid link marketplaces, and our mission as a business is to direct brand strategy towards whiter hat link building approaches.

That movement often takes time and effort – and, in the real world in working with big brands with pre-established objectives it frequently is a multi-step process, and requires a lot of education at both the SEO manager, online marketing marketing manager and CMO-levels. We are literally driving the education process every day.

To be clear, we are not a link network. Every link we build is based on the very same principles touted throughout the industry. Our links are contextual and relevant through outreach performed by 40 actual in-house people that sit in our Arizona office and everything is pushed through strenuous quality assurance.

Our business is to push brands to white hat strategy, but we frequently acquire new customers that are still on that path, and we support these companies toward that white hat direction. We have been investing significantly into our content marketing, social media, and digital PR channels to more rapidly make those changes internally and for these brands.

Regarding the article written about our company, we can’t talk about specific strategy for specific customers or potential customers – due to confidentiality agreements. Financial compensation for links does not represent the strategic direction of our company. iAcquire’s services are holistic and include a great deal of content marketing, digital PR and social media promotion, and on-page SEO consulting.

We’ve never had a problem with Google’s algorithm and our clients – and, we understand that it is important for us to continue to drive the market towards techniques that best represent the guidelines established by search engines. iAcquire continues to evolve its service lines, and recently brought in Mike King to help drive that direction to ensure we are considering search engine guidelines and industry best practices. In addition, he continues to promote these best practices at various conferences worldwide.

Wait, is iAcquire suggesting that DBCC — assuming it eventually emerges as a client — was one of those companies needing to be nudged into the white hat world? Cofounder Joe Griffin effectively said no, when he emailed this follow-up statement:

We aren’t talking about D&BCC (when we mention that we transition people from grey to white in the second sentence) – we can’t talk about specifics of clients or potential clients – we are prevented from doing so.

The enterprise world has a lot of nuances, and we believe we have more than anyone helped to correct SEO brand strategy as it relates to off-page SEO and specifically as it relates to killing black hat link networks.

At the end of the day we run into a lot of different goals, and different approaches, and we try to bring all clients to a fully white hat solution. Our team is heavily focused on high quality editorial content and creative development to attract links. We do a TON of link reclamation as well.

We brought Mike on board specifically to continue to build upon this direction. Mike is one of the best in the business in educating SEOs about how to properly implement off-page SEO strategy – he’s helping us here as well.

We are not a paid link company. We deliver holistic off-page SEO to small and large companies – and are the leading charge in proper off-page SEO education.

By Mike, Griffin is referring to Michael King, who I’d say has built a good reputation for himself in some SEO circles over the past year in his writings and speaking. He’s spoken at our own SMX events and is slated to again next month. He’s sharp, has lots of insight, and he seemed a win for iAcquire when they hired him about two months ago.

Suffice to say, I was pretty surprised that he appeared mixed up with all this. He’s seemed very white hat. I think it’s great if he’s going to help iAcquire and/or its clients move to white hat activities, but I’d say the sooner the better, if iAcquire really doesn’t want to be known as a paid link company.

Right now, however, if that link request is effectively coming out of iAcquire’s work, it might not be a paid link company, but it sure seems as if it has been buying links. That’s tough to square talk of following search engine guidelines.

Google, Oh Google

Meanwhile, there’s Google. This time last year, it was counting the news about JC Penney as a win in the war against paid links. A year later, has anything changed? Was it really that much a deterrent?

I honestly don’t know. I’ve heard some say that many SEOs buy links. That’s it’s just what you have to do. I don’t have any good survey data to back those types of statements up or knock them down.

Fair to say, however, today’s news didn’t surprise many. Even if it it had been D&B itself, I’m not sure if the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal would have cared to run stories, as they did last year with JC Penney and Overstock.

I do know that Google has got to come up with something better than counting links. I keep expecting that social will be a larger signal, and my previous story below explains more about why this makes sense:

In the meantime, we’re stuck with the increasingly creaking, rotting link signal. But for anyone who thinks that’s an excuse for anything goes, look again to what I said the Client Beware section above. Are you really big enough to take a chance on being dropped from Google?

There are plenty of people who bought links who did get caught in the Penguin Update. Some of them are learning to their horror that the only chance of coming back will be to start completely over.

Finally, I did ask Google if it had any comment on the DBBC situation. Nothing specific, just this general warning:

Our guidance on paid links remains the same as ever: paying for links that pass PageRank violates our guidelines, and Google takes appropriate action in response.

If you don’t know what PageRank is, well, read our guide: What Is Google PageRank? A Guide For Searchers & Webmasters.

Publisher Beware; Link Broker For Shame

For those being approached about selling links, this is a reminder that Google really doesn’t like you to do that and has penalized sites for doing so since 2007. If you’re approached out of the blue with a link request, unless you block that link by using something like the nofollow attribute, you’re placing your site at jeopardy.

Don’t expect the link request to alert you to any of these things. The request that went out on behalf of DBCC was a classic example of non-disclosure. It lacks warnings about possible Google penalties. It even required that there be no visible disclosure, which might very well violate US Federal Trade Commission guidelines. From the request:

Link must not be marked as Paid in the visible content or source code (Common designations include: Partner, Links, Paid Links, Ads or Sponsored Links)
When Davis followed-up about this, he was again told not to disclose payment:
The link can’t have any disclosures, we want it to appear natural.

The whole thing reminds me of the type of spammy requests I get all the time. While people in the SEO space may want to debate whether it’s fair or required or commonplace to buy links or not, I don’t see much room for debate that you shouldn’t try to foist a paid link on someone without full disclosure.

As I wrote before, in my Conversation With An Idiot Link Broker article from 2008

There are plenty of people who disagree over the paid link issue, plus whether Google actually penalizes sites that hard for it. That disagreement is no excuse for unethical behavior. And there is unethical behavior in search marketing, and this is a perfect example of it. No risk was disclosed. When asked repeatedly about risk issues, they were denied….

You want to buy links or be a link broker? Then be upfront that this is an activity that Google does not like and that the faint hearted shouldn’t apply. Only after you’ve scared the heck out of them should you start talking about the ways that you’ll try to reduce the risk, if they choose to carry on.

Personally, I’m somewhat amazed, or really, disheartened, over some of the comments Davis is taking over his post. As I said, some dismiss the paid links as old news. Some are angry, viewing his post as some unnecessary “outing” of paid links.

No one seems bothered that some SEO firm was potentially getting a third-party web site into trouble with Google. That’s the most disturbing aspect of all of this. That’s not new, either, but it ought to be stamped out.

Postscript: DBCC has now sent a letter out to its SEO agencies saying in part:

Without our knowledge or approval, certain parties have reached out to other parties to link to our website (the “Unauthorized Links”) for no valid reason….

Please be informed that we are not affiliated with nor do we have any relationship with these companies.

We ask that you remove any Unauthorized Links immediately unless you believe the content is relevant and provides value to your users. Under no circumstances will we authorized payment or pay for any Unauthorized Links.

You can see the full letter below:

DBBC says a copy was also sent to Google, and it’s part of what DBBC is doing to try and rectify the situation. The list of companies it named in the letter are:

  • InternetReach.org
  • DigitalPros.org
  • MediaFinders.net
  • iOutReach.org
  • LinkBuilder.net
  • SolarPros.com
  • Conductor

DBCC said it also sent a copy of the letter to the published contact addresses of those listed. The list matches those that Josh Davis listed in his original post on the paid link situation, companies he connects with iAcquire.

iAcquire was not listed in the DBBC letter. However, iAcquire has now been banned from Google since this story came out, probably because Google believes it either works in association with some of the companies named above or that it controls them.

iAcquire Banned From Google After Link Buying Allegations is our story has more about that, plus has a postscript where I explain the connections more.

Postscript 2: See iAcquire: We’re Abandoning Paid Links

Postscript 3: See Google Lifts Ban On iAcquire; Company Blogs Of Being Reformed

Related Stories

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: SEO | Link Building: Paid Links | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Seofox

    Some companies like SEOMoz offer a list of recommended directories to purchase links from even though they are fully against paid links. Where is the line drawn? Are directory links OK for paid inclusion? Is the line crossed when you solicit to pay someone directly for a link on their own website? Just curious on the difference.

  • http://twitter.com/lordofseo Lord of SEO

    When are you ‘SEO’s going to learn. You’re supposed to break ‘the rules’ with aplomb. This is how you win.

  • http://twitter.com/Kevin_Lee_QED Kevin Lee

    Interesting.  Several major directory companies sell links even misrepresenting links as having SEO value even when they are no-follow.  The team at DBCC certainly should and does know where the lines are between black and white hat. Jeff Stibel DBCC CEO is (or was) chairman of the board of The Search Agency. 

  • http://twitter.com/manojpallai Manoj Pallai

    How it’s, suppose I’m paying some one directly by paypal or bank transfer against links from there webpages, make sure they are not selling links to other guys bzc a genuine website.
    Is that count by paid links ??

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/111506395990228434496/about Stacey Cavanagh

    I agree with some of the other commenters here about certain circumstances that might be more blurred – e.g. premium directories like BOTW. But this isn’t a blurred line at all! In this case, an SEO agency asked a website owner, “Yo, link to my client and I will pay you. But you can’t tell anyone I pay you cos it has to look natural.”

    Pretty clear cut case ;-)

    It’s surprising how few companies do actually understand the potential penalties of paid linking, though. In the past 3 years, (having dealt with businesses of all sizes) I can think of only 2 instances where we’ve ever specifically been asked to sign an agreement saying we wouldn’t engage in that activity. Surprisingly, those requests didn’t come from the bigger companies either.

    I agree with you though, Danny, that brands have a responsibility to educate themselves on what their SEOs are doing and, more to the point, on the types of activities that should be avoided.

  • http://www.seocontentwriters.co/ James Watson

    I think the paid links was the most worst experience by anyone just after penguin update because if it is a kind of unnatural link then it can cause a -ve effect.

  • Armand47

    I’m a bit curious, if this site condemns “Paid Links” so much, why is that I see TLA Ads being promoted on this site? 

  • http://ciarannorris.co.uk Ciaran

    Reposting a Facebook comment from Danny’s posting of this story, with a slight addition.

    The main thing that this tells me is that we should stop using the phrase white hat or black hat, if all we’re talking about is buying links. I’m not saying I agree or don’t with the principle of it, but it’s not on a level with hacking (which actually is grey hat), and it suggests it’s somehow underhand. It’s against Google’s policies, and the two are not the same.

    If however, as you suggest at the end of the article, that links have to be marked as paid, and someone says that they can’t be, then we’re in a different place altogether. At the end of the day, the client and the linkee need to be made fully aware of what they’re getting into. After that, there has to be an element of caveat emptor.

  • http://twitter.com/cacurtisatl Clayton Alan Curtis

    This is an extremely grey area. You’re under a microscope working for these big companies. At least he was asking for a “contextual sponsorship” within what I’m assuming was a related post. 

  • http://piloseo.com Mark Pilatowski

    Sorry, but much of this article is just spin. Working with iAcquire requires a significant investment and they are very transparent about the strategy and tactics that they will employ to achieve the desired goals. The DBCC rep claiming they were horrified and had no idea what was going on is either being dishonest or they are doing a horrible job of managing their marketing budget.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YMTXAXV55SZZXSI7BIXKJZLESA Mia

    my best friend’s step-sister makes $79/hour on the laptop. She has been fired for seven months but last month her check was $20293 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site CashLazy.c&#111m  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5BLFITQSDRDEIAUOXY4OOWGU2A Charlie

    I see a lot of dodging here – whoever sent the iAcquire statement should go into politics next.

    How about a yes/no to the following:

    Do you currently buy links on behalf of *any* client?

    If yes, are these clients explicitly told that this is against the Google guidelines and presents a risk?

    Is the example shown in the outing post accurate in terms of requiring that there be no disclosure on the publisher end?

    Are publishers ever warned that they are putting themselves at risk by selling links?

  • http://www.webstatsart.com/ Webstats Art

    It is about time that some people start to make the general public aware that there is a multi-billion dollar underground backlink. Powerful backlinks are serious business. I regularly receive emails from all sorts of companies asking for links in exchange for links for for a small fee.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I didn’t condemn paid links. I condemn getting people to sell them without outlining the risks.

    If we have TLA ads, it’s because we have a completely separate advertising department that handles the ads. Kind of like why if you search for terms around paid links at Google, you’ve often been able to find ads from people selling them there.

  • http://twitter.com/Skitzzo Ben Cook

    That seems like a bit of a cop out answer, Danny.

    Don’t you think your advertising department has a duty to make sure the ads served on your site promote quality companies?

    Using Google as an example of what’s acceptable for advertising is a dangerous proposition. They promote get rich quick schemes and recently got slapped with a substantial fine for selling illegal drug ads.

    I for one would hope SELand would be better than that.

  • http://twitter.com/stuntdubl Todd Malicoat

    Quote: “I might very well have written about it myself and concerns about “outing” be damned. I’d view it as a protective service to the general human population. It’s like watching someone drive backwards on the freeway. They’re a danger to everyone.”

    Being dumb is not a danger to everyone…if it were, I think there’d be a lot more ritualistic human sacrifice going on – or the prisons would be much more full than they are. While sending an email to Matt Cutts (or a blogger who likes to stir controversy) is very dumb – it really doesn’t justify public lynching.

    I’ve always had a lot of respect for your defense of the “seo industry”, but this is somewhat absurd. I think it’s taking the easy way out accepting and supporting google’s idealistic views of striving for full disclosure of ALL links. It just won’t happen. I’ve very seldom if ever met even the most ethical of whitehats that didn’t smirk a little bit when they talked about getting a good link from a friend or organization that they had helped financially, or in other ways that could be directly tied to financial compensation. We ALL want good links, and we’ll pay for them one way or another.

    It’s the elephant in the room that has ALWAYS been at least part of the solution to effectively optimizing a website. Some folks take it to an extreme, and will always pay the price – as they should.

    It’s always been a question of semantics – it’s why I’m so tired of the debate. There are double standards, and there always will be. There will always be an acceptable level of “gray area” with sponsorships, promotions, giveaways, and the like.

    It’s easy to say that “buying links is wrong”, and then just do it anyhow like most do. It’s a whole lot harder to admit that paid link acquisition has always been a part of most companies offpage optimization strategy.

    It’s not quite true that “If you’re not doing anything wrong…you have nothing to worry about”

    …until one day you get caught in the crossfire by what may have been only 10% of your overall strategy.

    It pains me to see good companies that work hard for their clients get outed and hung out to dry. Many of these companies have been helping small and medium businesses be competitive for years, and helped them to grow to a level that they can compete with larger players.

    If a company doesn’t know the risk of outsourcing their marketing – I think they are the ones who should ultimately shoulder the blame – they always get to enjoy the success when things are working the way it should.

    The line of what is paid and what isn’t will remain a blurry one – and G will continue to depend on webmaster’s feedback to make moral and editorial decisions about the INTENT of a link. It’s a slippery slope folks.

    Why not just leave google’s job of improving their search relevance to them, and NOT encourage them to make editorial and morale decisions “for the good of mankind”. Arguing that paid links are completely wrong is supporting a morale and ethical decision. I don’t support dishonesty or cheating in any way – but I think you have to at least question the thresh hold and overall intent of such a self-righteous decision that no financial incentive should ever be given for citation reference that benefits a site in the search results.

    We’re having this debate because links are important, and hold inherent value. To expect that people won’t trade on that value is not realistic.

    It truly amazes me on a daily basis that G has gotten the webmaster and seo community to do so much of their work for them. So much for “the community” i guess.

    *disclaimer*
    Fortunately, *I* would never condone buying link advertising, and wholeheartedly welcome our new google overlords. They will lead us into the light with their perfect morale compass, and virtuous leadership. Perhaps, I too, will donate some time to ridding the earth of the dangerous folks who sit behind a computer and send email requests to try to help build their business, as they are a danger to both humanity and themselves. *disclaimer*

  • http://twitter.com/Skitzzo Ben Cook

     Nick, the problem with your statement is that no one other than the SEO and the client will ever know whether the risks were explained or not.

    Maybe D&BCC knew the risks, and were engaging in even riskier link buying before iAcquire came on board. Maybe iAcquire undertook the link buying in order to remove as much risk in it as possible. Who knows.

    Then again, maybe iAcquire didn’t explain the risks or even their tactics.

    The point is we don’t know. For that matter, we don’t actually know whether these conversations/emails were fabricated or not.

    That’s the danger in outing.

  • http://piloseo.com Mark Pilatowski

    This

  • http://twitter.com/todayztrendz Andrew Lang

    It seems so easy to do a “sting” operation and just pay a 3rd party site $30 to link to your competitor, then report to Google. How can anyone know how a link is really paid for? It could be a competitor setting up a “bad situation” for another company.

  • http://twitter.com/Baeumlisberger Erik Baeumlisberger

    This all day.

  • http://profiles.google.com/henley.chiu Henley Chiu

    “If you’re not doing anything wrong…you have nothing to worry about”
    I agree, this is bull. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you may not have to worry about being penalized a whole lot. but NOT nothing.

    You STILL have to worry how the heck you’re gonna get any search engine traffic, especially if you’re in a very competitive industry where people hardly hand out editorial links.

    Pick you poison: 
    1) High chance of getting penalized
    2) High chance of being INVISIBLE.

  • McdanielLawrence

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  • Armand47

    Sorry, but I can’t accept that as an excuse. The whole issue here, is that “Paid Links” are against G’s guidelines as they are used to manipulate rankings. If you allow them to be shown on this site, you are being a hypocrite. You say you don’t condemn them, yet you are proclaiming to avoid them or get heavily penalized by Google. Once again, as with a some of your other posts, you show a lot of contradictions.

  • http://twitter.com/ThomSmith05 Thom Smith

    I agree with Ben and Amanda – if that’s the answer you stand by Danny. iAcquire shouldn’t be called out for “paid links” – it should be InternetReach.org as they are a “separate” department.

    SEO is an industry full of gamers that play the system…so please don’t try to fool us. We should all have each others backs as long as we are promoting legitimate tactics.

    It’s not like LLsocial was a poker or porn site…it was a clean site that had something similar to what D&B offers and the representative offered them an opportunity to work together. That’s how business works. 

    For this to be compared to JC Penny is an outrage…

    Please notify your ad department to take down the TLA ad if you’re going to write posts like this..

  • Ivan Strouchliak

    Why make a big deal out of this

  • http://nickmorris.me Nick Morris

    Yes, good point. What I should have said was that we should educate the business community to expect their SEO to explain their techniques and the risks before engaging them.

  • http://nickmorris.me Nick Morris

    The whole idea of *not* outing paid links kinda seems like price fixing to me. SEOs prop each other up to the detriment of the public. It’s anti-competitive.

    Sure, you could make the argument that you have an obligation to do whatever it takes to get your client ranking but you can use the same argument to support outing paid links ie. outing your client’s competitor so their rankings drop and your client’s improve.

    Every increase in rankings means someone else has decreased in rankings and visa versa therefore every outing has a silver lining with the added benefit that you’re improving the index for the general public (in theory).

    So where does this idea of outing being unethical come from? Perhaps its fear of retribution or simply wanting to preserve a mutually beneficial situation. If its just a question of value you can’t say its unethical if someone has found the ability to get more value by outing someone.

    My guess is its part of our tribal instinct to want to help our fellow SEOs and shun the outsiders. We see this unspoken moral code appear amongst criminals, in the school yard and anywhere else an us against them situation occurs. Its natural but is it really ethical and does it have a place in business.

    Perhaps some wish we could go back to the 14th century and form an SEO guild to protect our interests and formalise this non-outing mentality.

  • http://twitter.com/RJDINTL RJD International

    Every company knows when they are buying links.  The consulting firm isn’t going to waste their own money buying links. Besides how can a big company not keep track of their backlinks….

    BTW JC Penny DID know they were buying links.  I know for fact because someone that works there told me. 

    Just play dumb and blame it on the agency, works every time.

  • http://twitter.com/SimonHeseltine Simon Heseltine

    I think this is what you’re looking for :)  
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKUlVquEImc 

  • KimberlyThePinkRanger

    You clearly don’t know the definition of price fixing. 

    How is outing someone a good competitive practice? Why not just do the right things for your site instead of relying on others’ ranks falling? Are you not able to achieve high ranks on your own?

    Getting into the *brown word* throwing match of reporting sites for spam is not something SEOs or site owners should take lightly. Anyone can easily get plenty of spammy links at your site and benefit from your downfall. Would you really want to play that game with someone? I know I wouldn’t.

    Buying links is not an exclusive club and it’s anything but tribal, bully, or any other kind of hush hush bad guy scheme. Anyone can do it and most do.

    Sounds like you want to be part of the cool successful crowd but your horse is too high. 

  • KimberlyThePinkRanger

    Finally! A well articulated, logical and detailed commentary. 

  • http://twitter.com/smoMashup smoMashup

     This. All day, every day.

  • http://nickmorris.me Nick Morris

     The thing is that its not actually paid links that are the problem, its non-editorial links. As it happens, most paid links are non-editorial and often easier to spot so it makes sense to go after them. There’s no doubt some paid directories that Google considers to have enough of an editorial filter, such as the Yahoo Directory, that they’re still willing to trust those links.

  • http://twitter.com/rosenstand Thomas Rosenstand

     Very well spoken, Todd!

  • http://nickmorris.me Nick Morris

    I said it “feels” like price fixing… a secret agreement between SEOs to not out each other, like a secret agreement between companies to fix a price and not undercut each other.

    I don’t think you can separate your site rising and another site falling because they are the same thing. You say do the “right things” but who says that that doesn’t include outing manipulative sites to improve the results for everyone.

    Is it “right” to out businesses that make false claims in their advertising? In a way manipulating the rankings is making the false claim that your website deserves a high ranking so how is this different?

    Negative SEO will exist with or without outing so I don’t think that’s a valid criticism.

    Your reference to the “cool crowd” is a perfect example of the tribalism I was talking about. If your objective is to stay in the cool crowd its no wonder you are defending your non-outing moral code.

    What I really want to know is what is your basis for saying that outing other websites is unethical?

  • http://www.atishayjain.info/ Atishay Jain

    I have been working with search engines from many years but I never understand why people pay for the links, just to increase the number of backlinks?? Is that so? It is worst to get some links that are even not helping to push you at least 1 number up on Google organic ranks. As far as my knowledge is concerned if you really want to see some increment in number of backlinks then do not at least buy them. Just try to get some natural links from some reputed sites one good link would be same as 100 links from the useless paid directories.

  • http://twitter.com/curtisnoble Curtis Noble

    did I miss something?  ALL of this is deserved because someone may have tried to buy ONE link?  And we’re comparing an “attempt” at buying ONE link to what JCPenney was doing? c’mon now.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Unless you think Josh is lying about the content of the email he received — and I don’t — it’s pretty clear that we do know that whomever sent that request clearly wasn’t explaining the risks to the publisher.

    So if we’re going to talk about ethics in all this, is it ethical to out some paid link request or not, I think it’s more important to start there. If you’re going to solicit links, is it not ethical to actually explain exactly what you want, why you don’t want the disclosure?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I’m confused. You think we should only take ads from companies that agree to follow Google’s guidelines — the same guidelines that I’m pretty sure you’ve disagreed with at times? Is that what a quality company is?

    Oh, but wait. Let assume that iAcquire was indeed the company involved in this. Go back and read that statement. Sounds like they’re saying they’re a white hat company that doesn’t do paid links, except for, the paid links.

    So what next, Ben. If a company says they are white hat, that they broker links within Google’s guidelines, do we fire up a sting operation to investigate whether they lied about what they told us?

    Back to the original question. Why would we have TLA ads here? I don’t actually see those. But if we did, as I said, it’s because I’d leave it to the ad department to decide if there was a reason (or not) to carry those ads. If we had a lot of reader complaints about a company, I’m sure we’d take a closer look at whether there was some reason to continue carrying them.

    But drop them because we wrote an article against paid links? We didn’t write that. I didn’t write that. I did write an article warning that if you do them, you’d better be pretty careful.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I didn’t call iAcquire out for paid links, Thom. I wrote about an article that did so. This was an article that was all over Twitter, with people yelling back-and-forth about it. Should we have just ignored it? I thought it was worth looking at. But I didn’t get up this day and say “hmm, I think I’ll see if there’s some paid link campaign I should out.” 

    I also, again, didn’t say that paid links shouldn’t happen. I don’t agree with them myself. But at the end of the article, there’s a story I wrote called “Time For Google To Give Up The Fight Against Paid Links.” I suggest you review that again.

    But if we’re supposed to have people’s backs for legitimate tactics, then I assume we should similar speak out against illegitimate stuff. If that’s the case, then explain why asking some publisher to put up a paid link, without disclosing that it might get them in trouble with Google, with specifically saying not to provide disclosure as the FTC might require, is legit.

    That seems to have been lost in all this debate, and few seem to care about that. That’s a shame.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Please go back into the article and see where I condemned paid links. A quote would be nice.

    I don’t like them. But I wish Google would find another way to deal with them rather than this war it probably can’t win (as I wrote in 2007). But I also advise that if someone’s going to do them, they’d better be careful. That’s good advice I think any good SEO would have, black hat or white hat.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Todd, if you’re a major brand and you personally send me some idiotic link request, I might very well decide that I’m going to use that link request to illustrate your idiocy. I stand by what I wrote. You are a danger to potential clients and publishers. 

    I don’t think that’s absurd at all. Sorry you disagree. But it would be like Bank Of America sending some dodgy mortgage offer to the Wall Street Journal. It’s dumb.

    While I might do that, I haven’t actually done so, that I can recall. I have done a few examples over the years (see “Idiot Link Broker above”) where I’ve disguised the company name, usually because I didn’t want to give them any publicity.

    Aside from what I might possibly do, if you were stupid enough to email a paid link request to me (and you should really see some of the incredibly stupid emails I get), I don’t really disagree with the grey area over what’s paid or not nor the debate. As I’ve told others, go back and see my post on giving up the paid link war from 2007.

    “It pains me to see good companies that work hard for their clients get outed and hung out to dry.”

    It pains me to see good companies send link requests that don’t make it clear why they are buying the link and the risk to the publisher. Those aren’t good companies. 

    But by all means, we should have 99% of this current debate focus on whether or not Josh should have written a story “outing” whoever sent that request. 

    If you want to buy a link from someone in hopes to rank better, then make it clear that’s what you want. How about that for a start, if we’re going to say that hey, everyone does this — it’s part of the industry, it’s only 10% of what people do, you have to do it and so on. Then don’t hide what you’re doing with these requests. Because having been on the receiving end of them, they almost always hide what they really want. And when you follow up and ask about them, they continue to hide.

    Go back and read the exchange Josh had with whomever wanted this link. Skip the outing debate, everyone does it, the risk to the client and all that crap. This:

    “The link can’t have any disclosures, we want it to appear natural.” 

    That’s a good company? Is that what we all want to defend. If some in the industry want to fight that paid links should be acceptable, then I say you start with that type of pitch not being acceptable.

    I’ll end with this, since you’re pretty fired up with this:

    “Why not just leave google’s job of improving their search relevance to them, and NOT encourage them to make editorial and morale decisions ‘for the good of mankind.”

    What’s your solution then. You are now Matt Cutts. I dub thee master of spam policing. Everyone can buy links, so what, whoever has the most wins? What’s your solution to actually delivering relevant results. Seriously.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Indeed, that seems to be how it goes over and over again.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Curtis, it clearly wasn’t an attempt to buy one link. It was almost certainly part of a campaign to buy links all over the place. No agency is going to take on some campaign in hopes of getting a cut of only $30 per month off one single link.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    By the way, where are you supposedly seeing this? I think you’re perhaps confused, looking at Search Engine Land Sponsors are with what seem to be text links? Those aren’t. Those are images, which in turn run through an ad server that should be preventing them from passing link credit.

  • http://www.irishwonder.com IrishWonder

     LOL Todd your disclaimer rocks :-)

  • http://www.irishwonder.com IrishWonder

    Exactly my thoughts, or even why not just fire a paid link request directly at Matt Cutts on your competitor’s behalf… then Google can go ahead and say nobody can hurt your site externally.

  • http://www.irishwonder.com IrishWonder

     There are industries where not 10% but all 80% of link acquisition happens via purchasing links in one form or another (e.g. gambling, porn, pharma etc.) – go ahead investigate and out those :-)

  • http://nickmorris.me Nick Morris

    If I had a client or website in one of those industries and I thought there was value in doing some outing then I probably would. My point is its not a question about ethics, its simply a business decision.

  • Armand47

    Yes, they can be visually seen through the Ad server. In saying that, they are running through your site which makes you responsible for them. Danny, the reality is, “G” is responsible in so many ways for creating this back-link debacle, and along the way people’s livelihoods are being destroyed thinking they were doing the right thing. A large number of webmasters are passionate about their sites, by offering excellent products and services to their end-users.

    Now, everyone is talking about the so-called social link signals. How long before that strategy is “spammed”? People in general are fed up with all this linking crap. Take your site for example and this thread. Don’t you think it’s time to take linking strategies out of the equation? Every type of linking scheme can be spammed and manipulated. It’s time for change, a change for the better by getting rid of back-link importance altogether.

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