• 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.

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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.