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.

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

     Yep – and look at how one single paid link tarnishes a company – never mind if they won a ton of natural links.  Therefore, there’s ample opportunity to tarnish a company’s image by paying for a link to their site, and then reporting that paid link to Google.  There’s so many ways to do this, it’s not funny, and it’s hardly expensive.

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

    It’s actually worse than that.  If you have a weak link profile (which 99% of sites that don’t proactively link build will have), then you STILL have a high chance of being penalised via a competitor fiverr blasting you – after all, you have no authority links to protect you from unnatural links pointing to your site.

    So it’s more like :-

    1) High chance of getting penalized
    2) High chance of being penalized and INVISIBLE.
    3) Buy a bunch of authority links via directories (as they are somehow – not sure how, but somehow – still acceptable paid links, til the next Zebra or Orca update)

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

    The solution is to rank quality content, Danny.  In fact, I’d go further – the answer is to rank businesses that provide quality products and services.  It’s Google’s problem to figure out how to do this.   To have so much weight on off-page signals is no longer the answer in 2012 – might have worked in 1998 and early 2000s, but hasn’t worked for ages.  Now, I’m talking about commercial / business areas of the web here, not the SEO commentator / “blogerati” area where it’s much easier to see the connection between link spikes and content ranking. Not so easy in the e-commerce sphere. In fact now in 2012, Google are putting even MORE weight onto off-page factors after Penguin – now off-page factors have both positive and negative impacts on pages – meanwhile the actual quality of content is not related to where you rank in the vast majority of commercial SERPs, nor the quality of the service or product you provide.

  • John Sams

    Orkin buys links like nobody’s business and Google only ranks them higher…

  • http://twitter.com/MaryKayLofurno Mary Kay Lofurno

    I have always used interns for link building, the only thing it takes is supervision.  I have used high school students in the past, they are fine. 

    As you know, if you have a good content syndication/marketing program, it goes along way.   I am not sure why a big brand would even take a chance like that.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I’m with you on the solution. I like to run for the cover of “it’s Google’s job to figure this out.” But again, if everyone can openly buy links, what do you think they’ll do?

    Go back to on-the-page signals? I don’t think that’s going to work at all. I think they’ll rely more on social signals myself, maybe traffic patterns. And if they did let everyone buy links, I thinks would just get devalued overall. Ironically, they’re more useful kept “banned” than not, I suspect.

  • RoachTracie

    my co-worker’s aunt makes $72 an hour on the internet. She has been without work for five months but last month her check was $15580 just working on the internet for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more CashLazy.c&#111m

  • Mike H

    Great post.

  • polite request

    One solution would be for Google to just devalue links they don’t like, versus penalizing the source or destination of the link. 

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    They could. And, in fact, they do. But they also take actions in some cases to discourage the purchasing of links. I suppose if they just went all for discounting, then it would be harder to know if the link you bought even worked.

  • concerndseoer

    Well, it appears that Google has taken the extreme step to deindex iAcquire completely. That is an interesting tactic

  • concerndseoer

    Interestingly enough Google has taken the extreme step to deindex iAcquire’s site. That is an interesting move.

  • concerndseoer

    Interestingly enough Google has taken the extreme step to deindex iAcquire’s site. That is an interesting move.

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

    >You are now Matt Cutts

    I’ve never been presented with such a prestigious offer *blushes*.That’s bait I think I’d be best advised to avoid.  It’s truly a job I could never accept.   I’ve been sucked into this debate more times than I care to admit, and there is rarely ever any benefit or satisfaction in it aside from sharing an opinion that I think a lot of folks share, and don’t want to express for fear of penalization.  I really don’t enjoy the guilt by association that comes from saying I don’t agree with this google policy.  I’ve discussed this with Matt, Brian White, and other engineers in person and in sessions over the years, and while I respect the job they have to do, I can’t say I would want it myself.   I would much rather be a fisherman than a spam fighter (or creator for that matter).  That’s much more power and responsibility than I’d ever want to have to wield.I do think trying to rid the world of paying for link citations is like trying to rid the world of capitalism.  It’s at best inefficient, mostly ineffective, and borderline communist :).  It’s assuming the moral position that just because a citation is paid for, it shouldn’t be counted.  I think Goto first proved financial incentives aren’t always bad, and helped improved relevance with PPC.  When we start judging people and websites based on “intent” it’s a pretty slippery slope.  It always reminds me of the “precrime” unit in minority report. I think it’s even more dangerous when you start making decisions about large “datasets” as a whole.G itself spend millions on political lobbying – about as close as you can get to “buying votes” if you ask me – but again, it’s always semantics.  The thought that “buying votes” decreases relevance still doesn’t even hold that much weight with me.  This is the MAIN DEBATE that single handedly blurred the line between making ONLY “algorithmic decisions” and making “editorial decisions” in the search results.  As a journalist, I would think you could respect what a pivotal point that is.  To me, it was incredibly significant the first time I heard Matt say “we reserve the right to make editorial decisions about the search results.”Fortunately for the webspam team, they’ve muddied the waters with this issue for long enough that they now have the social graph data they’ve realized they needed since this issue arose.  ”It is easier to reliably detect social spam than link spam.”  Social will serve as validation, and serve to further “define” intent on an individual basis.  There’s enough other signals to draw from that most of this isn’t necessary any longer.  In my opinion “devaluation” alone always seemed to be among the best solutions.If I ever knew ALL the working pieces of the algo, I’m sure I’d be much better suited to at least take a hypothetical stab at that question.>stand by what I wroteDumb yes.  Dangerous no.  Sending a bad link request is laziness.  Backing up on a highway is recklessness.  If we want to speak in terms of intent, I think the comparison is still extreme.Like probably many others, I am mainly frustrated with the implied assumptions that buying links is “evil”, and outing link purchases is moral and okay.I’ll play the game like everyone else, and just barter, trade, ask nicely for links, and do guest posts.   We all know the search result space for phrases with commercial intent is limited and valuable – and it seems people (buying links or not) will go to greater and greater lengths to achieve these.  I just really enjoyed the few years where the little guys (buying links or not) could compete with the big brands for the large generic phrases.  I think we’re seeing those days dwindle if they’re not already gone.  As a (former) consultant and business owner – this makes me sad.  For that reason, I’ll never be able to qualify “buying links” as totally evil, and accept the moral decree from on high.Also at the root of this debate is certainly that of “outing” – which I know is an exhausting debate to have which you have covered thoroughly.    I can’t say that I always agree with you (or Rand) here entirely, but my job responsibilities and priorities are certainly much different than yours.  I do see and respect your opinion on the matter, and you’ve done a good job of making it clear, and helping to further define the line, and at least get search engineers to discuss the matters of paid links and their algo.  It’s not easy to be in the line of fire from both sides I’m sure.  I don’t know how you deal with these debates daily – I’d be exhausted.>Those aren’t good companies. I sure hate to see a determination like that made from a few chance encounters.  SEO is a results driven industry, and getting results often calls for pushing the envelope.  Clients know the risk – agencies know the risk.  It’s always been high risk, high reward with marketing campaigns in highly competitive verticals.  Furthermore, I hate to see someone like Josh enjoy even 5MB of fame, and a self-indulgent baby boner from seeing his pageviews go up 300% for 3 days by helping tear down someone else’s business because he didn’t like their techniques.  I’m sure his web marketing strategies are infinitely more complex and ahead of the curve, and he will never have them come under the scrutiny of client or competitor.I think, with this, I’ll do my best to re-retire from this debate for a while, and go back to just trying to make my websites better.  Lord knows I have plenty of work to do “de-optimizing” and “pruning my links”.  It’s never been easy working on a moving minefield, but you do get used to dealing with a few explosions here and there.  I appreciated the thanks from all the folks who recognized this debate is a bit like running into middle of the line of fire.

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

    >You are now Matt Cutts

     

     

    I’ve never been presented with such
    a prestigious offer *blushes*.

     

    That’s bait I think I’d be best advised to avoid.
     It’s truly a job I could never accept.   I’ve been sucked
    into this debate more times than I care to admit, and there is rarely ever any
    benefit or satisfaction in it aside from sharing an opinion that I think a lot
    of folks share, and don’t want to express for fear of penalization.  I
    really don’t enjoy the guilt by association that comes from saying I don’t
    agree with this google policy.  

     

    I’ve discussed this with Matt, Brian White, and other
    engineers in person and in sessions over the years, and while I respect the job
    they have to do, I can’t say I would want it myself.   I would much
    rather be a fisherman than a spam fighter (or creator for that matter).
     That’s much more power and responsibility than I’d ever want to have to
    wield.

     

    I do think trying to rid the world of paying for link
    citations is like trying to rid the world of capitalism.  It’s at best inefficient,
    mostly ineffective, and borderline communist :).  It’s assuming the moral
    position that just because a citation is paid for, it shouldn’t be counted.
     I think Goto first proved financial incentives aren’t always bad, and
    helped improved relevance with PPC.  When we start judging people and
    websites based on “intent” it’s a pretty slippery slope.  It
    always reminds me of the “precrime” unit in minority report.I think
    it’s even more dangerous when you start making decisions about large
    “datasets” as a whole.

     

    G itself spend millions on political lobbying – about as
    close as you can get to “buying votes” if you ask me – but again,
    it’s always semantics.  The thought that “buying votes”
    decreases relevance still doesn’t even hold that much weight with me.  

     

    This is the MAIN DEBATE that single handedly blurred the
    line between making ONLY “algorithmic decisions” and making
    “editorial decisions” in the search results.  As a journalist, I
    would think you could respect what a pivotal point that is.  To me, it was
    incredibly significant the first time I heard Matt say “we reserve the
    right to make editorial decisions about the search results.”  I remember shuddering just a little
    bit, and thinking it was a pretty important announcement that everyone seemed to
    miss.

     

    Fortunately for the webspam team, they’ve muddied the waters
    with this issue for long enough that they now have the social graph data
    they’ve realized they needed since this issue arose.  ”It is easier
    to reliably detect social spam than link spam.”  Social will serve as
    validation, and serve to further “define” intent on an individual
    basis.  There’s enough other signals to draw from that most of this isn’t
    necessary any longer.  In my opinion “devaluation” alone always
    seemed to be among the best solutions. 
    If I ever knew ALL the working pieces of the algo, I’m sure I’d be much
    better suited to at least take a hypothetical stab at that question.

     

     

    >stand by what I wrote

     

     

    Dumb yes.  Dangerous no.  Sending a bad link
    request is laziness.  Backing up on a highway is recklessness.  If we
    want to speak in terms of intent, I think the comparison is still extreme.  Like probably many others, I am mainly
    frustrated with the implied assumptions that buying links is “evil”,
    and outing link purchases is moral and okay. 

     

     

    I’ll play the game like everyone else, and just barter,
    trade, ask nicely for links, and do guest posts.   We all know the search
    result space for phrases with commercial intent is limited and valuable – and
    it seems people (buying links or not) will go to greater and greater lengths to
    achieve these.  

     

     

    I just really enjoyed the few years where the little guys
    (buying links or not) could compete with the big brands for the large generic
    phrases.  I think we’re seeing those days dwindle if they’re not already
    gone.  As a (former) consultant and business owner – this makes me sad.
     For that reason, I’ll never be able to qualify “buying links”
    as totally evil, and accept the moral decree from on high.

     

     

    Also at the root of this debate is certainly that of
    “outing” – which I know is an exhausting debate to have which you
    have covered thoroughly.    I can’t say that I always agree with you
    (or Rand) here entirely, but my job responsibilities and priorities are
    certainly much different than yours.  I do see and respect your opinion on
    the matter, and you’ve done a good job of making it clear, and helping to
    further define the line, and at least get search engineers to discuss the
    matters of paid links and their algo.  It’s not easy to be in the line of
    fire from both sides I’m sure.  I don’t know how you deal with these
    debates daily – I’d be exhausted.

     

     

    >Those aren’t good companies. 

     

    I sure hate to see a determination like that made from a few
    chance encounters.  SEO has always been a results driven industry, and
    getting results often calls for pushing the envelope.  Clients know the
    risk – agencies know the risk.  It’s always been high risk, high reward
    with marketing campaigns in highly competitive verticals.  Furthermore, I
    hate to see someone like Josh enjoy even 5MB of fame, and a self-indulgent baby
    boner from seeing his pageviews go up 300% for 3 days by helping tear down
    someone else’s business because he didn’t like their techniques.  I’m sure
    his web marketing strategies are infinitely more complex and ahead of the
    curve, and he will never have them come under the scrutiny of client or
    competitor.

     

    I think, with this, I’ll do my best to re-retire from this
    debate for a while, and go back to just trying to make my websites better.
     Lord knows I have plenty of work to do “de-optimizing” and
    “pruning my links”.  It’s never been easy working on a moving
    minefield, but you do get used to dealing with a few explosions here and there.
     I appreciated the thanks from all the folks who recognized this debate is
    a bit like running into middle of the line of fire.  It really isn’t all that pleasant to be the counterpoint for
    this one.  I’m just glad Aaron Wall
    does most the work J

  • http://twitter.com/blossomnu Jenni

    The problem is that Google contradicts itself about buying paid links. I forgot where I saw it but there’s a video with Matt Cutts defending why Google allows paid directory submissions and doesn’t consider it a violation. His answer was something along the lines of it’s because web directory owners can be more picky and selective about the sites they include. That’s clearly not true – you’re far more likely to agree to something if someone pays you for it. Even if you’re not, it’s still exactly the same as a company contacting a blogger for a paid link – they still have the choice about whether to accept or reject in exactly the same way.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Todd, I’m happy to say I don’t agree with Google’s policy. I’ve said that in the past; I’ll say it again. I’m not fearful that I’m going to be guilty by association.

    But let’s say Google does drop any penalty on paid links. What happens? One possibility is that they simply penalize those links they decide were paid for and not earned. That stops everyone running around worrying about outing or whether Google somehow has a right to penalize people and so on. Potentially, that’s a way forward.

    Google’s fear, I suspect, is that by doing so, then it would open the floodgates to paid links. They wouldn’t be able to stop them all. Maybe. But maybe if it says that it will not credit any links it doesn’t believe in its own opinion deserve credit, suddenly a lot of people won’t want to buy them, if they can’t trust they’ll do what they were promised.

    And maybe nothing will happen. I don’t know.  But I do know, as I wrote when Google itself had to ban itself over paid links and Chrome, that if Google can’t figure out all these rules, it becomes increasingly harder for anyone to do so.

    But if you want to talk about the “main” debate here, it’s pretty clear to me. Someone seems to have done an inept job of buying links. They hardly stayed below the radar, which is an essential if you’re going to do it now. And they did a link request without disclosing the risks to the person they were buying from.

    The reaction I’ve largely seen is to attack someone who isn’t firmly in the SEO space for “outing” and somehow excuse the ineptness of the agency under a “blame Google” excuse.

    I’ve read Josh’s piece, his comments and some of the other posts on his blog. I didn’t get the impression he thought this was all something he’d do for page views. He just seemed curious that what he thought was a large company was doing this. This could just have easily been doing if someone had emailed an editor at say Boing Boing, who might have written it up. And then it wouldn’t be an outing piece, just some story.

    How do I deal with these debates? I don’t really have to. We don’t run around writing outing stories here. We cover them when they come up elsewhere, and if you go back through this story above, it wasn’t about “oh look what someone did” but what parties all around, including Google, might learn from it.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Google does have confusing rules, yep. But no, in this case, it’s pretty clear whoever sent that link request would know this violates Google’s policies and was deliberately choosing to go against them.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    The images means there’s no anchor text to pass. The ad server (which is Google’s own) means no link credit is passing. Those aren’t paid links.

    On link signals, you should go back and read the post I had about social and the new link building.

  • http://twitter.com/ajmihalic AJ Mihalic

    I agree with Todd’s inference that it’s Google’s task to maintain their own SERPs and algorithm. 

    Google wants to provide a search engine service without disclosing how they rank sites. Then they want to determine what industries can and cannot be created as a result? Of course they can run a business, and hopefully run it as well as possible, but they have no jurisdiction over businesses that will arise because of this. They created the value of the link, yet they want no-one to use this new value for profit. Of course they don’t but they can’t stop it, and more importantly they have no right to whether ethically, morally, economically, or philosophically. Webmasters, SEOs, etc are all entitled to creating whatever businesses they like, and to permanently damage those businesses because Google asks you to makes me wonder for what possible motive(s)?

    Nobody who doesn’t work for Google is “manipulating the algorithm”. 

    Penalizing sites because some of the links appear “paid” makes no sense in actually creating an index based on providing quality SERPs. Iteratively improving the algorithm is a necessity if Google is true to it’s missions, however penalizing on something as arbitrary as “paid” seems crazy. It IS arbitrary if Google really does use “relevance” as their main signal. It’s obvious that “paid” and “relevance” have no absolute relationship. Indeed it’s easier to argue that often “paid” DOES imply relevance rather than the reverse. In the real world a sponsor agrees to a relationship because the business, cause, whatever is in line with what they do, supports the image of who they are, and either brings in more customers or improves their relationship with existing customers by further strengthening that common link (in interest).

    It seems that Google is relying too heavily on macro views of “link profiles” to determine value for links. If you were building a ranking system for sports tournaments you would ideally use the strength of the teams in the tournament to distribute points afterwards. You would NOT take into account how some of those teams got into the tournament, because it is irrelevant. 

    I don’t consider the DBCC an instance of “spam”. They aren’t trying to rank for terms that have nothing to do with their business, are they?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rita.grohowski Rita Grohowski

    Google doesn’t owe us a living. I believe that.. but I also believe:
    We, as webmasters don’t owe Google anything too.

    The second Google cares about us, as business owners.. that’s when I’ll start caring about helping Google do it’s job! 

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see iAcquire sued into oblivion by those companies as they may have hired them to provide “SEO” and what they got was “Paid Links” and these companies wouldn’t have a hard time making a case that they were sold a clean fancy picture of SEO when the reality lead to their links being devalued and their brands now being dragged through the mud.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    The truth is bad for sales Danny. =)

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    There are plenty of people in Leadership seats, even over Internet Marketing agencies, that don’t have a clue about actual execution.  A board like that would be more focused on hiring, investing, sales growth, etc, not on day to day SEO tactics.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    But Best of the Web didn’t get DeIndexed here and no one is trying to make that point, they bought hundreds or thousands of blogroll style sitewide links on thousands of sites and sold them to the same people in a way that let Google follow the pattern and say “Oh, so this site about Tennis Balls has these 675 links in common with this totally unrelated site about King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (mmm sweet rolls), couldn’t possibly be something fishy about that, could it?”

    I swear everyone wants to paint iAcquire as these James Bonds of Link Building but really, they were overtly spamming people about Link Opportunities and trying to add more websites to their list of links that they could sell.
    They tried to put both hands in the cookie jar and didn’t even care that Mom was looking, and they got caught.  Tough cookies!

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    I’m sure that Danny’s advertising team DOES follow advertising guidelines when approving an advertiser, most sites do.  Those sites also have to make money, despite Obama’s utopian vision where business owners like me pay for everything for everybody else, a website like this doesn’t just run on hopes and dreams.

    Additionally, all advertisements on Search Engine Land are properly tagged as advertisements.  You don’t see Danny writing an Editorial Promoting iAcquire, that they paid him to write, that would link back to their Link Broker Landing Pages.
    When you run an ad, and it’s in the sidebar as an advertisement, that is different from having an advertisement snuck into editorial content and not clearly labeled as a paid promotion of that brand.

    This is nothing new.  News Papers are required to put “Advertisement” when they run a full pages “sponsored story” but that label at least notifies the reader that “Hey, I am being paid to show you this, so obviously I wouldn’t be showing it to you otherwise.” and then it leaves it up to the reader to act accordingly.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    Well, they are paid links, they’re just the good kind, properly labeled as advertisements, per Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

    Paid, Exact Match Anchor Text Links, are what this post is about.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    iAcquire goes out and pays big bucks to hire Mike King, who speaks about White Hat SEO tactics, they see Mike speak, they say “Hey we should hire that guy” and they call up iAcquire, but then obviously what they got wasn’t the White Hat SEO that Mike King is known for preaching.

    I have no doubt in my mind that that is the exact reason they hired the guy.

  • http://twitter.com/ImageFreedom Matthew C. Egan

    Or you could just do the actual WORK of EARNING links and building them organically and not take the shortcut of buying links and taking on that undue risk?  The more Google cracks down on link buying, the more honest strategic SEO is worth.

    The sooner this spammy crap is off the table it’ll mean the sites that are actually ranking deserved to be there because their teams worked their asses off to EARN those links, and leveraged all tools at their disposal to get the job done WITHOUT adding undue risk to their client.

  • Xristos Kostouros


    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.” 
    Ok, so why isn’t seoroundtable.com banned for selling those SEOe’d anchored blogroll links?
    Stop joking. Matt just got mad and banned them!

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I don’t know if he got mad, but he or someone on his team sure did decide to ban them, as they’ve reserved the right to do.

    I suppose they could do the same to SE Roundtable, if they wanted. I believe they’re just discounting the links there, as they might do for many, many other sites. But Barry’s post last year explains this more:

    http://www.seroundtable.com/sponsored-links-12978.html 

  • Xristos Kostouros

    Hello Danny & Thanks for the reply.
    I read Barry’s post and i highly agree with him saying that “I am webmaster, i own my website and yes, i can link to whatever i want to” because, internet should be “free” for all and i bet, all webmasters may agree with me (and with Barry ofc)

    Now, i highly disagree with the other things he says about PR and Traffic loss but this is off topic.

    Well, i think that sometimes Google is really getting mad and i think the reason behind the ban of iAcquire was this : http://blog.iacquire.com/2012/04/10/googles-2012-phishing-expedition/ 

    I think that they got cocky and that led them to where they are now but i am speaking always with just “claims” and not facts (just to let you know :P )

    Thanks

  • http://www.seobuilding.net/ SEOBuilding

    I think bottom line is the intent of how the links are purchased – but here’s the kick, iAcquire is being demonized and was removed from Google search results – well, ok, what about other companies that are blatantly selling backlinks,  namely: text-link-ads.com, where do we draw the line? 

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

    What is wrong with selling links? I guess it is wrong to get caught. The multi billion dollar underground link system is still alive but facing attacks.

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

    What is wrong with selling links? I guess it is wrong to get caught. The multi billion dollar underground link system is still alive but facing attacks.

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