Why I Didn’t Buy Links, But Seriously Considered It

About 3 years ago while I was an SEO infant, an especially slick, Canadian-born, industry veteran introduced me to the people at LinkExperts. “You’ve got to use these guys.  They are the only way to get some killer links, it’s expensive but it’s totally worth it.” I eagerly called LinkExperts, went through a Powerpoint dog and pony show, received a proposal and ultimately decided that it just didn’t feel right. Three months ago, I got an email from the same guys, now carefully rebranded as Conductor and had the opportunity (now with much more SEO experience) to hear their pitch again.

In general, I eschew consultants in order to cost-effectively build really important skills in-house and avoid any black hat issues. But Conductor is a different animal – they can get you links you really can’t get anywhere else which makes them (potentially) a very valuable partner. (Note:  Out of respect for the guys at Conductor and their clients on both the marketer and publisher front, I’m omitting any specific partners, clients, costs, or keyword campaigns that were discussed.

Instead, I’ll pull content from public information, emails I sent them, and SEO fundamentals.) I agreed to meet with Conductor after replying to their initial inquiry with the following email:

“My biggest concern, obviously is around getting penalized and playing black hat.  Avvo, as a newcomer to the space, has invested heavily in white hat techniques.  Long term viability is very important of us, and while we haven’t grown as fast as we could have, our growth is very solid and permanent.  I won’t put that at risk with black hat techniques, which is why I have always eschewed consultants.  While your marketing material and pitch sound very above board, the overall concept feels like trouble.  These are my concerns, I’d be interested in hearing more about how you deal with Google’s policy, why your clients are never penalized for buying links like this albeit on good sites.  If you can do what you say you can ethically, I’d pay to get [super valuable legal term] moved up for starters.”

Yes, but isn’t it still buying links?

Conductor is a very special resource for building high quality links from high quality publishers to high quality marketers. The keyword density for the word “quality” is through the roof on their site. Essentially, Conductor vetts the search and content quality of both marketers (me in this instance) and publishers and puts them together through a paid link market.

In theory, this vetting process produces valuable results for the (high quality) marketer and a reliable revenue stream for the publisher. From their site:

“Each marketer is then subject to a variety of quality reviews before being accepted into the program. Websites that contain, promote or link directly to banned content are rejected without consideration. This includes but is not limited to adult content, illegal drugs, gambling or any other content that is illegal, promotes illegal activity or infringes on the legal rights of others.”

There are similar strict quality guidelines for publishers:

“Every company we work with is subject to an intense quality review across various aspects of their business and website. The ideal candidates for our program are companies that offer high-quality products or services, have established websites with a strong level of naturally acquired link authority, and are well optimized in terms of SEO. Affiliate marketers, lead generators, adult content, and other sites you wouldn’t want mom knowing about are prohibited from using our service.”

The focus on quality results in a very compelling and flattering sales pitch. “We only work with very select, impressive, ethical, great companies and you might get to be one of them.” It’s the singles bar equivalent of “I usually only date models, but you my dear, are simply gorgeous.”

For now, let’s ignore the fact that Avvo is entirely ad supported and therefore violates the first of their rejection criterion:  “Websites focused on monetizing content with online advertising.”

Yes, but isn’t it still buying links?

The answer to the obvious link-buying question is found in their focus on quality. Because they only work with high quality marketers and publishers, the links are actually OK. In fact, they enhance the experience of consumers who find useful information on these high quality sites thanks to Conductor’s strict quality vetting process. Imagine them as a picky third party business development resource. This concept shows up on Conductor’s site (my bold):

“Our entire quality control process is in place for one reason: to ensure our work positively affects the quality of search results. Multiple stages of review and approval combined with a zealous editorial team make sure we’re only delivering improved search visibility that’s well-earned and deserved. Because at the end of the day, we want it to be easy to find the best providers of the products or services we’re searching for.”

In theory, Conductor suggests working with them is nothing worse (in fact even better) than getting an SEO bump for paying to be included in the Yahoo directory. When you are looking at the Conductor proposal which includes drool-inducing, high ranking, branded websites on which your baby will be featured, you can start to agree with where they are coming from. But then again, everyone thinks their own baby is beautiful.

Yes, but isn’t it still buying links?

Despite all of this quality speak and an open invitation to buy into “Our Gated Community”, I walked. There are just too many danger signs and the downside is just far too great. Red flags (in my opinion) included the following:

  • They won’t name their marketing customers – almost every agency I’ve ever worked with over-exaggerates their client list.
  • They won’t name their publishing partners – outside of the pitch documents, I can’t find a single reference to a specific publisher on their site.
  • Experts disagree – I’ve nosed around the industry and I received generally negative (although not unanimous) responses from industry experts.
  • A search for “conductor matt cutts” doesn’t surface anything positive.
  • Oh yes, it’s still buying links.

I was going to end the column with platitudes about how I should invest this type of money into generating great content, instead of buying links. But let’s be serious, these links are almost impossible to get through traditional linkbuilding or linkbaiting venues; which is why I suspect they might have no value at all.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: is the founder of Atticus Marketing - a search agency dedicated exclusively to the legal profession. Prior to Atticus, Conrad ran marketing for Urbanspoon and the legal directory Avvo, which rose from concept to market leader under his watch.

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  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    What was the point of this article? Why should the SEO community care about it?

  • Julian Grainger

    I think Conductors links work but not for the reason people buy them. I believe Conductor has been shopped by Google and probably knows the sites Conductor buys from anyway. So directly, its a risk for a number of reasons.

    However I would still buy them and this is why.

    These are high quality websites with lots of visitors.

    Text links have decent click through rates on sites like these so they have the potential to get a lot of visitors.

    Conductor, from the rates I have seen, is cheaper when compared to buying a banner to drive that traffic. It is more relevant to the content it is in. And it starts a user journey of discovery.

    I believe the eyeballs they deliver is what will push up the rank of the website (if your website is any good). Getting visitors to good content generates links naturally.

    And that increase in traffic with the right people is why Conductor has a role to play in SEO.

  • OSD

    Isn’t a bit hypocritical to call out the potential black hat consequences of working with a company like Conductor when SearchEngineLand prominently displays advertising for Text-Link-Ads, a company notorious for black hat practices that has been banned by Google, Digg, and other reputable websites in the past?

  • http://www.adventuresinsearch.com Elisabeth Osmeloski

    OSD – keep in mind, there’s separation of editorial & advertising here on SEL, not to mention the fact that columnists opinions are just that; as you’ll see in the disclaimer at the end. That said, articles like this one are simply intended to help readers weigh the risk vs reward of any SEO/link building tactic, regardless of vendor.

  • http://seoroi.com Gab Goldenberg

    @Michael – You gave me a chuckle. But this is a case study, and useful for anyone in the link selling business to learn about pitching.

    @Conrad, why don’t you write a follow up article? Set up a small, high quality site and buy links with Conductor. Maybe even take Julian’s advice, which seems pretty sound to me, about using them for the links obtained via editorial mentions, given by people who visited by paid links. Then write that up as a case study.

    Also: Advertising isn’t “unethical”. Google is not the arbiter of ethics, regardless of any “do no evil” mantras. See e.g. China. Paid links are advertising, and you can be a completely moral person yet buy text links.

    As an knowledgeable SEO who’s got several years’ experience under his belt, please call things by their names – greyhat or blackhat SEO, or text link ads or paid links or advertising. Not “an unethical business practice.”

  • http://mitteclothing.com JonPape

    I couldn’t determine how valuable the links Conductor was selling would be and even though the example publishers they displayed in the demo were “ok”, the other examples I found weren’t of much value.

    Paid links sound like a rainmaker paradox to me: if your rankings go up, the service worked; if your rankings don’t improve, throw more time and money into buying links and it will eventually work.


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