Should you still be paying for links?

Throughout my career in SEO I have pretty much tried everything, from article spinning and press release syndication to forum profiles and link wheels – remember those?

Before 2011, paid links were run of the mill for any business in a competitive industry that aspired to be at the top of their game.

Since Google launched attacks on links and manipulative techniques in 2011 – 2012 there has been a huge change in thinking within the industry, with content marketing, digital PR, and creative gaining huge amounts of traction.

Although not always the case, Branded3 has a strict ‘no paid links’ policy and has done for some years. We regularly lose out on new business because the client feels they need paid links in order to compete, and therefore the agency who comes in with a huge media budget for paying bloggers tend to win.

So, should we still be paying for links? Both my personal stance and the stance of Branded3 are very clear: No, we shouldn’t.

These are the key reasons I believe you need to drop paid links and put pressure on you internal teams and agencies to work more strategically.

Google will find them

If I can find your paid links in an hour with a couple of link tools and a dose of common sense then I am pretty sure Google can. On top of that, Google aren’t just using link tools, they are actively infiltrating link networks and link brokers, uncovering all the connections and penalising businesses actively buying links.

Only a fool thinks they can build links Google can’t find.

Google will act on it

Whether it’s a manual penalty, algorithm update, or devaluation in authority, paid links will come back to haunt you. So all that investment in buying links has no longevity and you’ll have to invest double that to sort things out as you clean up the mess and rebuild the right kind of links.

Ultimately brands will win

If Google has two competing websites and the first one has lots of links but no one searches for the brand, and the second has few links but thousands search out the brand every month, which one do you think will win?

It will be the second brand; Google has more reason to trust a website that is sought after by thousands of users each month.

Yes, links are important, they count, but why not focus your efforts and investment on building links that also enhance your brand and create sales?

The ‘us against Google’ mentality

I still think many SEOs believe there is some kind of agreement that no one will report paid/spam links, adopting the ‘us against Google’ mentality.

This thinking is flawed and completely unrealistic; we’re dealing with money here.

If you’re in a competitive industry you can absolutely guarantee your competitors are monitoring your links every single month, and if anything even slightly grey pops up it’ll be going straight to Google.

If you’re paying for links or using link spam you can be 100% sure they are going to Google, particularly if you’re in a competitive space. Don’t believe for one second that you have competitors that aren’t interested or won’t take time to report you; they will.

There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ paid link

Another thing I hear often is ‘’yes I paid for that link, but it looks like a natural one’’.

You may have written the best piece of content. You may have a genuine asset or reason for linking back to your website. But guess what? If you’re agreeing payment for a link on a site, you can bet there are hundreds of other businesses doing the same thing.

Their content may not be as good, and their links may look terrible; even if all the content and links look great, how many of these sites get flagged to Google through broker emails?

I get a list of links 10 times a week, and though I just delete them a lot will be forwarded to Google. We have even seen natural links get flagged up because they are on a website that has paid links elsewhere.

Paid links are just not an option for a sustainable business. You may save money and get good results now, but you will pay for it in the coming months.

I have sat on both sides of the fence, and I can see both points of view, but if I was building a genuine business there is no way I would pay a penny for links.

I’d still have a link acquisition strategy – as I said, they’re important – but would never pay or use link spam to build out my SEO strategy.

The impact of paid links going wrong can be felt at a commercial level, and everyone in a business all the way to the c-suite should understand the risks they are taking. In my experience the only time it is raised to this level is when things go wrong, but then it’s too late and there is a serious price to pay.

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