Five Things I've Learned About Paid Links

by Melanie Nathan August 4th, 2010 

Disclaimer: [hand on heart] I do not encourage the practice of buying links in order to inflate Google PageRank. Links should only be purchased for advertising purposes and should always be identified as such via the nofollow link attribute.

That said, being a pro link builder, its in my clients best interest if Im experienced in ALL forms of link building. Plus, being in the trenches, I see hundreds of (what I suspect to be) paid links on a daily basis and Im often up against competitors who have huge link buying budgets.

For these reason, Ive been getting acquainted with the world of paid links and the certain factors they can influence, through experimentation on some of my personal sites.

Without giving away too much, here are some of the things I've learned during my foray into the world of link buying:

1. When it comes to ranking, most paid links DO work.

Yes, even blogroll links btw. Sorry Google, I know youre really trying, and in a lot of cases winning, but I continually witness way too many instances of sites buying hundreds of craptastic links and then ranking for their term(s). Even in competitive niches and, in some cases, for the long-term. The problem being that its still too easy to fly under Google's radar, probably due to the fact that they have BILLIONS of webpages to police (thats their doing though, not ours).

For just one example, there is huge business in people buying links from high PR dropped domains - whose new owners have thrown up some horrible, nonsense automated content and started cashing in.

Granted, these types of dropped domains do appear to get caught some of the time (as noted by their sudden and complete loss of PR), but perhaps by coordinating directly with domain registrars the success rate could be greater. Like I said, at least Google is trying though, which brings me to my next point

2. Dont buy links that look obviously paid.

Seems like a no-brainer but I've seen evidence of sites being penalized for selling links and theyre usually the ones that dont try to hide it. This means, stay away from sites that have even a few spammy type paid links (casino, pharmaceutical etc) or links that arent on topic, even if youre tempted by the sites deliciously high PR. This is especially important if you don't want to be throwing away your money.

Also avoid being listed under headings marked advertisers or sponsors or on a blog that openly proclaims that they publish sponsored posts or paid reviews. It stands to reason that examining surrounding text is the most basic method that Google uses in an attempt to flag paid text links.

Instead of just buying where your competitors are buying (likely from paid link networks, which are cheap and readily available), try to hand-pick sites based on your own set of quality guidelines and then approach each of them about the possibility of acquiring a link. This way, if Google happens to catch the paid link network, your competitors links will be devalued but not yours.

Note: Most sites have never even thought about selling a link but theyre usually pretty willing if approached the right way 😉

3. Stay relevant. Avoid temptation.

If you plan to purchase backlinks for PR or ranking purposes, then further bypass any red-flags and distance yourself from the craptastic link buyers, by staying relevant to your niche.

Dont be tempted to purchase links from sites that arent related or logical to your products or services. For example, World of Warcraft links dont belong on a health blog, Weight Loss links shouldnt be geared towards Anorexic's, and since when is Lasik Surgery for babies?

Remember, if it doesnt make sense to real people, chances are it wont make sense to Google either.

4. Mix things up.

I mentioned that paid blogroll links still have their use but so do links from resource pages, friend listings, partner pages, 'donor' listings, within blog posts, articles, glossary's, research credits, etc, etc.

In a natural link setting, your links wouldnt all come from the same type of sites therefore, when paying for links, try to keep things looking as natural as possible by mixing up your link sources. Even pay for a few nofollow links here and there.

5. Instead of offering to buy a link, offer to donate for or sponsor.

I found this particularly useful for high-quality prospects (.edus, .govs etc) that would most likely be offended at the offer of money in exchange for a link. When your communication is worded properly, sites such as these are generally open to listing a good resource such as your site, especially because you were so generous in donating to their department or sponsoring their team for example.

In the end though, as the link buyer, I believe you have less of a chance of being caught and spanked by Google than the link seller does. This is because; as much as Google may be able to tell that a site is SELLING links, it cant definitively prove that a site owner is in fact BUYING links. After all, it could be a competitor out to ruin you and besides that, we simply cant control who links to us much.

Now that Ive seen evidence that paid links can get me the long-term rankings I need (as long as I keep buying), will I be completely abandoning my trusty manual link building techniques? Not a chance, as the world of paid links is still too dodgy for me. It doesnt mean that I wont be creating my own paid link opportunities where ever possible though.

Melanie Nathan

Melanie Nathan is a veteran SEO consultant and founder of CanadianSEO. She has a particular passion for authority link building and the use of authoritative content to attract links.

SEO Canada

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20 Responses to “Five Things I've Learned About Paid Links”

  1. Arnie Kuenn says:

    I am stunned, I didn't know you could buy links :-)
    .-= Arnie Kuenn recently posted: Onsite SEO Expert Interview with Alan Bleiweiss =-.

  2. It must be hard to guess what's a paid link and what's a natural link with any degree of certainty though?

    • jacob maslow says:

      My competitor uses paid links. Links are manually placed, but he is buying it from an agency that sells links for lots of other clients so if any flags are raised, it is obvious that it is unnatural.

      Anchor text is the biggest clue. Most people link without anchor text. Myself and our other competitors do not get much anchor text aside from articles in our own blogs, articles and other writings we do ourselves.

      Agency uses lots of small blogs and places links for other clients on the same site.

      The competitor who buys links has 181 domains linking to him with the anchor "allergy relief". 147 domains linking with "allergy bedding" 72 domains with "Allergy Mattress Covers" anchor link.

      I looked at a bunch of them. Each blog that i looked at had a quickie post of a single paragraph and was off-topic. They all also had anchor text with similar characteristics for weight loss pills, insurance and other sites. Nearly all had a boilerplate disclosure somewhere on the site that they accept compensation and may be influenced by it.

      Other than the three phrases that this competitor targeted, they have no other anchor text (aside from their company name) from more than 3-4 domains. In other words each of these three phrases has dozens of anchor text links with desired text while no other phrases have more than 3 or 4.

      They are getting some movement. They pulled this off by getting the links over time. 20-30 domains per month. Many of these domains arent crawled that often so a couple of new links per month is enough to crawl under the radar until it is discovered.

      It looks like Google is checking newly crawled pages for red flags.

      In totality, it looks obvious. Everyone else in the industry has few anchor text links. They are getting hundreds and by some odd coincidence all the bloggers linking to them are choosing one of these three phrases.

      If 20 people were to link to you what are the odds that all 20 will use anchor text at all? The exact same text?

      Once the red flag is raised and you take a closer look at the blogs linking out with the anchor text that is off topic, you see them doing so for lots of other sites and the full network is detected.

      That is the biggest weakness, blog linking to you with paid anchor text of your choosing is doing so for others as well and more than likely working with some SEO firms.

  3. It seems all I'm doing these days is trying to bring clients up higher than people using "nefarious" tactics. Most top ranking sites seem to do it with good old link exchanges, paid links and other crazy stuff that isn't supposed to work.

    Stay away from blogroll, footer and non topic sites for paid links and you should do just fine!

  4. Ooh, awesome post. I agree with everything there. I even agree that if your strategy is to only buy links, it is imperative to include some NoFollow links. It's only natural.

    But, more to the point, NoFollow will come anyway through normal link-building channels. If yo7u spend any time commenting on blogs and building social profiles, submitting to social bookmarking websites and other normal means of spreading your content and your fame, NoFollow links will come on their own. I guess iff I was to add to this post, it would be this: if you plan to buy links, make sure that is just one pillar of your link-building strategy.
    .-= David Leonhardt recently posted: REVIEW- Free Traffic System =-.

  5. Wow, hard to spot paid links? I'm not sure I'd agree with that too much. For the most part, the paid links are not too difficult to spot, because they don't really fit within the site of what it's trying to accomplish.

  6. Will google penalize you or your client as the purchaser? What is to much for a link? Is there such a thing? Would love to hear the phone calls and replies you get, specially for the sites that you mentioned like the .edu. Great article and great observation Ryan.
    .-= Web Design Miami recently posted: Do you have a social media expert =-.

  7. As a rule, I try to only buy links when I believe that the TRAFFIC is worth it. If I get any PR / ranking with it, all the better.

  8. Funkf00t says:

    Aren't links going the way of the dodo? Couldn't the industry put the effort in devising a less imperfect way of measuring 'relevance'.

  9. Afam orji says:

    BY paid links do you mean Adwords?

  10. James says:

    Thanks for sharing your observations. I agree paid link juice is rarely worth the squeeze, but your point about donating to .edu's was very interesting and worth considering for many organizations.
    .-= James recently posted: So- what can a small business do with social media- anyway =-.

  11. […] Five Things I've Learned About Paid Links – Speaking of paid links, Melanie also was writing about them last week (via SEP) with her own guidlines/tips for those that participate in the world of text link advertising. […]

  12. Jayesh says:

    Thanks for such an interesting post.
    I know that paid links can hurt but what about less relevant links? and if it is from high pr sites?
    please reply as i am a bit worried as i do practice that a little (Although i do take care of relevancy but some time i go for the link event if it is not related but from high pr site)
    Highly appreciate your reply

  13. Cheryl Jones says:


    You made a lot of good points. I think that is obvious that links are not "organic"or "natural" when the links come from sources that are irrelevant to the topic at hand. I know I have had many links to my blog I have had to get rid of as spam.
    .-= Cheryl Jones recently posted: Thank you to my visitors =-.

  14. Ally Wynne says:

    Very interesting article, you have confirmed what I always suspected — yes you can buy links and get some juice from them, but you had better be very careful about the sources.
    .-= Ally Wynne recently posted: Hello world! =-.

  15. DonnyBoy says:

    Paid links work simple as that since 2001-2010 we have made over millions in sales almost touching 3 figures in millions close to 100million in sales and most of our links are paid. It just works simple as that and Google cannot fight against it all. Unless they decide to change the way they look at things

  16. Steve says:

    Of course paid links work. I love people that say avoid pages that say "sponsored", footer links, obvious paid links, etc. Those all still work too. Either Google is gearing up for a big algo change that will stop a huge chunk of these or they just don't care anymore.

  17. DJ says:

    Yes I agree buying links can be a real problem. I have seen major sites do extremely well purchasing high PR off topic links. Takes them right to the top of Google for their keyword phrase and within a short time. But you right sooner or later Google finds them and they get buried into the serps. So I guess in this instance "Buyer Beware". Cheers

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