Walking through the expo hall at BlogWorld today, I noticed an exhibit booth set up for a company called Text Link Ads. I’m always interested in learning about effective tools for online promotion, so I decided to inquire about Text Link Ads, and see what the company does.
The friendly rep at the booth explained that Text Link Ads is a marketplace of 40,000 websites where advertisers can buy links, and publishers can sell links.
My eyes bulged. “Isn’t buying links against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines?” I asked the rep.
“How are they going to know?” she replied.
Paid Links Can Get Your Site Punished
Despite the rep’s nonchalant response, paid links are, without dispute, in complete violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines when the purpose is to manipulate organic search rankings. If you’re caught by Google for buying links (or selling links), you could get penalized or even banned entirely from its index, which is a catastrophic consequence for any website that hopes to get search traffic.
But, as the rep said, how will Google find out? Well, it doesn’t actually matter how Google finds out — its algorithm is sophisticated enough to know when something’s up, or you could even get reported manually, say, by a competitor. Who cares how Google finds out? We just know it can, and often does, find out.
Just take a look at what happened to JC Penney earlier this year — probably the highest-profile paid link campaign, and subsequent penalization, ever. It received major media attention.
Ian Lurie at Conversation Marketing blogged earlier this month about FTD.com, a leading flower seller, buying links. According to The Seattle Times, several other major online flower sellers have been buying links as well.
It’s not just that paid links are against the rules. Google now has its sights set on weeding out websites that buy or sell links because it’s embarrassing when these activities become a major news story.
Promoting Paid Links at BlogWorld Is Dangerous
A paid link broker exhibiting at BlogWorld — a highly respected blogging and social media conference — is appalling to me because it gives its service, and paid link providers in general, the appearance of SEO legitimacy.
There are ways to buy links — such as sponsorships and advertising opportunities — that are accepted by Google. The links just need to be tagged with a “nofollow” attribute, so that they don’t affect rankings. Companies that offer these types of services are more than sensible for BlogWorld.
Based on my conversation with the Text Link Ads rep, however, clearly the intent of its paid links is to manipulate rankings. And just in case she was misinformed, it’s verified loud and clear on the company’s website (http://www.text-link-ads.com/r/advertisers):
Text Link Ads are served as static links that can help your natural (organic) search engine rankings.
I’m not going to preach that paid links have no place at all in the search marketing ecosystem. Savvy site owners and SEOs can sometimes use paid links and other link schemes for short-term gains. However, for anyone who wants to build a lasting search and Web presence — i.e. the vast majority of BlogWorld attendees — buying links is a losing strategy that could get you banned completely from Google’s Index. Or, at the very least, it just won’t work, and you’re throwing money down the drain.
The misleading — and dangerous — part about all this is that Text Link Ads positions itself as “the premiere targeted traffic and link popularity ad firm,” boasting about driving targeted site traffic and all the benefits you’d expect from a sound advertising campaign. It sounds and looks like a great opportunity for unwitting website owners, bloggers, and even big companies. On the surface, it seems like effective advertising and effective SEO, all for an affordable monthly price.
And, let’s not forget, the company is exhibiting at BlogWorld!
I assume Text Link Ads will pick up some clients from the conference. I really hope some BlogWorld attendees don’t get screwed.
I actually did some digging and found a couple discussion threads on Google Webmaster Central regarding sites that were penalized specifically from their association with Text Link Ads:
1) A site that sold Text Link Ads got dropped from a PageRank of 4 to a PageRank of 0, and traffic dropped almost 75%.
2) A site is penalized for buying ads via Text Link Ads; however, it turns out a competitor bought the links for the company in order to get it penalized!
I’m sure there are other examples out there…
What do you think? Should BlogWorld have rejected Text Link Ads as an exhibitor?
Has your site, or a site you know of, been penalized as a result of working with Text Link Ads or another link broker? Let us know in the comments.
Image by Stuart Frisby, used under its Creative Commons license.