There’s no doubt that selling text links is big business, but is is a risky business? The question, is selling text links dangerous, pops up in web master forums with increasing frequency. For me, two questions really come to mind:
1. Will selling text links hurt my site?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with selling (or buying) text links. But my opinion doesn’t matter. The fact is, buying and selling text links could potentially hurt your site. From Google’s webmaster guidelines:
“Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank”.
Pretty obvious how that fits. Further, Matt Cutts from Google says:
But for everyone else, let me talk about why we consider it outside our guidelines to get PageRank via buying links. Google (and pretty much every other major search engine) uses hyperlinks to help determine reputation. Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and link-based analysis has greatly improved the quality of web search. Selling links muddies the quality of link-based reputation and makes it harder for many search engines (not just Google) to return relevant results.
But can’t search engines detect paid links?
Yes, Google has a variety of algorithmic methods of detecting such links, and they work pretty well. It’s pretty clear that Google, and probably other search engines, frown upon the selling of text links.
Cameron Olthuis from Text Link Ads says:
“The biggest problem I see with people who get dinged for buying links is that they’re lazy. Instead of working on creating remarkable content that will naturally attract links they throw a bunch on money at buying links and call it a day. If you’re guilty of this then you’re asking for trouble.”
Even the company that sells Text Links Ads (disclosure, I use them) knows you can get into trouble and confirms that selling links can be detected.
Though many companies are coming out with products that embed links directly into content, which will be a good deal harder to detect. Google suggests using the “no-follow” attribute for links that you sell and I think we all know that won’t fly. For me, my advice is to only sell links that are as close to relevant as possible, and the same goes for buying. Don’t buy/sell Viagra Links on a Wedding Dress site.
2. When will the bottom drop out of selling text links?
This question is far more compelling to me than the the dangers and ethics of buying/selling text links. It’s happening and will continue to happen as long as there is a market for it. Search engines get smarter all the time, and patterns will emerge over time that the search engines will detect. Buyers and sellers adapt by using smarter placement and more relevant linking and the cycle repeats. The text link business will continue to exist as long as search engines never figure out a way to positively identify them automatically. You hear rumors all the time that Google and other engines are hiring people to specifically hunt down paid links but even that method would only work for a short time as people adapt.
Like any industry, selling text links is bound to dry up eventually, but as long as links are the currency on which search engines deliver results then the buying and selling of text links is going to stick around until something better comes along to displace it.