This is part two of the article: “Reign of Bread and Whip. The New Google Aristocracy“.
Now here is a misconception that I would like to correct. People that buy links do this to gain ranking for a term that is relevant for that page. Even links on sites about Linux that say “buy Viagra”, point to places where you can buy the blue pills by Pfizer.
The anchor text is contextual relevant to the page the link is pointing to. If it makes the site rank #1 for buy Viagra in the SERPs, great, that is exactly what the user was looking for, or not? We don’t live in the pre-dot com crash days where the number of page impressions mattered for advertising rates and thus traffic was everything and relevance was nothing. Sites that were selling porn tried to rank for popular off topic keywords like “Disney” for traffic. That is definitely harming users. It has been a long time since I saw a SERP that had complete irrelevant results for my search phrase. Stuff I was not looking for I get plenty nowadays, especially for ambiguous terms.
The keywords can be found on the pages alright, Google just did not understand what I meant. Even with queries that included a phrase, 3-4 additional keywords and 2-3 negative keywords did I not find what I was looking for on the top 100 results. Only a few of sites returned were spammy. Personal search enabled did also not help. Paid links had nothing to do with this, but the lack of understanding what I was looking for. After 10-15 different queries would have the “slowest” human being understood what I was looking for and what I was exactly NOT looking for. I only ended up with supplemental results that actually were spam for the same stuff I did not want to see in the non-spammy results. Good job. This happens to me more frequent nowadays than it did in the past. There is something you should really be concerned about.
The “buy Viagra” link on the Linux site (example by Matt Cutts) is an off topic link for the page where the link is placed on, but on topic in regards to the anchor text of the link to the other commercial website. There is no harm to the user and you can’t compare with intrusive Ads like PopUps. It only could harm the reputation of site that allows those Ads. The exception are visible links to adult sites from sites target to children for example, but that harm has nothing to do with SEO and search engines. But why do people do buy links? The types of links that are sold the most give you an answer to that question.
White hat SEO will help you rank and in many spaces and verticals might that be enough, however, for some verticals it is not.
For very competitive verticals do you have to exploit the flaws in Google’s ranking methods to get the extra little boost to make it in the business. The PPC verticals (Pills, Porn, Casino) are the most competitive ones, followed by the financial businesses vertical.
But a link helps everybody in this game so why not buying relevant links that are good for SEO, branding and traffic (in that order)?
While aggressive off topic link buying does exist, is most of the link buying actually done where the site the link is purchased is not extremely off topic to even completely on topic. A site selling books that links to a travel website to book flights is contextual off topic, but not entirely. Some human traffic is probably generated, but the conversion will be very poorly. A link purchased there will probably serve SEO purposes the most, but it will also generate traffic and revenue and can as well help with your branding. If the link is on a site that is completely on target, the human traffic, conversion and branding benefits will be larger and the SEO benefit might or might not be less than those other benefits. It’s still there though. Why should you render the SEO benefit of the link useless, because Google threatens you to penalize you and the advertiser if you don’t? Does that sound right?
Now it becomes even more complicated with links in editorial content, especially affiliate links. The whole business model of an affiliate site, is the monetization of your content or service by linking to an advertiser with unique tracking code to pay you commission for referred business.