Paid Links V Content Programs

SMS Text

It all about feeding the Beast!

If there’s one topic that is as alive today as it was in year past, it’s paid links. Are paid links bad? What are the ethics? Are they worth it? On and on. But I rarely hear talk some of the more important aspects when looking at them from a resource perspective.

First things first, there is rarely anything that doesn’t qualify as a paid link (technically). If you’re simply buying them outright or creating content/resources to get them or just a mommy blogger that networks; there is an associated cost. Sure, we’re being a bit anal in the assessment, but it’s true in most cases. You are paying for links. Thankfully, Google doesn’t see it that way.

Paid Links Debate

Paid Links

Now, we can deal with the questions in short order;

Are they bad? – no. Heck, even Google doesn’t mind them as long as they are flagged (via nofollow) so they can be discounted. But hey, search engineers know there are far more problematic things out there (artificially) affecting the rankings, the proverbial monkey-wrench.

Are there ethics? – I personally believe so. If you are purchasing links on behalf of a client without first fully explaining all the potential ramifications, then you are not doing your job in good faith as a part of the SEO community.

Are they worth it? – this one also depends. Many SEOs I speak with are resigned to the fact that in the more competitive spaces, it is mandatory. I know other link builders that almost entirely deal with paid links these days. But value really comes from actually looking at the situation and the road you are travelling. All that glitters may not be gold.

Let us consider;

  • Have to keep paying or the ‘equity’ dries up
  • Have to keep feeding in temporally affected query spaces
  • You need to keep feeding if competition is high
  • You run the risk of having them nuked
  • Ethics; have you truly explained the risk to the client?
  • What happens if the link seller gets nuked?
  • Ranking rentals….
  • Usually in a bad segment
  • Will Google (continue to) erode the value of links?
  • Traffic? Will it send actual traffic?
  • Budget eater (if sellers consistently raise prices)

Let me say this right out as well; I have been involved (called in after the fact) in places that have had ‘issues‘ from link buying. More than a few times (peeps called me; the Fixer). It is truly a double edged sword and one has to keep this in mind.

We can also consider elements in play such as page segmentation. If the Google is in fact using such an approach, we can also consier that even the location (usually low side panel of footer) further lowers the value of a paid link (more; page segmentation and link building).

Furthermore, there are less reputable ‘link builders‘ (term used loosely) that charge for a mass of paid links. Once they are off the project, for whatever reason, they take their marbles (links) and go home. Also problematic.

But what options are out there?


Content Programs

The next stop along the logic express of course is to look at some other approaches to generating links. Some that come to mind are;

  • Resource development
  • Breaking news
  • Networking (on and offline)
  • Outreach (sourcing)
  • Trolling (lol.. U know, emailing peeps)
  • Foundational (directories, article drops etc..)
  • Social Media (syndication, temporal, discovery)

You get the idea. There’s a TON more (like these link bait ideas) but that’s not the point here. So let’s move along smartly.

What are the considerations with these?

  • Less Risk
  • Future Proofing
  • Building Authority
  • More natural profile
  • Greater temporal opportunities (social)
  • Making important connections/relations
  • Less Susceptible to Google Changes

Thus I submit to you that a strong content program is often the best way to go. In combination with outreach, social (syndication and networking) it is a formidable tool. With more long term potential value.

One of my fav saying on it is;

Why rent what you can own‘ by Lee Odden

It has become easier than ever to get (quality) content out in front of the masses. Yes, there is always an associated cost, so it is a paid link of sorts, but the benefits and lack of risk make it the obvious choice. We also have to ask the question; is Google getting past the link? This also makes the risk v reward ratio more questionable.

Content programs are far more than a mere link building tool.

Paid Links V Content Programs

Thin Content in the Gun Sights?

Interestingly, with the whole MayDay changes and the assault on thin pages and content farms, we can infer that quality content will only be able to gain more ground moving forward. Google is unlikely to throw in the towel on that one any time soon.

Yea, I know.. the whole ‘content is King‘ spiel. I won’t be going there. One does tire of that line after this many years… but let’s not let that revulsion of a catch phrase unduly taint the attitude towards the concepts. There are plenty of SEOs that swear by paid links, many that promote content programs and even more that believe both are viable. I just believe that the paid route requires more consideration than many folks give it when starting down that path.

Let the debate begin! LOL… because I just KNOW I’ll be slammed on this one by friend and foe alike.


David Harry
David Harry is an SEO and IR geek that runs Reliable SEO, blogs on the Fire Horse Trail and is the head geek at the SEO Training Dojo.
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  • Jim Magary

    An excellent post, thanks for the insights. I am personally hoping that Google slams the paid link folks even more (at least those who sell), and I hope they crack the nut of quality content vs junk content to get the “farmed” stuff out of the search results. As someone who cares about good writing and proper research, the web is far too littered with well-ranking pages that have none of either in their content.

    It’s true that there’s always a cost to obtaining a link, but if the industry shifts such that that cost goes towards actual content producers and less to forum-spamming, fake-blog-creating hacks, the web will be a better place.

    I’m a professional SEO, and I want the job of link building to be harder, not easier, because the harder it is, the more it will weed out those who don’t belong in the realm of content-producing (or marketing) to begin with.

    • theGypsy

      Yea, well I don’t know if it’s getting harder or easier because I’ve done things a lot the same, with evolutionary adaptations, for years. I was just noting how many people seem to talk about paid links, (mostly in more private settings) and the real cost v benefit seemed lacking in considerations. Thus I ‘got it out of my system’ with this post lol.

  • Michael Martinez

    Nice post, you slam-dunker.

    • theGypsy

      Hey Michael, nice to see ye. Man, after that post of yours the other day, “All links are paid links” I was worried that you’d think the one comment early on in the post was ‘that’ type of comment (which it wasn’t). Phew.

  • Nick

    I too am a “fixer” – mostly of “offshore outsourced” SEO. Garbage links, even worse content manipulation, and keyword stuffing. I would love to spend less time reassuring clients who have already been burned buy shady scammers, and then having to undo the damage. Totally agree with Jim too – weed out the link monkeys so backlink building is not so “easy”

    • theGypsy

      Sadly I have had to clean up many a crappy link building effort as well. Not just paid, crap links of all kinds. Methinks some SEOs are just lazy or clients don’t understand it all enough to invest in other routes.

  • Donny Gamble

    I think that content programs are a lot better than paid links because it looks a lot more natural to the search engines


    I think content programs are more valuable in the long run. Now the caveat is if the content is valuable, and not thinly generated for the sake of grabbing rankings for long tail key-phrases while providing little-to-no long term value (basically the content farm approach). I will say that there are some large Link Brokers/Link Networks that I can’t imagine are not known by Google. Let me give you my reason for that statement. In doing some testing with paid links I contacted a well known Text-Link-Ad website saying I had a budget of 5k a month and I wanted a list of blogs in the education segment (along with other metrics I asked for) that I could place my links on. They then proceeded to send me a list (in xml format) of all the blogs that fit the criteria which I was able to “buy” links on. Now you’re telling me that Google could not just take this same approach and get a list of almost all the blogs and sites in their network, then just devalue them? This is why buying links though any of these link buying sites (or just buying them directly, since if a site is willing to sell you a direct link there is a good probability that they are willing to participate in a text-link selling website at some point) seems such a waste of time and money in the long run. Creating great content and marketing that content is a much better use of time and money.

    • theGypsy

      LOL there is certainly something to be said for that. Much as they’d likely have a copy of most ‘off the shelf’ applications *cough*footprint*cough*. For me though, I am also going to evaluate any link ‘advertising’ along the proper lines, you know; Does it send relevant traffic?

      At the end of the day it may be where quality and non-quality sites are viewed by Google. Those not offering any substantial value to the web, regardless of PR flowing in, will be dampened in some way. All the more reason to engage in a more content/outreach/syndication type of approach.

  • Brad Jobs

    This paid link business will never go away unless Google find some way to know or distinguish which are paid and which are not. Paid links will just give you the juice but not the traffic that you need. On long term case, paid links will just eat up your finances.

    • theGypsy

      Well, getting better at detection is certainly an option as is just not valuating links as much (aka getting other signals into the ranking mix). And I really am not saying don’t DO paid links, I am more saying that folks generally aren’t getting all the ramifications and might just be a tad lazy. ;0)

  • ariz@chemistry

    Ah Paid links! I have come across this for many times and it sucks honestly. I think there must be a way google can determine more than just flagging it.
    By the way, great post here, great to think about it.

  • Paul Ricketts

    I really liked this article as an overview to some deep technical matter. Iv had experience in the buying links and this was very well managed for me, with all implications carefully explained by Gosh Media, but I do like the was social is driving something new and fresh, and lets be fair, there arent many people very good at it yet!

  • Brett Alan

    David – I wish I could spur on a bit of controversy in the comments of this post, but I happen to agree with you.

    Why pay a monthly fee for PR5 links when you can pay someone else to produce decent guest posts, podcasts, or videos that will provide permanent authority for years to come?

    From my experience there are plenty of really talented people willing to create exceptional content quite cheaply (those paid links add up after a few months) I’m with you on this one David. I’m totally on the bandwagon. Let’s go!

  • andru greal

    As someone who works with small business website owners, I’ve heard just about every inbound-linking scheme there is. In the end, I’ve only seen five strategies that really work consistently for getting hundreds of links.

  • Dhirendra

    Content program is much better as paid links.

  • Shell Harris

    I love the honesty and the openess of this article. SEOs will always buy links and Google will always reward sites for this practice. They may not reward all of them, a few will get penalized, but most keep on buying or new ones take their place. A good mix is a safe bet and try to buy links that will actually drive potential customers not just google spiders to your site.