Link buying is a highly controversial area. This is because buying links can easily be looked on by Google as ‘ballot stuffing’.
An inbound link is like a vote. We are all in a popularity contest, wanting to gain a seat on the first page of the SERPs. If other sites link to us because they like our content, our product or our style, we have won our votes fairly.
However, if we pay for links from other sources just to increase our ranking, this is looked upon as a blatant attempt to skew the results. In the search engine world, one link does not necessarily mean one vote.
There are companies which sell large amounts of links and advertise that you will be able to substantially increase your Page Rank. Take a close look at what sites are linked to you through such programs; if you are running an online pet clothing boutique, do you really need incoming links from casinos and insurance sites?
These send up a red flag to spiders that you are artificially trying to increase your standing by obtaining large numbers of incoming links that have little or no recommendations behind them.
Another common practice is not to actually buy the links outright, but to trade them – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Unfortunately this often has the same negative result, as reciprocal links are often not considered natural links either.
This is not to say you should never buy or trade links. If you are using your links mainly for traffic driving, to get visitors to your site directly, then reciprocal links, links bought from websites relevant to your own and text links can be extremely beneficial.
All you have to do to keep from being penalized by Google is add a ‘no-follow’ attribute to such links, so they will be discounted when your site is evaluated for Page Rank.
Pretty clear, isn’t it? Yet one gray area still remains.
Social networking and blogging has become the new way to get noticed, and top blogs are now open to reviewing your site – for a price. This can gain you a ton of exposure, and bring traffic as well as links your way.
Do these count as paid links? Some say yes, others, no. If the blog links to you in the review, then by all means, no-follow it, but what about the readers who then check your site out and link to you independently?
Paying for a blog review is really just another form of advertising, say many webmasters. It’s no different than paying for a keyword ad from Google. In fact, if Google objects, it’s just because they want your advertising dollars themselves!
Be that as it may, it certainly seems that natural linking as a result of a visit originating from either an ad or a blog should be treated equally.
Google has declined to take a firm stand on either side of the question, merely repeating their stock statement that paid links for the purpose of artificially manipulating Page Rank or SERPs is not allowed.
Only time will settle the issue of whether linking from interested blog readers counts on the plus or minus side of the equation.