Aug 23, 2012
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Been doing lots and lots of research for my PI attorney clients. ALL of their competitors have clearly hired SEOs who've bought backlinks, either with guest blogs in mediocre blogs, or curated links in existing content. ALL OF THEM. Gone are the days when you'll see your car repair link in a baby site on the same page as roofing, leaky drain, or financial advisor links. These newer blogs look decent. Most look to be PBNs, but not all are. Some are established blogs that look to be selling links like this one: Half Window Treatments Styles and Tips - Know What Suit You Best - Sunshine Drapery and Interior Design

I'm sure since you do SEO, you've all seen it too.

Through the years, and I've been doing SEO since 2000, I've always taught my audiences to avoid buying backlinks and to steer clear of SEOs who sell them. And my approach has always been to give what users and Google wants. I've been quite successful doing that.

But now since those types of links look better now to the reader and likely to Google too, I'm wondering if I can continue to rank my PI client in a very competition geo-area without those hundreds or thousands of backlinks that every one of his competitors has?

My feeling is, Google, if they aren't already, will catch on. This is clearly against their policies. Or has google already devalued them and the sites I'm seeing at the top of the SERPs are ranking for other reasons?

I'm starting a new SEO contract with a PI attorney in a very competitive local area. I would love to prove that all that artificial backlinking is a waste of money and time, and so I'll be avoiding it. Am I the fool? Has anyone done any research on this? What does the data show?

P.S. After doing all this research and seeing artificial backlink after artificial backlink, I got to thinking that if I were Google, I'd devalue (as in no value) any backlink that doesn't come from a very popular related or local website. Local business popularity (as a ranking factor) for their service should not be determined by how many backlinks they have unless they are the right kind (localized and relevant), because what difference does it make that a Seattle plumber gets backlinks from a site in NY? That says nothing about their service and that's what searchers are looking for. Ranking informational articles is different. I propose to Google that they separate the two. As it is, if they use backlinks to rank a local business, they are judging a service's rank by their content as judged by people who don't matter. Doesn't Google have enough now with their NLP, on-page, SEO, and engagement signals?


Aug 23, 2012
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Those links are not nofollow either.
That might be a guest blog by an SEO with multiple clients or curated links in existing content. That example should be easy for Google to devalue. Here you have a company in MO linking to window service providers in MN and Georgia.

Google should have completely different algorithms for determining what's appropriate or not for local businesses.


Nov 3, 2020
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My understanding is that Google is starting to do just that - add relevance to the ranking signals, but there are some larger data consolidation that they do periodically in different regions that show the signs of this rolling out. I suspect it will be an imperfect system because #of links pointing back is still such an important ranking factor.

I think this is an area that will forever be under scrutiny. We all get those paid link solicitation emails, but we also see it on higher-end publications too. Certain highly visible publications openly advertise their pricing. Some editors only make it available by email. The biggest difference between the paid link solicitation emails we get and getting traction in the large publications is that the more reputable publications do not reach out to you first unless you have something truly newsworthy. So to some extent, it's getting to be a pay-to-play game, even if you have decent content to leverage or market.

There are different ways to play the game too. If you have enough rep and experience, professionally speaking, then you may be invited to certain networks and thus have the ability to create the links yourself through thought leadership and contribution. In the case of the paid link emails, all they have done is reached out to the editor or other POC of said publication for pricing. They put it in a spreadsheet and then reach out to us with the paid link solicitation. They take a small cut of the fee and pass your content on. You can do this yourself through normal outreach if you know where to look.

So as long as Google has no direct access to communication between private parties, I don't think there is much they will do about it. And even if they find out, I don't think they will care much because of the prominence of the publication. They would most likely try and set up some kind of marketplace exchange to earn revenue from money and content changing hands.

I would perhaps experiment with paid placement, especially within news organizations locally. Typically that has a lot of pull locally and you can exponentially increase the amount of those quality links, creating full-length writeups in stories that tend to stick on their sites or live in their archives. When I work with lawyers, I like to get content created around their high profile cases, pending privacy, and legal concerns. Getting them in the news or on a circuit through local outreach has been one way I've split this road between paid contribution and paid backlinks.

Source -> I am a contributor to some of those publications.


Publicist at Sterling Sky
LocalU Faculty
Feb 4, 2019
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I believe both routes can work, it just so happens most of us are firmly rooted in one camp or another. I come from the methodology that links shouldn't be paid for unless they are in relation to supporting/sponsoring an organization/event/program/cause or are part of a featured listing on a public platform that's open to all they simply elect for a featured profile with enhancements. That said, I work with professionals daily who do have paid-link options that are appealing to highly-competitive sectors and can be affordable enough to at least consider. And when the link is indexed it "looks good" and passes my sniff tests. So there is value there...it's just not ideal in my course of action. At this time, I can't say that all paid-link sites are on Google's radar and they'll never be able to "catch them all" a la Pokemon style. Hardly in fact, as it's easy to bypass with strategy and some effort. Also, keep in mind that Google sucks at enforcing policies and their checks and balances on those policies are even worse and often inconsistent. If you need any examples of Google being a hot mess, just visit GMB in any metro and you'll see they're past the point of being respected and are now just an unfortunate partner we all have to work with.

I believe one thing that a lot of SEOs miss when taking on clients is asking the question, "Is this client worthly of links?" (Shout out to @CraigJMount for a weekend phone call recently on this note). If a client can only get links if they pay for them, what does that say about them? I'd like to clarify, I don't have a moral issue with paid anything in SEO, but I believe that if the client can't earn links without payment it's likely indicative of a larger brand issue around them sleeping somewhere - whether that's a dated-site, no or lack of quality content, messed up technical issues, damaged reputation, or a lack of displaying expertise in their sector. I'd focus on improving those elements with that budget vs paying for a new link to a broken brand site, but that's just my methodology.

I see these links with you a lot so I often have this question myself. As another has mentioned, I'd test it small scale if you're really wanting to learn more about them, and I just wouldn't do anything roster-wide without tests first.
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