Like Me? Follow Me.
Rand Fishkin of SEO Moz posted an article about link buying/link building on Tuesday that is singularly the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen on SEO Moz. The article itself demonstrates how different big-budget, big-brand SEO is to what most of us do. It also proves how disconnected from the real world the guys at SEO Moz have become since they stopped taking on clients and focused on their SEO community and tools.
Let’s go through point by point.
1. "I've been running an experiment with some dark-hatted links for several months, consistently hoping Google will catch them and remove their value."
Really? You really think Google is going to do anything but rank you for this? Have you looked at the SERPs for, say, the last 15 years?
FACT: Most of your competitors are paying for links.
If Google were to penalise everyone paying for links the only sites left would be the ones who are irrelevant or unoptimised and probably are providing a terrible user experience. Unless you're doing something so vile, or so far in excess of what everyone else in your vertical is doing, then Google will count the links. Besides, if your PAID links are relevant then surely they're also advertising and why would Google have a problem with that? Plus, if they're relevant then they're probably raising your brand profile, and isn't that a good thing as well?
2. "Google's webspam team has all the incentive, brainpower and money in the world, yet their bets seem to be centered firmly on Google+ and the social graph eventually subsuming the "natural" results with those biased to what our friends and connections share/+1."
Yeah, they have been focused on social. But they also realise that businesses advertise. Not all paid links are bad. 10,000 paid links on gibberish sites and completely irrelevant links are bad. But surely buying an advert that contains a paid link on a forum about widgets, which links back to your site about widgets, is not harming anyone's user experience in Google if that link counts?
Also, I seriously doubt Google will entirely base the 'natural' results on social - because it would mean we'd end up only seeing an ever-decreasing subset of what our friends like. Search helps us find new things. If we only get shown things we already know about or things our friends like then we'll never find anything new.
3. "Spam and paid links just give you some more traffic (and not even as much as a trusted brand could earn in the same position). Conversion rates are lower than your peers, and the secondary traffic benefits from other sources, word-of-mouth, etc. never come into play."
Are we talking about paid links or are we talking about link spam? Those are 2 different things. The first is what I'd call ADVERTISING and it involves finding relevant sites with good levels of traffic and putting either advertorial content or a sidebar link. These types of PAID LINKS often send good quality traffic as well as help boost rankings for targeted keywords that are directly relevant to the site. The second is something else entirely - thousands of garbage text links on garbage sites linking to anyone and everyone without real content. The second may get you into trouble, but probably won't, because generally those pages won't even be on Google's radar.
Stop lumping a reasonable and effective tactic in with web spam. Not every paid link is a bad link.
4. "Playing the link buying game in the big leagues takes thousands to tens of thousands of dollars each month"
No it doesn't. If you're tactical and you pick the right links on the right sites they can be enough to help a small business with a small budget get some much needed early visibility while you buy them some time financially to do the brand building and push their generic keywords.
If by 'big leagues' you mean industries like porn, pharma and gambling then frankly you'd be stupid not to use black hat tactics because you'll never get ahead otherwise.
5. "There's Always Risk: You're already familiar with the horrific pain of Google's Kafka-esque penalties, but maybe you're banking on not getting hit, given their relative ineffectiveness over the past couple years."
All SEO is manipulation, so technically there's always risk anyway. We have one client who had a website built 2 years ago but didn't have budget for ongoing SEO. So they went away and understood that they needed to add content to their site/blog regularly and it needed to mention the words people use when searching for the content in question. What they ended up doing, innocently, was creating a massively over-optimised site which eventually got caught in one of Google's many filters and they lost all their listings. (It took 3 weeks to recover them by basically rewriting the site and cleaning up URLs). This business was not trying to game anything - they thought what they were doing was good for targeting the long tail and they genuinely felt their content was useful - most of it was, it just needed a copywriter's eye and a bit of attention from someone who understood good information architecture. So there is always risk UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING.
6. "If you've been pointing lots of links at sites and pages that earn no social traction, get ready to feel some pain."
People are never going to socially share every page they look at. They will probably only socially share the very funny/interesting/entertaining ones. I would hazard a guess that people won't even share 1% of what they look at on the web.
Not every site/page is going to naturally get liked/shared/+1'ed. Seriously - if you've applied for an IVA would you really +1 the page/site about it to your friends? If you're looking for a solicitor to help you make a claim for a surgical error that led to a vaginal fistula or cause testicular torsion are you seriously going to +1 that page? If you caught chlamydia from an infected sheep while working on a farm, would you share the page about that?
Social signals are important - you need to demonstrate as a business that you're engaged with your customer base, that you're doing PR, etc., and social mentions help demonstrate this but they will never be the only measure. Some businesses and some sites just don't lend themselves to that sort of sharing. Furthermore, how many small businesses have the budget/resources to spend on 'creating engaging content' all the time? You can't force something to go viral, no matter how good it is. You can't force people to share your content. The time it takes to build up networks and relationships and then to devise and create that sort of content is prohibitive for a lot of businesses. They don't have time for trial and error. They need ROI on that new website quickly - paid links are often a means to a quick win to get them that ROI, so they can then start thinking about everything else that needs to go into the mix.
"So how about instead of just warning about what not to do, I give you somewhere to spend all those earmarked-for-spam dollars."
Again: STOP CONFUSING PAID LINKS WITH WEBSPAM AS THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
7. "So, for $21,500, you can probably buy your way into the top 3 rankings for a moderately competitive phrase in a vertical like niche travel, low-volume e-commerce products, etc. Many black hats I know would argue they can get it cheaper, and they can, but that's usually because they own networks and properties or have relationships for which they wouldn't pay directly. A marketing guy working in-house at a brand has none of these connections, no networks of spamfarms, nothing except dollars and a business model that can turn $21.5K in spammy links into $100K in CLTV at 50% margins for a net of $28.5K."
This is patently ridiculous for most markets. Travel, maybe, but many e-commerce niches and most industries, even competitive ones like legal can be done on smaller budgets (I should know!). It's about the mix you use. Yeah, if ALL you do is paid links it'll cost you - but if you're also doing articles, guest blogging, online PR, etc., you can cut your costs. Plus, $100/month for a link seems pretty expensive. For many of the best links WE HAVE BOUGHT on very targeted niche industry sites with high traffic volumes (sites driving hundreds of visitors to our clients at over 5% conversion rates) we're barely paying $1200 over a year.
Besides, it's all about ROI - if a site is sending you visitors and you make more from those visitors than you spend, surely the cost is worth it, Rand? Google can ignore the link and it's still a good link! If they decide to use it to rank the site, it's an added bonus. They'd be kind of stupid to penalise a good site for getting cheap advertising from a relevant site that drives them targeted traffic, wouldn't they?
For the big finish
Why advertise on a blog when you can buy it, eh, Rand?
8. "The Steampunk Workshop blog has thousands of subscribers, and they're already clear proponents of LastWear (I know, at this point you're thinking I planned all this from the start, but I swear, it just fell into place as I was searching/writing). That Workshop site is also running ads on the sidebar and between posts, which suggests an attempt at monetization. While not every site like this is a potential option, many are likely to be interested in an acquisition."
I can give you a number of reasons why this is a far-fetched option for most businesses in most industries:
- Few SMEs have the IT infrastructure to support buying a blog, moving it to their own web platform and maintaining it.
- Many of these 'online communities' may tolerate ads running on a blog they like, but they'd probably object to the out and out commercialisation by the blog aligning itself directly with a brand and hence being subjected to editorial control by that brand. You'd be as likely to see a mass exodus of readers as you would to see the social mentions and links continuing to flood in.
- Few SMEs have the disposable income to go around buying blogs.
Use it or lose it, boys
It's all fine and good for SEO Moz to be down on tactics which clearly work and are entirely ethical (provided all parties understand the risk) when they're talking about big brand clients with massive million pound SEO budgets. Big brands don't have to work at SEO in the same way that everyone else does - you could argue a lot of brands don't even need off-site SEO as they naturally get mentions and links. When you're dealing with smaller budgets, however, you need to be practical.
For an SME client for whom £500 or £1000 a month is a huge spend, buying a blog isn't practical. These businesses rarely have the internal resource to take the time to build up networks on social sites and they certainly can't afford to pay an agency to do it. They need something which is going to help improve their bottom line immediately, so they have more money to invest over the long term. Quite simply, without some level of paid linking they aren't going to get the visibility, the traffic and the sales to support their ongoing SEO investment over the long term. Yes, they can use PPC to some degree - but only if they have that initial investment to put into paid search to get it working and returning a profit.
It's obvious that SEO Moz, working at the top end of the market - or these days not working on SEO for clients at all - has completely lost touch with the realities of online marketing for most businesses. I'd challenge Rand Fishkin to take a small B2B site that doesn't naturally lend itself to quick content, which is on a budget that gives them barely one day of a consultant's time a month to get rankings and traffic through purely white hat methods. The monthly cost of the SEO will surely become too big a burden for the business to carry.