Posted by Jane Copland
Yesterday afternoon, as I was at home recovering from a form of black death known as the common head cold, I came across Danny Sullivan’s piece on Search Engine Land about his dealings with a lazy link broker. I recommend reading Danny’s post, which details how he questioned a person who wanted a link on the Sphinn.com homepage with the anchor text "search engine optimisation." The person represented a UK-based SEO firm. I’m not saying that reading or even acknowledging the status of Sphinn is necessary for success in our industry, but one should probably avoid trying to buy links from a site SEOs and search engine employees read with regularity.
Danny was knowledgeable enough to mess with this person for a while and ended up revealing how much he actually knows about the issue, at which point the person stopped emailing him back. To quote:
I’d love to think there was an “oh shit” moment when this arrived in their email box…
My Dad has a blog that gets about one link exchange / directory submission / link acquisition email per week. In the beginning, he didn’t know what was "legit" and what wasn’t (it turns out that 99% of it wasn’t). He used to forward me the emails and ask me what I thought, but after the fifth or sixth installation of "nope Dad, don’t email them back," he just started ignoring them. Out of all the emails he ever received, only three suggested that the sender had looked at the website past checking its toolbar PageRank, and just one site dealt with a related subject matter (despite all claiming to be within the same "theme"). The problem, as I said on the Sphinn thread, is that not every person who runs a small website has a daughter working at an SEO company with whom they can discuss the issue. The person who emailed Danny could have sounded quite legitimate to an uneducated website owner.
And I think we often forget about uneducated website owners. Even people who know a lot about web development and marketing don’t necessarily know the fine-print of Google’s guidelines. They aren’t necessarily idiots because they fall for these tactics (although I agree that the people pitching at Danny were idiots for not simply Googling him, especially when he began to sound like he knew what he was talking about).
The Sphinn thread, and yesterday’s discussions on Twitter, debated whether webmasters should report truly deceitful practices like this to search engines. The arguments tend to fall into a range of categories:
- No, why do Google’s job for them?
- No, the web is a free-for-all and if they fall for it, they fall for it.
- Yes, it cleans up Google’s SERPs and that benefits all of us.
- Yes, it slowly eating away at the problem and will result in less of these annoying emails.
- Yes, these people are scum and deserve nothing less.
Danny’s example is pretty clear: the representative went out of his or her way to lie about Google’s guidelines. But what of link acquisition emails that simply don’t mention potential guideline violations? What if the webmaster who receives the email doesn’t ask? Does the link broker have a responsibility to disclose potential risks of selling PageRank? Or is this mostly a non-issue because the best paid links can’t be detected?
Personally, I recognise that cold-emailing still happens and I don’t forward regular paid link requests to anyone. That doesn’t sit well with me. Paid linking is a daily part of SEO and I am neither against it nor actively participating in it. Pretending it doesn’t exist or willing it to stop is naive. However, I don’t see how anyone can gladly accept a company that is willing to exchange multiple emails in which they lie about whether their business proprosition could spell the end for another company or individual’s website.
I am honeslty curious as to what the community here thinks about paid link requests. If you are going to contact a website and offer them the option of selling a link, surely it’s only ethical to make sure they know the risks? Or is that not your responsibility? Yes, I’m tired of the "e" word: it’s taken up a lot of time in the SEO world lately. What someone does to his or her own sites is none of my business and strikes me as fair game, as long as everyone involved in the site understands the risks. However, I definitely don’t see anything wrong with calling people out who put others at risk by capitalising on their ignorance and deliberately lying to get what they want.
More: continued here