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I am Not a Link Communist

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 72 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Link CommunistIt is against my better judgment to stir the pot on this issue, but it’s upsetting to me whenever the topic gets brought up. I don’t understand why engines are resorting to fear, uncertainty, and doubt to retain their relevancy, so I thought I’d bite the bullet and drop my .02, rather than let what I view as misinformation continue.

Saying, “buying links may not help your website” is much different than saying that “you shouldn’t buy links because it may hurt your rankings”. I think the tendency is towards the former, but I think the latter should be avoided for a handful of different reasons. Telling people not to buy links may scare off some folks who haven’t figured out that relevance is the SE’s primary agenda, but in doing so may alienate many more people in the process, and potentially damage brand reputation.

The Indifference Principle

When I talk about SE’s…in this case, most of you know which one I am referring to. One of the big differences between G and Y, is that Y tends to observe the indifference principle. G folks…if you’re listening…it’s time to get a couple Economics P.h.d’s on staff to help make some of these very difficult decisions you have to make. You are defining our culture and an entire economy (beyond just the text link micro economy) with your decisions. I’m not saying I envy you a bit, or know anyone that could do it any better…just saying that they are important decisions to make, and economists tend to have some pretty good perspectives on things.

Back to the indifference principle and how it affects buying links – The indifference principle is a probability-based principle used also in economics. Most economists would choose that SOMEONE benefit from any given situation where there is equal probability of outcome versus no one. While this sometimes contradicts some folks moral rationale, I find economics theory to be much more logical, rational, and overall beneficial than emotional human logic based on religion or other belief structures in the majority of instances.

The “Principle of insufficient reason” was renamed the “Principle of Indifference” by the economist John Maynard Keynes, who was careful to note that it applies only when there is no knowledge indicating unequal probabilities.
Principle of Indifference at Wikipedia

So how does this apply to buying links you may ask? Well, people are GOING to buy links because they are given incentive to do so. Why is this a problem for SEO’s and link sellers to benefit from a market that was created? I really don’t see how RELEVANT link purchase creates relevance problems in search engines. The act of condemning link buying is no different than the corporate schlubs from fedex who got upset with the guy who built furniture with their boxes, or any other such demonstration of corporate cluelessness. In their case, they even had an opportunity to BUILD their brand and blew it. The engines are only hurting their supporter’s and themselves by insisting that no one benefit from a market that was unintentionally created. Accept the marketplace, or argue a losing battle, but the market will exist.

Misinformation threatens credibility

By spreading misinformation or perhaps even enforcing not buying links through temporary penalization, the smaller naive business owners are the ones that are hurt. These business owners attend a conference and believe everything that the search engine representatives say. Not only are engines fighting a losing battle, they are tarnishing their credibility with those that believe what you have to say. I may have a fairly vested interest in this stance, since I would be the one to stand up and contradict the “don’t buy” policy, but my statements only effect my own credibility, coming from the search engines it would impact the entire brand. Yes, link buying is just a small microcosm of the search space, but it is also an area occupied by many folks that understand search best and are the “sneezers” to other folks that just don’t get it. These are the folks that are going to DEFEND the logic when times get tough…why would engines want to alienate them? Why else would engines throw big parties for there seemingly adversaries if they didn’t want to court them to their own line of thinking?

Wasted Resources

Combating purchased links is a temporary fix to a temporary problem in the same way that buying links is. The difference is, buying relevant text links does no damage to relevance…combating relevant purchased text links only creates new problems. Buying links raises the competition level in a given industry to a point of diminishing returns when all the folks in the top 10 are spending the bulk of their profit on retaining their rankings. Combating paid links may serve to level the playing field…in the same way communism does…by removing competition. It removes the competition, which is worse for the consumer because as a monopoly builds that power may be abused through excessive price gouging, discrimination and the like unless it is regulated (which brings a whole host of other problems). If link popularity is part of the rules of the game, paying for link popularity should not be an issue (Is it all that different from political lobbying).

Why waste the time and energy on short-term manual removal or promoting fear and doubt when that same energy could be put into finding alternative positive solutions and letting the marketplace exist? Does buying RELEVANT links really effect search relevancy that detrimentally? I guess we could try to do away with all advertising, but that wouldn’t be the greatest argument for any of us to put up I don’t suppose.

Capitalism Drives the Advancement of the Web

For all it’s faults, capitalism has been proven as a pretty good system imho. I’m sure their are some kinks that will work themselves out in the next few millenia, but I sure hope I don’t have to live in a communal utopia anytime soon. I love geeks, dorks, computer nerds, engineers, scientists, and many of the same things that they do. They CREATED the web for altruistic means that have created a wonderful infrastructure for something much bigger. The simple fact is that it wouldn’t have advanced and improved it wasn’t for the propensity towards commerce. Capitalism and commerce have driven the advancement of the web, and should be considered when making decisions of relevance. It was a simple decision to take into account economics principles into relevance that led Bill Gross to the brilliant solution of pay-per-click. Considering the commercial nature of the web actually INCREASED relevancy to users. Acting like there should be no market for top organic rankings will not get rid of the market that has been created.

Problems caused by lack of consideration for the commercial web:

  • -Meta tag spam
  • -Alt tag spam

  • -Page Rank micro economy
  • -Back link mining

  • -“Pimping” of the natural web for links
  • -Buying old sites to bypass the age barrier to entry

  • -Redirection manipulation
  • Sometimes the solutions to these problems were valid ones, and sometimes they have changed the entire face of the web (*cough* nofollow). I’ll leave those for you to decide. It’s much easier to blame the people that exploit the system, than it is to blame those that design it, but the naivete in design can’t be ignored.

    Buying links is ADVERTISING. Wasn’t it the commercial nature of the web and the monetary value of the marketplace involved what gave that little idealistic search engine startup so much power in the first place? Why should link communism now be promoted for the sake of preserving the “non-biased editorial standards of algorithmic search results”?

    While it is nice and easy to place most the blame on those that pushed the limits of what is acceptable by search engines, it was also their limit pushing that spurned the search engines to improve. If it weren’t for the commercial biases of the web, search retrieval probably wouldn’t have evolved much further than meta tags because there would be no incentive for anyone to “optimize” their meta tags.

    A few notes:
    Incentives are the best determinate of human behavior. There are exceptions to the rule, but on a mass scale incentives provide the most reliable data for prediction models. If people are going to be incentivized to buy links, they are going to buy links, until the risks are substantial enough not to do so, or there are no rewards to do so.

    What do you view as the primary differences between buying a text link on a RELEVANT or even general topic site for search engine rankings different than buying say radio advertising that may push visitors to a website?

    New media companies like Google and Ebay often get caught up in the ideals of “removing friction in the marketplace”. While this is an admirable goal, the ends sometimes don’t justify the means. There will always be “friction” in a marketplace, and short term opportunities. Fighting the short term opportunity seekers with short sighted solutions will only create more long term problems.

    Viva la link revolution!

    Yes, people buy and sell text links for the sole purpose of influencing search engine rankings. It is not an exact science. It is a response to the marketplace created by the monetary value of high rankings in a search engine. Remember, that algorithm based on link popularity that made everyone there rich and famous?

    I am not a link communist. I freely buy and sell links based solely on their value to search engines. The marketplace for search rankings is a valuable one that will not disappear anytime soon, and I hope to continue to take advantage of it while the opportunity remains. Competition, contracts, property rights, appropriate incentives, and market forces serve us well, and I think those principles of capitalism should be observed and respected rather than decisions that cater only to fear, uncertainty, and doubt for short term solutions.

    Link buying exists because of the high margins created by ranking high in natural search engine results. These margins give merchants the ability to use their adspend on areas that will increase their likelihood of top rankings. The competition will fuel itself to a point of saturation and diminishing returns. At this point the “problem” will cease. By allowing the market to run itself, resources will be allocated more efficiently. (invisible hand…yadda yadda).

    Another topic worth checking out is the “efficient markets hypothesis” which supports the idea that the more information SE’s make publicly available the less valuable SEO services would be (which seems to support Y’s direction).

    There are many moral philosophies to choose among, and I believe that economic reasoning is the most powerful tool we have for evaluating their merits.

  • -Steven E. Landsburg – “Armchair Economics”

    Related threads:

  • Nofollow Nastiness – Webmasters afraid to give link credit
    Paid links are advertising
    Buying links is BAD

    More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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    • Barry Welford

      An excellent post, Todd, which should be massively supported. The only tuning comment I might add is that the SEs should use PhDs in Freakonomics, which seems even more grounded in reality than Economics.

    • webprofessor

      LoL same thing was on my mind today. Its just ludicrouis for them to try to stop this.

    • Sholto

      Todd, I think we are starting to see a shift in the narrative around search engines from tech talk to market talk. Economics forms an excellent set of principles for evaluating the behaviour of searche engines and more importantly will be the principles used when competition commission decide whether the behaviour of google is increasingly uncompetitive.

    • Chris McMahon

      I have an uncomfortable feeling that when Google says not to buy links they then mumble under their breath, “except AdWords”.

    • Joe Hunkins

      Many excellent points here Todd. I think the punitive approach Google appears to be taking may be creating a new and significant distortion in their results. Better would be to incorporate the new link economy in ways that improve relevancy rather than try to retain “old” relevancy models by forcing compliance, which is already having very unintended consequences. This is the arrogance of Google’s dominance in search and even from their perspective it’s a mistake to continue on this course.

    • Spencer Hoyt

      Great Post! I like the fact that you are now including images in your post. You might want to add the code for align=”left” to make your text appear better.
      Good luck with your new ventures.

    • GerBot

      Your best post I think Todd. I’ve moved you to the top my my Blogs shortcuts! Only because I think TW is a forum

    • Quadszilla

      I prefer Google’s stance as it is to them deciding to sell links that help in the SERPs.

      If you are not a “link communist,” and you want a “SERP helping link marketplace”, then you must accept Google’s right to play in that SERP helping link marketplace. Right?

      Currently, all the links Google sells are essentially “No Follow”. That’s all they want the market to sell. And they are using their market power to try to push this.

      We do not want this to change!

      A change in position would necessarily mean Google would move to sell links that help in the SERPs. I dread that day. The SEO dollars will go to Google. All margins and profits would be sucked out of natural Search and renounced to Google. Some businesses would even turn to negative online margins as companies rely on the SERPs only to feed their offline business.

      All I’m saying is, be careful what you wish for.

    • stevem

      Here is the fly in the KY

      Lets play customer to seo.

      A conversation somewhere between client and seo:

      Customer: Hey Seo I would like to buy a link from site (A) but they are not offered through Google adwords? Is there a way I can buy a link from them directly or through a broker of some form?

      SEO. Well in a fair world I would say it is ok to buy a link from another site however to be totally candid one of the “search engines” might actually penalize your site for that.

      Customer. So you are saying the search engine can sell links and ads but they dont like you to buy them from some one else?

      SEO Umm Welll ahhh, (self destruct can not violate TOS can not violate tos help Will Robinson)

      Sir I would suggest we take a more organic approach to your seo, I can not say I agree with all the search engine rules to date. We can build a long term plan for success with a limited amount of pay per click (aka paying the man). The key is building links naturally through high quality relevant content.

      Customer Yeah yeah but I want to rank number one in a week for my keywords?

      SEO Sir that will not happen.

      Long silence ……………………….

      Customer Ok well you can not possibly be right, there is no way any of these search engines could get away with that. I know you are concerned with my sites well being but go ahead and buy all the links you can. Forget about any of that Adwords stuff for now.

      SEO Yes sir have a good day please transfer the funds to our account we will proceed after that. :(:(

      Any1 had one of those conversations before lololol????.

      My thoughts:

      Google with aS and aw is an advertiser or broker and makes millions cough billions off selling “links” Who are they to say people can not sell links on their sites or buy links from another site. Is this not a double standard?

      That commie flag fired me up. lol


    • General Public

      1. Evil = g$$gle
      2. Evil = Micro$oft

      See how the monopoly starts to work, since web is egalitarian google share price will soon equal M$ share price, watch out…

      Also soon there will be three types of webmasters …

      1)Those who allow google to index their site!

      2)Those who do not allow google to index their site!

      3)Those who charge google (yap google has to pay content index and cache fee!)

    • Abhilash

      I thought Keynes’ Principle of Indifference applied to work vs. leisure when given an increase in wages. No?

      For example, once you get super-duper popular & successful, you would 50% of the time choose to quit working & jetset over to Bali, Belize, Bermuda or Bora Bora while the other 50% of the time you would take on more work to get the cheddar. Interesting, given your current circumstances.

      In any case, link buying will surely evolve as soon as Google decides how exactly they plan to combat link buying w/o the “nofollow” (i.e. the real way:-). As soon as they decide to penalize, perhaps nofollow links will be used to generate traffic towards linkbait, or else some other form of link buying to help SERPs rankings will surely evolve.

      It’s the only way we can all evolve together towards the synthesis of good vs. evil. Google has to step up and do what they do in order for us all to evolve together. Does that make sense?

      Indeed, that resonates as a bit Marxian, but hey, you’re the one that brought up Keynes.

    • WiltonBiz

      Who cares if it’s right or wrong? What I want to know is — can Google track down, and devalue, paid links? I’d really like to know the answer to that one.

    • quadszilla

      can Google track down, and devalue, paid links?

      The ways they could are either by hand on very high profile sites (like newspapers), or by looking for flags in the code. (ok to link?)

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    • Jarrod Hunt

      Right On Todd!

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    • Ramm

      It is not necessary to forget that Google the commercial enterprise, therefore spends the budget for improvement of quality of search. It means, that it will spend the budget for search of purchased references, only if it will provide to him increase in the profit. Search of purchased references is very expensive, because it is qualitative can do only the person, instead of the robot. Means large stock exchanges of references, large advertising platforms and catalogues which sell references risk only.

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    • Tom Broadbridge

      OK Guys,

      I am trying to climb the SE rankings, What is the general concensus, is it ok to buy links or not?

      Will I get zapped by Google or others or will they even know?

      An enquiring mind needs to know:-)

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