I do accept that the search engines need to classify the links they collect on the web. Not all links are equal but just about every one of them should carry some value. It is outright stupid to totally discount the value of paid links as the engines claim they (at least try to) do.
First of all we need to look at what paid links really is. It’s simple enough if you go to this link-network that claim they will give you top PageRank if you buy links with them. That’s paid links. Also, if you go to individual sites and ask to buy a text link or add content to their site with your embedded links in then that’s paid too. That’s easy.
But what about a link I add to my web developer in exchange for a 10% discount? Is that paid and how will the engines actually be able to see the difference? And how about if the local car dealer let me borrow that new super cool super car they sell for a week and then blog about it (with a “natural” link to the one than lent me the car)?
What if I pay someone to get me some of those great social media links, is that paid? No according to Google. Matt Cutt said:
“Whenever you pay money to a social media consultant to try to show up on Digg, you are not paying for links. You are funding some creativity …”
So who decides when my paid link baits are creative and when they are not? Or is it only if I pay someone else to be creative for me it counts?
In any case it’s obviously extremely difficult to define what paid really is and even more difficult for the engines to identify it. That’s just another good reason to stop the witch-hunt on paid links.
But the best reason, in my mind, is that paid links do in fact show real value. It may be a different value that editorial links but nevertheless a real tangible value. So if the engines identify what they think is paid links then please go ahead and assign a different value to them – just don’t make it zero. That’s stupid. They don’t give zero value to navigational links even though we can all agree they are less valuable – or relevant – than editorial links.
A company that is willing to pay good money for links with specific keywords pointing at specific and relevant web pages shows a real dedication. It is no different from the same company paying PR experts to get their good stories out. Most companies just don’t waste that kind of money it takes if it’s not relevant and convert visitors into sales. Why should that not have any value to the engines?
The fact is: Money drives most of the factors that the search engines already use to value websites (good websites with quality content, great applications peple “naturally” link to etc all cost money). To discount one of those – links – just because they have been paid for (in some ways – but not in others …) is simply not very wise, in my mind.