Paid Links & The Value Of True Believers

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emmadavis | Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Filed under: Advanced, Advanced, Basic, Basic, Editorial Page, Intermediate, Intermediate, SEO Tips & Advice, Social Media Tips & Advice, Technology

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At this point in the evolution of online marketing there can be no denying that there are many paths to achieving the same goal: higher traffic flow, better leads and increased conversion rate. Everyone has an opinion on tactics that perform well but one crucial point to remember is that not all online marketing strategies are created equal. Some marketers may find success comes more with spending money than spending time and effort. This is where I disagree strongly, and here’s why.

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Often the first goal a company sets out to accomplish with internet marketing is increasing the flow of traffic to a product webpage where potential customers can convert into buyers. So clearly, the focus of driving traffic should be on locating and targeting the correct customer base for your product, right? Sadly this is not the direction many beginner online marketers go in when first developing a search engine optimization strategy for their online marketing plan. The prevalence of agencies willing to sell a client on paid link-building campaigns, anchor text and rapid content optimization is overwhelming, but this doesn’t make them the right choice.

When an agency seeks to sell a client on a link-building campaign, they usually fail to acknowledge (whether they know themselves is a different story) that link-building is a major undertaking that, when done right, can be extremely effective but still incredibly time-consuming. So it’s understandable why so many companies choose to pay for the service rather than taking the time to do it themselves. This is the true mistake – no agency will ever have the full comprehension of your customer that your internal marketing has. The real value in link-building is not the surface accomplishment of raising your SEO rank with Google, Bing and other search engines. The true, lasting value of link-building is the well-lit path you are blazing from relevant content sites to your useful product.

Relevant of course is the important word here. A thousand links to your page means nothing if those links come from unrelated sources. This fact underlines the trouble with link-building campaigns – your links need to be handpicked to relate to your product and the owners of the sites linking to you must be on board as well. Is it really possible to accomplish this kind of connection with content site owners by farming out your link-building campaigns to third-party agencies that then farm out your project themselves? It’s important to ask yourself: at what point is the true connection with potential customers happening here? And can you really trust the link of a content site owner willing to take money in exchange for adding your link to their site?

Besides the relevance of links you’re seeking, you’re taking a big risk in today’s online marketing world by paying for what ultimately was designed to be an organic service, free in every sense of the word. Sure, you might save a little time here and there by paying services to do this grunt work for you but ultimately it will be your company that pays the price. This risk has been highlighted in the news recently with the sad story of Ryan Abood and his family’s flower business (read “How Google Cost Me $4 Million”). Abood had been paying SEO firms to improve his Google ranking in order to raise his organic listing on search result pages. Unfortunately for Abood one of the agencies he had hired had been paying sites for links, and even more unfortunately this fraud blew up in his face immediately before the onset of the winter holiday shopping season. It’s hard to blame Abood when he wasn’t doing the work himself, but then again, if he had been he might have known what kind of trouble he was stepping into by paying for links!

The dangerous game of paying for organic traffic to increase Google search result performance is now bleeding into other, newer online marketing technologies. When you use social bookmarking sites it’s obvious that there are bot services crawling that content to syndicate it elsewhere. Even Facebook now finds itself facing a similar scam: with the rise in popularity of promoting content there, the appeal of buying ‘likes’ to increase brand awareness on Facebook is now a temptation to online marketers looking to spend money rather than time. It seems like every other message on my Facebook newsfeed includes a line acknowledging a service promoting items to ‘like’. Similarly you can’t read past three or four new Twitter accounts without one of them proclaiming that by following them you yourself will gain new followers.

Is this really how we should be using social media and SEO for online marketing purposes? In my opinion it is not as easy as spending time rather than money. Sure, you will save yourself the effort of sending endless link request emails, maintaining spreadsheets of your accomplishments and following up with website owners. You might end up with 30-40% more people “liking” your content on Facebook or following your Twitter account. But ultimately, are these people the ones who want to consume your product? Remember, that was why you got into the game in the first place! When customers find you in search results and social networking organically they are far more likely to engage with your product than those arriving via less relevant paid sources. This in turn makes it more likely that bloggers and other content site owners will accept a link request from you. Even better, it makes it more likely that they will add the link themselves because it is a valuable resource to their readers, saving you both money and time! Therein lies the true value proposition of your SEO, social media and other online marketing efforts.

What’s your opinion on the links-for-pay controversy? What online marketing tactics have proven successful for your own company? Leave a comment and let us know, or get in touch for a free consultation on how SEO, social media marketing and other online advertising strategies could work for your business.

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