Most of you probably think that the paid links market is on a downward spiral and that Google has stamped out the practice once and for all.
While the practice of legitimate sites selling links has, without question, been pretty much killed off in the last few months the art of buying your way to the top is still alive and well.
To illustrate this take a look at the results for car insurance, one of the most lucrative terms in the UK with CPC costs of £15 and daily Adwords budgets pushing £25,000.
As you can see a lot of major sites that we see every day on UK television stations are listed, no surprise there. The problem with the car insurance industry is that it’s pretty boring and not many natural links are passed around. Most mainstream newspapers mention these sites all the time but it is quite rare they actually give a live link. This makes it very hard for these sites to rank naturally.
Let’s take a look at the backlinks for the top ranking car insurance sites, I looked through the first 100 links for all the sites using the links below and found that a large proportion (around 80% for some sites) looked like they might be paid links that appeared to pass PageRank. Now of course I can’t say for sure that they are paid links but neither can Google. They have to make a judgement call that a site wouldn’t put a link in their footer with the anchor text “cheap car insurance” without being paid to do it.
This is what Google says about sites that buy links:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.
I’m not picking on these sites either, a lot of links to the top ranking results were right next to very similar links to their direct competitors. In fact, a quick look at the links for almost every single site on the first page for “car insurance” reveals links that appear to have been paid for.
How many paid links can you find?
To be clear, I have nothing against these sites and I fully understand their position. The fact of the matter is that the only way to compete in a market such as this is to buy links. There is no other way. If any of these companies came to me and wanted top rankings the first thing I would suggest is a massive link buying campaign. Of course I would try to do it in a way that made it hard for people to detect but they would still be paid links. If all your competitors are getting good results from buying links you cannot afford to wait for Google to do something about it.
Google will probably say that they have discounted all the paid links and that the sites are ranking purely on merit. Do you believe them? Let me know in the comments.