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March 29, 2012

The Death of Paid Link Networks – A SPN Exclusive Article

Ahhh… Remember the days when you could just subscribe to a paid link network of your choice for as little as $49 and watch those rankings head upward every week. No need to get involved in the messy muddiness of “white hat” SEO, no need to build relationships with webmasters and spend days upon days researching and developing high quality, share worthy content…

Those were the days my friend. And no, I’m not talking about pre-2008, or even 2011, I’m talking about 2012. Working in the casino SEO industry, it was quite common for me to see the top 20 competitors for any given keyword heavily loaded with blatantly obvious paid links in their backlink profile. And when I say “blatantly obvious,” I really mean it. I’m talking about an oddly placed “online casino” anchor text link, randomly dropped into some unrelated text on a camping accessories site… Yuk!

Why would SEO’s pay for this you ask – because it worked, and it worked really well (perhaps in part due to the lack of social signals in the adult industry) – up until February 2012 when the Google Venice update came along. “Oh dear” sigh the SEO’s who’ve been riding the paid link wave. What shall we do now?

Google (at least seems to) have cracked the paid network scheme good and proper with the Venice update. What came as a major shock and SERP shakeup for the industry was subtly summarized on their “Inside Search” post:

“Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years.”

Change the way they evaluate links they certainly did. While paid link networks have enjoyed resilience to big G to varying degrees, this update seemed to truly slice the hearts of paid link networks. Whilst the ramifications are huge, it’s really no surprise (and I don’t understand why they didn’t do this earlier):

* Problem #1: Most link networks featured all their customers’ links on all their sites. You can have as many unique c-class IPs as you like, but the exact same outgoing links on every site is bound to leave a nasty footprint.

* Problem #2: Most link networks use spun content across their sites, and drop batches of links to minimize the workload (why load up one customer’s links when you can upload 5 customers in one whack?). The crappy spun content and batching of links (both in context and timing) is a dead giveaway.

* Problem #3: The link network business model is inherently flawed. In order to get buyers, you need to market your service. When you market, Google can easily catch you. You think you’ve got a new client while a “Google undercover operative” is smiling from cheek to cheek…

So link networks (or at least the ones following the above model) are biting the dust and you’ve seen your rankings plummet. You shed a tear and stare hopelessly out the window wondering what to do next. Worry not – I’ve put some starting points together:

Get Back To Basics – On Site

The good old days meant that you could enjoy high rankings without too much concern about the actual quality of your site (to varying degrees of course). That mindset needs to change:

1. Clean up that site
– if the Panda update didn’t motivate you to go through your site and clean up the crap, now’s definitely the time. Assess every page from tip to toe and ask yourself these two questions:

* Is this page 100% necessary or can its purpose be combined into another really power packed page?

* Is this page the very best that it can be? If its purpose is informational, is it up-to-date? Is it comprehensive? Is it the best answer to a users question? If not, you know what to do…

2. Speed up that site
– As SEO’s we all know that site speed is a ranking factor, yet how many of us have really put in the blood, sweat and tears to make our sites super-crazy-lightning-fast? Yes, it’s a little complicated for the un-initiated, but with some effort and a few questions, you can get that site of yours blitz-fast which not only means better rankings, but better conversions (and yes, conversions do matter to a good SEO, a lot!)

3. Assess those analytics metrics – Another common flaw of the modern SEO is a tunnel vision when it comes to Google Analytics. Just admit it, all you really want to see is how much traffic your awesome keywords have driven! That’s all good, but it’s now time to really start scrutinizing bounce rate, time on-site and average pages per visit.

* Improving your call to action and conversion funnel equates to a lower bounce rate and higher conversions – it’s a no brainer.

* Investing in some video for your site not only gives you pretty thumbnails in the search results, but also increases time on-site, general conversion and overall coolness! Do it.

4. Do the things you’ve always wanted to do, but were too scared to – when your site was ranking number 1 on Google, it was understandably risky to go tinker with design layouts, script upgrades, CRO and split testing (among other things). If you’ve taken a bump to page 2, you may as well make the most of it and get those changes done. When you’re back on top, you’ll enjoy the rewards of an overall better site.

Get Back To Basics Off Site

Those paid links are now worth very little and suddenly your backlink portfolio is looking rather bleak – you realize that you may have been just a touch to reliant on those “miracle” networks. Never fear though – where there’s a will – there’s a way, and the fact that you’re still reading means that there’s definitely a will!

Directories are a Logical Foundation

Quality, relevant listings on legitimate local directories (i.e., not purely developed for the purposes of selling links to desperate SEO’s) are a good starting point. Take a quality over quantity approach and put some tender loving care into those submissions. Also try to go for the premium option (if your budget allows) with a view to getting some (real!) qualified traffic from it. The same approach can be taken in joining industry forums, commenting on relevant blogs and so forth. Add value – don’t spam.

Foster Those Relationships

Let’s be honest, guest blogging is hard work and that’s exactly why it’s worth your time. Get in touch with industry related webmasters, be authentic and give before receiving. Put your best foot forward and I guarantee that you’ll find a rose or two amongst those harsh thorns.

Social is Essential

You may have been neglecting social media (especially if you’re in a particular niche or adult market). The good news is that it’s never too late to get involved. Get setup on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus (remember to connect your G+ account to your site). Again, authenticity is key – give and ye shall receive.

Video is the Ultimate Content

Another underrated platform/tool for link building is video. You don’t need to be Vanessa Black to benefit from the YouTube community. Whatever industry you’re in, there’s something that you can better explain in a video. Create as many how-to videos as you can and promote them wherever you can. It’s amazing how linkable videos are, and the more people link to your video, the more juice flows to you. PS – YouTube isn’t the only video sharing site – be sure to utilize the likes of DailyMotion, Vimeo, etc.

Think Out of the Box

Sure, you’ve heard this a million times before. The difference is that right now, you NEED to listen. Every motivational speaker will tell you that you need to think radical thoughts in order to achieve radical results. This definitely applies in SEO. Use these ideas to get that old think-box ticking:

1. Got eBooks? Why not submit them to a handful of premium ebook directories and document sharing sites (think Issuu, Slideshare, Docstoc, etc) – even better, apply for submission to Amazon and the iTunes store. It will cost you a little but the payoff on a quality ebook will make it worth your investment.

2. Got cool images/graphics?
There are a ton of wallpaper sites just waiting for your content. Crack open Photoshop and make some wallpapers out of those cool stock images. Even better, invest in some screensaver software and leverage those images to score links from screensaver sites.

3. Got videos? If you’ve already invested in video, you’ve inadvertently created some pretty cool podcasts. Even if you haven’t, I’ll bet that laptop has a microphone which allows you to enter the world of podcasting. Use that industry expertise to start a podcast. There are hundreds of podcast directories ready to not only link to you, but send a healthy stream of traffic.

These are just three ideas but the concept is simple and highly scalable – take stock of your content equity (in whatever format it may be) and leverage it. Convert it to a new format, add to it, subtract from it – do whatever, just be creative and get those links that nobody else has thought of.

Be Smart

Many a great link building idea is crushed by the realization that a serious time commitment is required (at least at first). For example, guest blogging means spending a LOT of time building a list of publishers, emailing them, etc. Guess what? You don’t need to do that – hire someone on elance for $100 – I assure you they’ll do a much better job. Come on – no excuses…

Successful link building in a post-Venice era is obviously going to be more challenging than shopping for links. Yes, this does mean a greater time investment and thought overhaul, but the upside is incredible and makes it all worthwhile – now creativity and innovation are ranking factors. Money can only buy so much. Your ability to think outside the box is now the real equity. Welcome to a new world of SEO innovation.

Derek Jansen+ is an SEO educator, providing customized SEO training and implementation in Southern Africa. He has authored a free SEO course and specializes in casino SEO.

16 Responses to “The Death of Paid Link Networks – A SPN Exclusive Article

    avatar chase says:

    Well stated, a very good read.

    It’s been a long time since some one mentions quality over quantity…

    Creativity over cookie cutter.

    It’ll be interesting to see I would hope some of the top sites and what they come up with content wise.

    The public might just start enjoying the web and surfing again for something other than than the sales going on at Kmart if creativity and quality takes hold.

    I can’t wait to see some of the new high impact sites that take the rankings under the guide lines.

    Thanx again for sharing.

    – chase –

    PS: think you can do something about getting me off ask the Casino spam lists? I get ten a day… And I don’t gamble except on myself. ūüėČ

    avatar Mike Beeson says:

    Great article Derek! Like you, I don’t shed any tears for the end of the paid-for links era. I particularly like your off-site and ‘thinking out of the box’ suggestions. This is all good news for the sanctity of professional SEO. The name I would give to this new-age departure is ‘Whiter-than-white Hat SEO’.

    One of your best newsletters, to be honest i don’t read all of them, but this one i did and i click in to your site to read ALL of it, many good ideas i will start work on and already send link to this article for all my business/SEO friends.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work!

    avatar Murat says:

    There is a similar strategy which Google can not easily find for micro niche blogs. Opening subdomains on free blogs with spun content and linking randomly to each other while also putting backlinks to the main keyword website. I know it works. My competitors do this very well in large scale.

    avatar chase says:

    As good as the article is three is one irony I almost over looked.

    By the authors own admition he works for the Casino SEO industry and the misuse of SEO strategies, paid links etc etc.

    The Casino industry is one of the highest networks out there, and one of the strictest against doing anything concerning hedging the odds of wining at the Casinos in your favor. Card counting and other various forms of hedging the odds.

    But by the author own admition, that’s exactly what they have been doing all along with the rankings.

    The Casinos have arrested people, beast people up for hedging the odds.

    I think they call that cheating, but as we can see, only if you do it to them.

    Aaa..ah the irony of it all…

    avatar Kurt says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article about paid link networks. We only started using this black hat SEO technique last year and it’s been a crazy ride full of ups and downs. Although we’ve seen some good results, I’m actually glad that white hat SEO is being considered as more valuable by Google.

    avatar chase says:

    Sorry about the typo’s and wording in my above post, I’m walking, talking and finger sliding at the same time.

    But I hope others will see the irony contained within as well. The casinos for years have made a huge issue concerning hedging the odds in their clubs. And to hear they have paid others to do the very same thing for them, well, the more you think on that irony, the more ones eyes open.

    And now that everyone has been caught by Google, and Google has made changes to put an end to this form of hedging the odds, everyone that did this is now going to be good little boys and girls…

    Yeah… we’ll see how long that lasts… lol

    Still a very good article, lets hope people listen, It would be nice to see some quality and creativity go into web site design again. The rankings become a truer sense of how one’s site ranks among others.

    It just might bring the public back.

    avatar Steven says:

    Thanks for the great article, much of which I have been pondering lately. My next course of action is to develop our video portfolio. I see that as the most time consuming project, but probably the most effective addition to our SEO program. I will be steering clear of many techniques, and concentrating on the basics as you suggest.

    avatar David Cox says:

    I gather from what you say, that it is “highly bad” for me to have a link to my website coming from a website about a totally unrelated subject. A quote from your recent article, The Death of Paid link networks, you said…

    I really mean it. I’m talking about an oddly placed “online casino” anchor text link, randomly dropped into some unrelated text on a camping accessories site… Yuk!

    Okay, I get the point. It is not good “white hat SEO” to have links from unrelated subject sites into your website. Why? Because Google says so. Is it more complicated than that? I don’t think so.

    So my question is the following, I have Google Adsense on my sites, and so why does Google tell me this is bad, but Google’s adworks puts links to all kinds of unrelated subjects into my website? What is good for to Google goose is good for the Google Adwords? Or NO? Can you explain it to me?

    Why does Google get away with the “bad had SEO” tactic of sticking links in all kinds of unrelated topic websites, and this is their main money makers, but they penalize me for doing it?

    Question number 2: Can they realistically penalize anybody for doing this separating out the Google adworks links from my own links (possible yes, feasible maybe not?). I mean, perhaps Google is just spouting out against the practice while not doing anything about it?

    I am really in the dark on this subject. If Google does it, why is it bad SEO if we do it? Abuse yes, abuse on this abounds. But in the end, are links coming in from any website any different if I go on an auto repair forum and link to my camping site, what difference is that from buying Adwords and they doing the same thing?

    Great Article, as someone that OWNS a local niche directory I am hoping that more people get on board with the ‘local directory’ shift – @David Cox I totally agree, I have several sites with AdWords adverts and they are rarely relevant to my sites (or therefore my visitors) and I have therefore earned very little revenue from them.

    avatar jb says:

    Following on from the comment from David Cox – the irrelevant Adsense links that show on a site inspire me not to click and to totally ignore all ads from the site I am visiting.

    If I am looking for camper van hire (obviously because I want to hire a camper van) seeing ads for php code is not relevant. Ok it may have been relevant a few minutes ago when I may have been looking for that but I have moved on from looking for php code to looking for camper vans to hire.

    Google Adsense needs to follow their own rules about relevancy. They used to …

    avatar Jack Thomas says:

    Probably the next important question is, what type of paid linking service will the hammer drop on next by Google?

    avatar David Head says:

    Im glad paid links are coming to an end . It helps people like me to have a better chance on a small budget , it gives us a foot up by doing blogging and writing. We are a family business and now we can get to where we want to be,knowing its not only someone with a big budget who can .Kind Regards
    David Head

    avatar Samantha Prinsloo says:

    Definitely one of your best articles. Thoroughly enjoyed the read from start to finish. Nice to know that white hat SEO will soon start taking over again ūüôā
    I think we have all proved time and time again that these black hat techniques used are giving us a short boost before bringing us right back down again.
    Kudos to an awesome article!

    avatar Ejendomsmægler says:

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work!

    avatar Jakob says:

    Great article! I will share this with my SEO group! Thanks alot!

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