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Image by rene_ehrhardt via FlickrHow many times have you sat through an SEO presentation and heard 'it’s all about links, and one link from the BBC is worth more than 1,000 low level directories.' 

Google relies on media links to calculate PageRank, a gauge of website authority. These links bring order to search results, which is why everyone uses Google, which is why they make so much money. Brands therefore need media links to achieve SEO success in Google, which is fair enough.

But what do media owners get for providing the authority map behind Google’s meteoric rise? Plummeting advertising revenues as Google hoovers up the lot. This seems a bit of a kick in the teeth, but what can they do about it?

Fundamentally, all businesses operate by creating value for their customers then capturing a proportion of that value in fees, and media owners are no different.  So how do they create value for brand advertisers?

Here are three ways:

1.  An article or advertisement raises brand awareness amongst the target audience.

2.  A link in the article or advertisement drives visitors to the brand’s website.

3.  The link also drives an increase in Google exposure, which in turn drives even more visits to the brand’s website.

From our experience the value of three (increased Google visitors/sales) outweighs two (direct referral visitors/sales). This has significant implications for the dynamics between brands, Google and media owners.

Media owners (including leading daily newspapers) have responded with sound business logic by selling advertorial links. Right on cue, specialist advertorial network companies have sprung up overnight to broker the sudden rise in supply and demand. 

But here’s the real choker for media owners. “Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such as excessive link exchanges and purchased links that pass PageRank.” Er, sorry media owners you’re not supposed to do that, Google wants all that lovely ad revenue.

So media owners will probably take their 'forbidden' advertorial link sales underground and into clandestine meetings with shady link pushers and brands desperate for more Google exposure.

As this trend gains momentum, the editorial integrity of media owners will of course become compromised, along with Google results, which will be determined by who can afford to buy the best links. Google will have to respond by downgrading the value of media links, which will lead to a drop in brand advertisers buying links from media owners. It’s a catch 22 situation for media owners, and could spell their end, unless they start charging for content.

And if media owners no longer provide a reliable authority map for Google, then who will? Will we see a return to unreliable search results or a new search engine to topple the giant? 

This is possible, but unlikely in my opinion. I would imagine that Google will have thought long and hard about this and will be looking to social media and consumer data (think Toolbar, Chrome and Analytics) as the reputation influencers of the future, and will order search results based on consumer voice and consumer click behaviour. For Google search filters, the behaviour of the masses will replace the opinions of the few journalists. At least that sounds like a healthy philosophy.

And what about the brands out there chasing Google exposure, who look on in bewilderment as this drama unfolds? The only sound advice to avoid becoming embroiled in this short term game of cat and mouse, is to focus on understanding your customers, and creating positive online experiences that will get them talking and coming back for more.

Let Google build tomorrow’s algorithms around your success today, don’t reverse engineer your business into yesterday’s spam.

Image by rene_ehrhardt via Flickr, various rights reserved.

Jack Hubbard

Published 7 October, 2009 by Jack Hubbard

Jack Hubbard is managing director at Propellernet and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can hook up with him on LinkedIn and follow Propellernet on Twitter here.

2 more posts from this author

Comments (24)

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Al Williams

I always tend to have some form of criticism to an article, as generally there is more than one side to the story.  Yet, I 100% agree with this and sincerely hope that people stop paying "SEO experts" wok hard at manipulating the results, just for Google come along and rebalance the field to negate the effectiveness of this time, effort and budget.

Stop!  Provide content people want to link to and add value, as you rightly said.  Hear hear!

Al Williams

Coffee Marketing Consultancy

almost 7 years ago

Simon Kemp

Simon Kemp, Director at Jemms (UK) Ltd

The rise of Twitter search has given us the option to find products and services in other places - and get real-time feedback/reviews on them. It's great news for independent merchants and manufacturers who need to market product. People can and do use Twitter as a product finder or a services finder; product and brand marketing costs can be lowered as there is no PPC or SEO cost other than Tweeting relevant, consistent information. The playing field is levelling again, - at least for a while... There are some great examples of an independently marketed product finder here: #mce_temp_url#

almost 7 years ago

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SeoNext

Interesting, but somewhat misleading title heh. Opening your platform is indeed a great way to get links, rather then just safeguarding your web application platform – allowing others to expand it allows you to get free advancements and updates and build links and community, all of which are looked favorable upon by search engines and more importantly – users.

almost 7 years ago

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AlchemyV

A good closing note of advice.  However, I think the article would close on a hypothesis that is a gaining trend of influence for news media - that is industry specific social media voting sites that allow users to submit and vote for news content.  

This is not only a good way of seeing what the masses endorse as good news but also has statistical significance which is what Google likes.  Of course its not flawless for SEO wouldn't exist, but its a step forward.

almost 7 years ago

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sam andres

By advertorial network, do you mean PR, what is the difference?

almost 7 years ago

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SEO Optimisation

Once again, all anyone can do is revert to the tried and tested and that's best practice. All and anything else is simply transient irrelevance.

BB

almost 7 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

I don't see any reason on earth why Google should be allowed to be the arbitrator of what is fair and unfair advertising. At some point this hubris will come around and bite them on their own tail.

almost 7 years ago

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Stephen James

Isn't this just a Google centric SEO's view of PR? 

almost 7 years ago

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blackbeanstirfry

If the author wrote it for the link what it says is not the point.

almost 7 years ago

Jack Hubbard

Jack Hubbard, Managing Director at Propellernet

Thanks for comments guys, good to see i'm not the only person fascinated by the commercial dynamics behind the wonderful world of online publishing, PR, search engines and SEO.

Alchemy, i like your points about social news voting as it will help the best news sources rise to prominence and filter out advertorial spam which deals with the issue from a consumer perspective.  However, there remains a question mark over how quality news will be commercially funded.  Without a sustainable commercial funding model, surely the quality of news will drop.

Sam Andres,  by "advertorial networks", i mean a network of websites that will publish your content for a fee (and maybe a link).  The network reduces inventory sales costs for publishers, many of which are very small businesses. It makes it easier for people buying links to deal with a single broker. My definition of "PR" would be creating a story that is published on its own merit by journalists with editorial integrity because it is genuinely newsworthy, and not because some is paying for the news to appear.

Stephen James, if PR activity creates value which manifests as increased Google exposure, i don't think you can separate SEO and PR.  "SEO" & "PR" are therefore limiting concepts, it's just holistic online marketing (but that sounds a bit cheesy).

Jack

almost 7 years ago

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Rakeye

I think this is fairly hypocritical coming from the MD of an SEO agency that incorporates an online PR division as a link building mechanism (as well as posting controversial articles, or should I say ‘advertorial’ as this is nothing but an advert for his agency).

Any successful PR will tell you that there is a lot of hard work, and yes money, that goes into developing relationships with journalists... so if these ‘purchased’ journalists place your articles on their publications, with a link (as you've no doubt asked them to do), how is this different from an advertorial network that places content with links for exactly the same purpose, the link juice? Surely only that the PR has a relationship with the editorial department, while the network has a relationship with the business development departments of these publications as the channel to publication.

If Google is discriminating again method of getting the link then it should penalise the other too... The key here should be the quality of the content, not splitting hairs over whether a link is paid for directly or indirectly. There’s no reason why a paid for advertorial can’t be just as entertaining/educational to users as a regular article. So I disagree with your statement “the editorial integrity of media owners will of course become compromised”.

In regards to “shady link pushers and brands desperate for more Google exposure”... how else are small brands supposed to compete in this system? It could be argued that they just have to do things naturally, but as the big budget, big brands get more and more sophisticated in their ‘natural’ optimisation techniques, it will become increasingly difficult for small players to get valuable organic traffic. Is it a surprise that they’re taking risky measures to try and compete? If nothing changes, there could conceivably become a page one argentocracy... Google wouldn’t need any of their mysterious tools to find black-hatters, as they’d just have to penalise any young pretender who gets decent results as he’d clearly be ‘cheating’.

Unless there is a 100% impartial user-generated content model (impossible) then the selling of links to attract quality content should absolutely not be penalised per se. Poor quality content should be penalised though the weighting of the links... how are Google supposed to do that you say? Well, that’s none of my business... it’s theirs.

almost 7 years ago

Jack Hubbard

Jack Hubbard, Managing Director at Propellernet

This is great Rakeye, Is my article advertorial? It’s a great question and a perfect example of how the lines are blurring between editorial and advertorial. 

Of course, I'd like to think i was invited to blog based on my speacialist experience and knowledge, but i am sure my econsultancy platinum membership and events sponsorship didn't hurt my case for becoming a guest blogger.

This issue is timely and important for the future of media owners and their content, so I don't view it as controversial.  It's much healthier to have an open debate rather than maintain radio silence in fear that Google might hear!

It would be good to hear from brands and media owners about their views on trading links for SEO value. 

almost 7 years ago

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isubmitlinks

This is free directory submitter.you can submite your web site as free...

almost 7 years ago

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kazvy

Kazvy help you increase traffic by providing SEO friendly one way link. Submit your site and get approved very fast.

almost 7 years ago

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Cmai

Jack,

It is really an interesting decision that agencies and brand owners need to make in terms of now weighing the additional factor of Google's response to perceived link buying to an old age desire to have a brand talked about

Most brand owners are looking to have their product or service talked about and their respective sales channels accessible to their target audience via that chatter.  So this is not about something that is new, only the accessibility aspect of the channel has been made anew via websites, social networks and other 'linking' opportunities. 

PR and Advertorials or Paid Editorials as some like to term them have been around for as long as capitalism has and the trouble with the lack of democratic regulation on what really defines link buying, in my opinion, is much more about changing an almost lifestyle habit as opposed to changing a short term whim. 

Thanks

Cmai

almost 7 years ago

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Luke Commo

What's happened Jack,

Did someone beat you to some Nespaper links and this is you (not so) subtloe way of highlighting the practice?

You buy links. Most proffesional SEO's do.

almost 7 years ago

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Davida

Come on Jack,

The title of this is "buying or selling seo links? Look at the trouble you're causing"

You run an SEO firm, do you guys buy SEO links?

Or my guess is you wont answer that!

almost 7 years ago

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Chris

I don't agree with buying or selling links there are different methods to increase value and traffic, content, smm, blogging etc.

almost 7 years ago

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davida

JACK,

I just don't get it.

You know its against Google's TOS to buy links yet you do it with your agency.

Then you write this.

Ummm...

Any chance of a reply or do you only answer the easy questions?

almost 7 years ago

Jack Hubbard

Jack Hubbard, Managing Director at Propellernet

Wikipedia links did make me chuckle, although I think you may slightly be missing the point of the post, which was not to criticize or advocate the buying of links, but to raise a wider issue of the commercial dynamics between publishers and Google for discussion.

It’s not really my place to say whether or not publishers should be selling links, or whether SEOs should be buying them. It’s up to publishers to decide for themselves whether to include a no follow tag to keep Google happy.  And it’s up to Google to decide how to factor such links into their ranking algorithms. 

almost 7 years ago

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Davida

Jack,

The title of your article is "Buying or selling SEO links?...."

Im asking you the question: Do you/your firm buy SEO links?

Just a yes or no will do.

(I have a sneaky suspicion you will not reply with a simple yes or no or you wont answer at all)

almost 7 years ago

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Damien

Hi All,

Interesting I should stumble upon this blog, being an SEO consultant for a major media owner where the lions share of my responsibility rests with the selling of advertorials containing links for SEO purposes.

First off, I am not posting here to canvass for business (although my email address is posted at the end of this comment). Being part of one of the UK's largest newspaper groups, I have a list as long as my arm of parties wanting to buy such links, I would just like to share my views from the other side of the fence.

Major brands DO buy links contained within advertorials. Whilst I am committed to non-disclosure, lets just say you'd be suprised how many SEO Execs at FTSE100 companies have me on speed dial. However, I'd like to point out that the majority of my clients are smaller businesses that just want a fighting chance against those with multi-million pound budgets and an expensive logo.

The whole purpose of search engines is to deliver relevant results for a given search term. How then, is this purpose fulfilled when the little guy with an excellent, highly relevant product or service fails to appear within the SERPS simply because he can't afford to employ an entire department of SEO gurus to further his cause? How is that conducive to the ultimate purpose?

Furthermore (whilst I can't speak for all media owners), my first requirement when dealing with any new advertorial partner is that they supply (or we create together) high quality editorial content. Bear in mind that these articles are to be seen by the masses, not just search engines, and no company, large or small, wants to damage their brand with poor quality copy. My clients and I would rather not publish an advertorial than run prehistoric, search engine spam masquerading as journalism.

For decades, business owners have deliberated about the best way to promote their wares, be it via mail shots, newspaper or magazine ads, radio, television, networking or good old fashioned word of mouth. All the internet does is provide them with another channel. If by using this channel they are uploading quality, interesting, relevant content, then please tell me what all the fuss is about?

Due to the wonderfully democratic nature of the internet, I have the ability (as my clients do) to promote our offering whilst producing interesting content. For the reason I won't post a link (for fear of the backlash this will no doubt encourage), however my personal email address is damien.porter26@yahoo.co.uk in case you'd like to openly, and unashamedly publish some good articles containing links on some high quality sites.

A final thought. There is more to the internet than Google. The internet is a medium of our own creation where we all work together to make the rules.  Google can, and must, follow the masses to remain in it's rather privileged position. Surely high quality advertorial marketing is a better way forward than link pages, doorway pages, blog and forum spam or faddy quick fixes?

almost 7 years ago

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Olivia Naire

The whole purpose of search engines is to deliver relevant results for a given search term. How then, is this purpose fulfilled when the little guy with an excellent, highly relevant product or service fails to appear within the SERPS simply because he can't afford to employ an entire department of SEO gurus to further his cause? How is that conducive to the ultimate purpose?

Furthermore (whilst I can't speak for all media owners), my first requirement when dealing with any new advertorial partner is that they supply (or we create together) high quality editorial content.

over 5 years ago

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Byers

I think this is among the most significant information for me.
And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on few general things,
The website style is ideal, the articles is really excellent
: D. Good job, cheers

almost 4 years ago

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