The definition of insanity, it’s said, is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.

I always think of that phrase when I hear of companies getting caught for buying links. Search engines – most notably Google – couldn’t be any clearer on the rules and ramifications around link building and, most importantly, paid links.

Paid links are a search no-no. Google is constantly updating its algorithms to catch out people trying to cheat the system to climb their way to the top of their niche for certain search queries.

So why are people still doing it?

Should brands be punished more heavily for trying to manipulate their way to search success, or are drops in rankings enough? Let me know in the comments section below.

Building toxic links

Building toxic links


I am writing this article because I came across a blog yesterday over at WordStream highlighting that Expedia’s has been caught out building toxic links.

The summary of the story is that the SEO manager over at has been caught sending spam-type emails to a slew of travel bloggers asking if they would be interested in ‘brand promotion’.

Sent from a email the American-division’s culprit was caught asking how much money people wanted paying for a link amongst other black-hat techniques.

“If you agree with partnering with us on helping us acquire backlinks, I would like to discuss a package or how you wanted to compensated to perform this assignment,” reads the apparent emails.

Following the furore the company released a statement insisting it works hard to adhere to guidelines and that it was an internal issue that had since been resolved. Hmm…

Back-hander backlinks

Sadly emails like’s are more common than you can imagine. Below is a screenshot of an email I was forwarded a while back from musicMagpie (I’ve blanked out the names to protect identities) which was sent to some video game bloggers last year.

Back-hander backlinks


It offered them a chance to be entered into a competition to win a free copy of a low-cost video game of old Sega titles. What did they have to do for a chance to win? Simply write ‘a small to medium article regarding the competition with a link back to the competition page’.

What’s more the competition rules show that participants would then be ‘automatically entered into a separate prize draw, exclusive to bloggers’. Double hmmm…

So, not only was the musicMagpie’s search team getting links back to the site, but they were also getting them back to a page about video games via articles written by video game writers. Triple hmmm…

Excusing bad ethics

Though the musicMagpie example isn’t offering money for a link it’s almost as bad. The team is offering something (or the chance to get something) to a number of people in exchange for a large number of links.

What’s more the terms of the ‘competition’ require an article to be written, so they’re essentially getting free unique content alongside the link.

SEOs around the world will tell you that since the emergence of Google Penguin that link building has become harder than ever, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to bend the rules or try to find backdoors in ethics to force organic links.

Link building has become harder for a reason. To give search engine users the best results possible, away from rankings that have been manipulated by spam.

Do companies that buy links for rankings show a lack of search knowledge, creativity, or is it more an internal communications error? Let me know below!

Who it really hurts

Link building is still essential when it comes to SEO and is a keen indicator for search engine rankings. But unethical practices such as the above two examples hurt more people than you think:

  • It hurts search engines that are getting their rankings manipulated by webmasters and businesses looking to drive traffic back to their site for exposure and profit
  • Search engine users are hurt if they click on the top result, which has been manipulated unjustly, and doesn’t offer them a good experience
  • It hurts bloggers themselves as, in the musicMagpie example, they’re writing articles with links and are unknowingly doing the work of an SEO – unpaid – for a corporation
  • Webmasters that don’t know much about search and think that receiving money for a link placed on their site is a good deal are also getting their online property tarred by the unethical brush
  • Small business who don’t have much money to spend on their online channels can get beaten down by larger companies with bottomless wells that are always looking to trick the system

And many more besides..

Where your money’s better spent


Link building is still essential when it comes to SEO and is a keen indicator for search engine rankings


I’ve outlined two examples above of unethical link building, and while it may sound like a great idea in the short term to get a search boost ahead of the competition, it never works out in the long run.

To be fair to the companies they could argue that online’s still a new venture for them, and that they weren’t too lucky with their choice of SEO manager or the agency they employed.

Still, with so much money going into online advertising, doesn’t it make sense to brush up on the industry and its pitfalls before making an investment?

Instead of buying paid links your money may be better spent on researching and outsourcing to the right agency, investing in web development to make your visitors’ journey as painless as possible, upgrading to faster hosting to help with load times…

There are so many factors that can help improve your search presence, and though a lot of things in the world of search are constantly changing, there is always one cardinal sin that will never change.

Paid-for links will only contribute towards sinking your site, no matter what.


If you’d like to know more about organic and ethical link building to help boost your site’s search rankings contact Webpresence today!