Paid links are a fundamental part of ranking in competitive verticals

by Peter Young on October 7, 2010 · 7 comments

Shock, horror!!!. At Holistic Search we have recently run a poll on the site which we put out to the general public. The question we posed was whether or not it was possible to rank in super competitive sectors (such as car insurance, gambling, loans etc) without using paid links. I have my own views on this which I will cover later, however it was interesting gauging the feedback from an initial Twitter Sample against that from the integrated poll on the Holistic Search website.

[poll id=8]

Before we go any further it may be worth highlighting what I would constitute as a super competitive market

  • Mature organic market
  • High number of high profile organisations. Credit cards for example was not included due to the number of potential competitors
  • Generally very high CPC which restricts the number of entrants and coverage an organisation can get (without blowing the budget)
  • Often are ‘jackpot’ terms within a particular vertical/sector. For example – Car Insurance searches far outweigh that of similar and further qualified search terms
  • Previous histories of organisations erring on the ‘grey’ side of SEO

Response: Is it possible to rank on a super competitive phrase without paid links

Contrary however to the earlier Twitter poll I ran before the start of the poll on Holistic, the result of this one suggested many Holistic Search browsers thought it impossible to rank a site on a competitive keyword phrase without incorporating paid links into the overall link acquisition strategy with votes suggesting it was impossible outnumbering those against by nearly 2:1.

Interestingly, having run each other close for much of the duration of the poll, the trend of the poll changed significantly after the post was published regarding ‘Link Building in competitive verticals – are you scaling enough‘ with subsequent votes suggesting that paid links were a massive part of super competitive link strategies and one would have to use fire against fire.

Response: Poll response by day - Yes vs No

This would suggest two things

  • Google is not as clever at identifiying paid link patterns as many people think
  • There is more of a widespread acceptance of *cough* paid links than many would suggest

Paid links are a debate that are is not going to go away. Increasingly there is a sentiment Google are moving away from pure linkage signals and factoring more behavioural and social factors into the algorithm, however one can’t help but feel – for the moment at least that within super competitive verticals – that if content is king, paid links are pretender to the throne that just won’t go away.

Google+ Comments

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry Van Horne October 7, 2010 at 2:40 pm

ha… bet in the survey that showed 2:1 it was peeps who buy links who voted. Buying links is a short term solution to long term problem! It is generally a technioque used by those with the inabilty to fashion real content strategy and execute. The big tell… recently removed paid links from a site… guess what nothing happened why… cuz paid links are useless in an enviroment where pages are segmented. Contextual links…. shouldn’t change much so weven if you buy those if they start changing… Google knows!

angela baines October 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I think this is what most sme’s are seeing Pete. All the right page optimisation stuff is in place but unless u pay (in one way or another) ur not going to get near to the top of google. Even with the bing CTR algo addition I still rank higher there naturally.

Peter Young October 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Cheers Terry – sure this might be something for the Dojo chatroom tonight :)

I don’t wholly agree with your statement that paid links are useless, as you stated above – there is just way too much evidence out there (in the UK at least) of sites doing just that and it working in various formats (lets face it paid links IS a very broad term).

That said I do agree with you regarding a short term solution. Its a bit like taking a paid search campaign at broad matching the whole thing. Yes it works, but I would suggest its a hugely ineffective use of resource, and one that isn’t guaranteed to work at the end of the day.

Christina Radisic October 8, 2010 at 10:45 am

Link bulding takes too long to keep clients happy, even when making them aware of the risks associated with purchasing links they seem to think its worth it if they are beating their competition.

A number of my clients competitors have bad websites which have popped up within the last 3 to 6 months yet they are ranking higher, the only thing I can see which could be doing this is the volume of links. I’m not saying they are purchased but I can’t think of any other way they have achieved these results so quickly.

christian October 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm

no way you can rank for high competition keywords with no paid links. Call it what you will, text link ads, text advertisement, bottom line is you gotta buy links.

Steven Holmes October 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm

In the agency world I think paid links of one kind or another are a necessary eveil.
With so much competition in the Search Engine Optimisation market, the onus is on acheiving rankings as quickly and profitably as possible. Hiring a team of content writers, bloggers, social media experts and PR people is neither feasible or cost effective for many agencies, so the only realistic solution is to supplement and work you do in-house with the purchasing of quality links.
The other major advantage is that you have almost total control over the number and quality of links you are building which isn’t the case with other, more natural methods.

Peter Young October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I would sugegst thats particularly apt in the scenarios above where it is all above scaling. Competing in smaller niches doesnt require the same level of technical remediation and off-page optimisation when compared against these super competitive sectors – and as such that scalability has to come at a cost for many organisations – whether we agree with it or not….

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