Would Don Draper Buy Links?

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
– Sir Arthur Charles Clarke

It’s been an ugly week for SEOs. Google recently updated their search algorithm, the mathematical brains behind the operation that tells us which picture of the Florida Zombie ranks #1. This recent update, Penguin, comes as a follow up to 2011’s Panda Update that seeks to improve how Google rates an individual webpage, and how it handles inbound links. Some sites handled the changes better than others.

What would Don Draper Do?  Jon Hamm

Not far behind the launch of Penguin, as if the Spur’s coach Greg “Pops” Popovich told the SEO industry to “I Want Some Nasty!”, there has been a rabble in the wind following a blog post written by Josh Davis, a Social Media consultant from Lawrence, Kansas. In his blog, Josh “outs” a company called iAcquire for approaching him to purchase a link on his blog for the Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp.

What followed was article after article, after article, either for or against iAcquire, for or against outing SEO companies, or generally for or against buying links in general.

If you don’t follow SEO, the big question is, “What’s the big deal?” Right? To the outside party, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in one company paying another company to place a link on their website given some form of compensation.

The problem is, much like in a print publication, publishing an advertisement is required by FTC Guidelines to be labeled as an advertisement, and per Google’s Guidelines, any paid link, advertisement or otherwise, must include a tag called “NoFollow” which indicates that the link is paid and not an editorial endorsement of the website.

Let’s take a look at exactly what iAcquire sent to Josh, and the language that was used:

iAcquire Request to Purchase Links

The “anchor text” that iAcquire asked for here was “DUNS Number” which is the keyword that their client, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp, was hoping to rank well for on Google. By building links with that anchor text, Google assumes that the webpage linked to must be fairly authoritative about the given topic, thus they rank better.

Where the harm comes is when iAcquire states “Link must not be marked as Paid in the visible content of source code“. They contacted this blog, Josh Davis in this case, and asked them to violate FTC policies AND Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Nowhere in their e-mail does it state that they are taking a risk by accepting the money. That’s just dishonest, regardless of what side of the paid links debate you’re on.

Where’s the magic? Where’s the Draper Fu? Advertising is supposed to be extremely well dressed dudes in big office buildings who stop drinking and sleeping with their secretaries long enough to pitch an idea that blows the room away and makes their client millions. Right? Am I missing something here?

Isn’t that why AMC is launching their new show “The Pitch” to capitalize on their success with Mad Men? (I don’t care what you Megan haters say, I love me some Megan.)

Do you have this kind of passion for your Marketing?

I’m not writing this blog because I am for or against link buying (we’re against it), or because I want a commentary on iAcquire or the process of outing. That has been done, and done again, in the past couple of weeks. What I want to address here is the death of magic in marketing and the rise of industry laziness.

Don Draper WOULD NOT be Buying Links

By iAcquire cutting these corners and getting caught, I mean, cutting them so tightly they literally broke the law, they have exposed the public in at least a small way to the reality of marketing, the shadier side.

They mislead the blogger into believing he was just selling a simple link on his page, makes no mention of the fact that it violates Google’s policies, and no mention that the FTC requires that all advertisements, online, offline, print or broadcast, clearly indicate that an advertisement is a paid advertisement, and not editorially endorsed.

Responding to this madness, Google has actually removed iAcquire and it’s subsidiary companies from their search index completely. They’re gone. Removed from play. Some might argue that you can’t pay for this kind of PR, but at the same time Google was hoping this would scare others into also ceasing their link buying efforts.

Personally, I think it’ll make the link buyers work a little harder, but as usual, lazy will win out and they’ll find new ways to try and cheat the system. Imagination applied in the worst way, to innovate new ways of being lazy.

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I love that quote. It doesn’t matter what school you went to, what your GPA was, whether or not you’ve been trained by the best. At the end of the day, your imagination, your creativity, defines you. What you actually come up with, what you do, defines you.

I don’t like what this whole event says about our industry, or specifically our lack of imagination. There are better ways to build links, EARN links, and help out our clients. Every time something like this happens, it hurts the whole industry. It makes us look lazy, but I’d like to think it can inspire us all to try harder as well. For our clients, for our teams, and for the industry.

This event, while it did divide many SEOs across lines of either supporting buying links or against buying links, it also divided us into much sharper categories in a way that I quite enjoy. When a company like this is outed, it separates the imaginative, from the lazy.

So choose to be imaginative, choose to get inspired and channel your inner Don Draper.

Lazy never wins.