Josh Davis at LLsocial.com put together a pretty in depth report on what appeared to be a Fortune 1000 company purchasing links, violating Google's Webaster Guidelines. It turned out, as he shared in an update, that the company purchasing the links was a separate company from the Fortune 1000 company. There was some confusion, as the company had sold certain assets to another company, and formed a company with a very similar name. In light of all that, we'll just omit the name of the company for this article.
Still, the whole thing is a pretty interesting story, and we've had a conversation with Davis on the subject that is still worth sharing. The whole thing even caught the attention of Matt Cutts, Google's head of webspam:
@JoshD nice write-up. Most people don't go the extra mile to call up and try to get comments from the other side.
The whole thing started when Davis was sent an email from a third party offering to pay him for placing a link to one of the company's pages. Davis determined that this third party was linked to "a prominent enterprise Search Engine Optimization (SEO) company," which would lead one to believe that it is part of the efforts of the SEO agency the main company (the beneficiary of the link) had hired.
I'm not going to rehash the entire thing here. If you want to know more about it, I suggest reading Davis' report, but the whole thing raises some questions about hiring outside agencies to do your SEO. Google even had to penalize itself when a marketing agency had solicited paid links for Google's Chrome browser. Google's Chrome landing page suffered a 60-day penalty. Questions were raised about how this may have impacted Chrome's market share.
Google takes this stuff seriously (even if the lines around paid links are blurry at times).
Davis tells WebProNews it's difficult to tell if these links help the company at hand. "If you look around the [company's] site you will see that they have extensive onsite SEO optimization. They also have the advantage of businesses websites placing a [company] badge which links back to [company]."
"That said, some of their subpages don't have many inbound links which may be the point of hiring an agency to do offsite SEO," he adds.
We asked Davis if he thinks there is a lot more of this paid linking for big companies going on than most people realize.
"I think it is pretty dangerous to do paid backlinking explicitly for a large company, but I have come across some other smaller companies which seem to be doing it (maybe one other large one, but I am still researching that)," Davis tells us. "At 3000+ words I wasn't about to try to tackle other companies, but it is possible it is going on."
One might wonder if in-house SEO is the way to go, if it's SEO companies responsible for engaging in paid linking on behalf of clients, without the clients knowing. There are surely many, many white hat SEO companies out there that would never do this, but how does a business know that they won't be getting something like this?
"It is hard to say," says Davis. "From small businesses all the way up to large corporations there are so many hours in the day. SEO seems to be one area where considerable oversight is needed as various black and grey hat techniques still seem to be part of some SEO companies' toolboxes."
As far as trust, Davis says, "Backlink monitoring is certainly a key. There are a number of enterprise grade resources that provide daily updates on links. In my case I was just using a crude, free backlink service, but this space is filled with vendors who offer high quality monitoring. Having a third party do an audit of links might also be needed when a large company's reputation is at stake."
The company in question, according to emails Davis received, is looking into the situation further. Something tells me that Google is too.