A Link Request Debate

One of the things that makes SEO so fun is that there is sometimes no definitively right or wrong way to do things. There are few things that I enjoy more than a good debate with the team about the pros and cons of different strategies. Coming up with strategies to drive high-quality, long-term valuable links for our clients is one of our current areas of focus.

A little while ago, I ran across a site that, on its blog, asked people for a link in exchange for a $5 gift card. The blog would also link back to anyone who linked to them (can you say reciprocal link?). This immediately sparked debate internally. Some thought it was very smart – it was argued that the site is simply asking people who enjoy its services to link to them. I agree; I think it is a smart idea to get people who like your company to link to your site. However, I argued that there were some flaws in the execution.

I wouldn't have made my request so public. Last year, Google started cracking down on paid links by asking people to report them. Honestly, if I was a competitor of this site and saw this, I think I'd consider reporting them. Whether this counts as “paid links” is sort of borderline, but when you're in a competitive industry and someone isn't playing by the rules, I'd let a third party (Google) decide.

To correct this, I'd take a much more “below-board” approach to this strategy. I wouldn't put the linking request out there as a public post on my blog. I would recommend communicating with customers, communicating with Twitter followers, messaging people in Facebook, etc. The strategies that I would employ are ones like this. Sure, a competitor might catch wind of it and still report you, but at least you're minimizing your risk. Why not first try to get maximum value while minimizing risk? And if that strategy doesn't work, then think about going public. But the risk is huge – if you are reported and Google decides that this is against its policies, you're putting your site and your revenue at risk.

Still, it's a very grey area. What do you think? Would you consider this example link buying? How would you improve upon their strategy? Let the debate continue.

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