50 Shades of Black Hat – A New Playroom for Marketers

A short guide to a little S&M play with your website that all the cool kids are doing now.

S&M = (black hat) SEO & Marketing.

A new, very popular link-building trend is on the rise. Many marketers and entrepreneurs figured out that they don’t need content marketing, blogger outreach, or all those fancy things that people talk about. One can easily assume, it is inefficient to focus on delivering great content when you can buy an article on Examiner.com for $80. It is less than the cost of writing a decent article. Why bother with proper link building then?

A well kept, yet well-known secret

You can buy cheap links from Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Examiner, LifeHack, and many others. “Agencies” offering such services are a new form of “Cheap SEO from India spam,” which surprisingly almost stopped hitting my inbox.

You won’t find any websites offering the services I am talking about in public. Similarly, as with the case of selling fake Rolex watches, most of the offers hit you quietly and when you least expect. For a long time, I thought that those offers were only coming to me before I realized that this is a popular way of doing business in the post-Penguin world.


Selling sponsored articles has been around since the beginning of print media. It became a problem, though. It became an issue for all those that thought they had broken the bank. After all, this is a new great loophole that lets you get penalty-proof links.

Are you getting those articles for publicity, though? Sellers call them “brand mentions”? Articles with poor value, price lists with DA, PR, and a dofollow vs. nofollow distinction…

I wouldn’t count on the “getting exposure and publicity” line of defense here.

And again, selling links is a Trojan horse for both the buyer and publisher. I can imagine situations as the one MOZ had being more and more popular in the future.

Why did I mention MOZ and Rand? Because I know for a fact that Rand is very thorough in his mission to double or triple check MOZ contributors for link manipulation. Some writers will create a valuable article around just one link though, making it impossible for the publisher to spot any paid links.


As with every great human invention, unfortunately, the ones that are too easy, usually backfire at some point. Needless to say that this is the pure definition of a “paid link.” Most of the articles I saw among our clients’ link profiles create a clear and visible pattern. Manual penalties for such links are not uncommon, yet I wouldn’t rule out a Google Penguin risk when going too hard with such an approach.

(False) excitement

Unfortunately, no matter how cool it is to get a juicy link from Huffington Post, in many cases, those links don’t carry much more “power” than a good natural link from a small blog. Usually, very large websites will place your article in a far away, hidden place within their structures. Better spots are reserved for categories and news driving high organic traffic.


If you read this and somehow think “I wanna buy a link just to see how it works.” No worries, I usually get curious too with all the new stuff that comes up. I also figured that I would give it a shot and emailed back one of the fake personas contacting me.

I was only asked for “where to link” and an anchor text I wanted to use. I wasn’t even asked about the topic of the article, which clearly shows that most people ordering these services do it solely for SEO purposes. I wanted to be funny though and as content to link to, I chose our “Server log analysis” article. I didn’t specify an anchor text. I wanted them to go with anything that looks natural within the article.

After waiting a few days, this is what I got. It is nofollow on purpose, as when it comes to my website, I am not into S&M.


Buying links from large websites is appealing. It is easy and, at first, looks like an excellent solution. Unfortunately, it gives you a false feeling of safety. Just before Expedia, Halifax or RapGenius were penalized by Google, their teams had this feeling too. Silence before the thunderstorm.


Yes – Google can and will find it. If you are internet savvy and into geeky SEO detective work, follow my Examiner link. You will find more than enough reasons to penalize a few hundred domains. And in this case, there is no excitement to the Google handcuffs your website is going to get. Manual penalties like these are the most difficult to handle. Googlers aren’t stupid and will keep you under the water until ALL their worries are over. This can mean disavowing or deleting many valuable links. Getting caught buying links is going to be awkward for you.


There is always one. And just as in the movies, link sellers will often give you a fake name. When you try to search for a specific “Online Publishing Consultant,” you will often find many different names using the same profile photo. Also, good luck finding social media profiles created before 2013. If you had 100 excuses to get those links for “publicity,” this should outweigh all of them and a little more.

Black Hat link sellers are intriguing creatures, adapting extremely well to most of Google’s changes. Most shifted from selling SEO directories and bookmark links to guest posts in link networks, then to press releases and so on. They will be there as long as people need links. I didn’t tell you one thing though – most of them lost with Google and ended up publishing different kinds of “confessions” about how they did black hat and how they aren’t now. Only the best players survived.

Safe Word

As with all the guilty pleasures of the world, I also don’t want to be too radical. I wouldn’t do that for my clients, but if you are getting a link or two, you will probably get away with it. There is a fine line, though. Crossing it can push you to the dark side. You need a safe word to stay in this game. This word is MODERATION.


There are three parties in this arrangement: the publisher, buyer, and a Paid Internet Marketing Publisher (PIMP). Whatever your endgame is – remember that the risk is only divided between you and the publisher. The PIMP always wins.