I’m not concerned about “competitive differentiation” as an “ethical whitehat” – that’s a stupid notion that confuses search engine guidelines with moral codes… particularly dangerous considering the search engine guidelines are motivated by profit. I’m a grey hat, and proud of it – it means I can think outside the box and get creative.
My concern is that I may be treating the potential link sellers in an unfair way, and my personal happiness depends on being able to see myself as a fundamentally ethical guy.
Here are the arguments I’ve come up with so far, for both sides.
For disclosure of potential link selling penalties:
1) Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you. This one seems like the strongest to me – I know that I’d like to be told about the risks before engaging in such a sale.
2) If people find out later on their own, they may feel like I took advantage of their ignorance. This could lead to either
a) Further requests for money to leave the link up and/or with a dofollow tag, or
b) People adding a nofollow tag without telling me, and which I’d only find out on the next audit of links I’d bought to date.
Against disclosure of link selling’s consequences w/ The Borgle:
1) Why should I be responsible for what The Borgle chooses to do with their website? If I had to be responsible for third party sites’ behaviour, then I shouldn’t buy [non-PR-passing] banners ads on blogs that could generate sales for me, if I know that the top bloggers in that space won’t link to any site with banner ads on it.
2) Sure, the Borgle may send these guys each some traffic. But when was the last time the big G put money into these people’s pockets? I’m willing to bet that was never. I’m arguably doing these people more good than Big Borgle is.
3) The prices I’m offering include a risk premium (for the potential search traffic loss) above what I really want to pay for the link. The risk is accounted for in the price.
4) I’m buying links on relevant pages where the direct traffic could realistically be expected to convert. If that’s so, then isn’t that a link that should count for search relevance? This argument isn’t about trying to make myself seem like a whitehat following Google’s webmaster guidelines, but rather that the sites selling the links shouldn’t be penalized for linking out in relevant ways.
5) If this were 1995 and I didn’t know Google, I’d still be placing these ads for the likely direct ROI. Why should I now handicap my efforts at what amounts to a media buy, when I wouldn’t do so in a world where search engines don’t exist?!
6) I’m mitigating the risk for the link sellers, making the risk of any penalties from Google rather low.
What arguments have I left out? Is there a way to reconcile doing unto others as I’d have them do unto me without neutering my link buying efforts? The golden rule seems to be the strongest argument so far.
If I do go the disclosure route, how can I phrase the risk clearly and succinctly, yet still overcome the possible objection to selling me links? I don’t know that people will read all the way down my email if I make a long argument, so I want to keep it short and sweet.
Some related issues/questions that have come up and may be interesting to address in your answer:
1) Why would someone want Google traffic to their site?
2) What if someone has their site penalized?
3) What is a fair risk premium for selling a link?
4) Does it make a difference if a site is commercial/non-commercial? What if it’s a commercial hobby site? How about if it’s a serious site that’s garbage except for this page?
5) Would your answer change if the likelihood of penalization were 100% certainty? I spoke to my folks about this and they felt it mattered.
6) When should I disclose such penalties, if I do? On the first email? The second, once they’ve indicated interest?