Writing for ClickZ as long as I have, I get a lot of questions. While many involve particular circumstances, some questions land in my inbox more frequently than others. So I thought I’d share of few of them with you today.

Question: Have you had success with purchasing text links for SEO (define)?

Answer: The short answer is no, not really, but probably not for the reason you are thinking. I’ve been working in SEO since 1996 and have observed sites that have improved their visibility in Google and Bing by buying text links, but the improved positioning never seems to last very long. So, it’s difficult to consider the tactic successful.

In one instance, a former client decided to start aggressively buying text links. The business quickly shot up the rankings, but then dropped abruptly when Google caught on to what it was doing. The company abandoned the tactic and eventually returned to its regular positioning…after the better part of a year. In the short term, it had what could be called success on the three terms for which they were buying links. But over the long term, it’s hard to call the tactic successful.

Ultimately, my usual answer to the question is another question: How much are you willing to pay to improve your positioning in the search engines?

If you were to take the money spent on buying text links for a year, how far it would go toward implementing a legitimate long-term link building strategy for your Web site? That’s the problem with link buying — it’s nearly impossible to sustain over time, especially if you can’t bind revenue gained to the cost associated with maintaining your search engine rankings.

Imagine where your site could be positioned in the search engines if you took the link-buying budget and developed a widget that helped build links to your site year after year. Or suppose you took that money and invested in creating content that repeatedly added valuable links to your site? Blogs remain a relatively inexpensive way to not only create link-worthy content, but connect with your customers in an entirely different voice.

The risk attached to link buying and selling is well known. Google has made its position clear; don’t participate in link schemes designed to game the search engines. Google is quite adept at sniffing out link farms and dampening results for specific search queries. You should be able to get good quality backlinks from a wide variety of sources, no matter what industry you’re in. Indeed, some of them could be defined as paid text links. After all, inclusion in the Yahoo Directory is paid for, is it not?

All the same, my best advice is stay legit, even if link building is a challenge and rival sites are taking shortcuts. Dollar for dollar, you can achieve higher, longer-lasting rankings by allocating your marketing money toward content generation and resource development that works well for building links within Google’s guidelines.

Q: What SEO tasks are the most time consuming?

A: See above.

Link building is nearly evergreen. Just when you get firing on all cylinders with press releases, blogging, widget building, directory submissions, forums, content creation, and such, another new opportunity comes alone and there you are tweeting your life away.

Never stop link building — it’s worth all the time and effort.

Q: Do you know of anyone who has implemented the canonical link tag in their Web site when there are multiple URLs pointing at the same page or when multiple versions of a page exist? Did it work as expected or have you experienced any pitfalls?

A: My colleague, Jill Kocher, has been experimenting with using the canonical link element and it appears to work quite effectively in Google. So far, we’ve seen visible PageRank accumulate at the canonical URL and indexation decrease for noncanonical URLs. We’ve also seen the canonical tag affect Google Sitelinks — the eight or so links shown under the primary search result for branded searches. The links suggested by the canonical tag tend to replace noncanonical links in the list.

After several months, however, we have not seen deindexation or preferred rankings for pages with the canonical tag element in Yahoo and Bing. It’s possible that they’re still figuring things out, but we’re currently recommending to any clients that struggle in Yahoo and Bing that they not rely on the canonical tag to resolve content duplication issues.

Search engines’ said adoption of the canonical tag element has been negligible to date. At SES San Jose in August, during the “Duplicate Content & Multiple Site Issues” session that I moderated, all of the search engine representatives said they had not seen wide adoption of the canonical tag, and that those that did implement its use often improperly identified preferred URLs. Name, URLs in another site — it doesn’t work that way. (Disclosure: ClickZ and SES are part of Incisive Media.)

Bottom line: The canonical tag is still just a suggestion and as a suggestion it remains to be a hint as to which URL the search engines should index. The best solution to confidently pass link popularity, eventually deindex a URL and redirect users, is still the good old 301 permanent redirect.

Related reading

Brand Top Level Domains