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This practice makes a mockery of importance of links. Their only purpose is to exploit system and make a dramatic impact on Page Rank and Search Engine positioning. Google wants Page Rank and search results to flow from website quality and relevance. And virtually all SEO experts have maintained that quality and relevance come fairly gradually as a site grows and its content develops. The "natural" development of links should happen more or less in lock step with development of content.
This does not mean that importance of links has been diminished. Just opposite. Google is reconfirming their position that number and quality of links pointing at specific web pages is most significant indicator of importance of that web page.
Nor does it mean that a webmaster should never buy links on legitimate websites. On contrary, it means that links should be acquired and developed consistently and steadily over time, and that quality of your link partners matters more than ever. This applies whether your links are result of exchanges, purchases, blogging, article publishing, or any of other established techniques for building traffic through linking.
When you are looking for link partners you should look at quality of sites linking back to you. Ask yourself how relevant is content in pages, what is balance between content and links, how often are these pages updated, how much traffic do these pages get, do these pages link to "authority" sites like Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Microsoft.
All of these things matter more now than they ever have.
Rick Hendershot publishes the Linknet Marketing Network, a group of more than 35 websites and blogs offering web owners advertising and link promotion opportunities.