In 8 years as an SEO specialist, I've only had two clients who did not resent buying links. Most simply rejected the whole idea even though the success of their company might be on the line.
Part of the myth of Search engine optimization is that rankings should be free and based on the quality of the site. The concept of paid links just does not fit into the common belief.
In investigating the success of competitors, I notice many of them buy links extensively across a wide range of sites. Several buy from a major portal at $ 6000 per month. This gives them a huge advantage that is almost impossible to overcome with even the best optimization work.
Surprised? Well Google changed its algorithm with the introduction of Trustrank, and that means that even text link advertising from highly trusted web sites can indeed have an influence on rankings. It sees Google has given up on the idea that they should eliminate all paid advertising influence in rankings. That's because nearly every link on many web sites is monetized. That means nothing is free or philanthropic in the search engine world. It's given because something is earned from it, usually money. If you want a ranking boost from these major portals or high Trustrank sites, you're going to pay for it. But just think of the boost in Brand Image .
The issue for an optimizer is assessing the value of the site, page and context of the link placement itself. And, of course how many links you'll get.
The key is knowing relatively, what the Trustrank level of the site is. This is an important skill in your SEO arsenal. Trustrank is determined by the quality of links leading to a site. It apparently can be affected by outbound links as well. Trustrank is calculated using the inverse of Pagerank (Google's popularity factor). A low pagerank suggests the site is not linked to or is a spam page. The lower the pagerank the more likely the page is spam. Additionally, if your site's links come from low pagerank sites, Trustrank may calculate that your site is also high on the spam scale.
Therefore buying lots of links from low pagerank sites may not help your cause. If those sites are on the wrong topic, it will not generate the value you need to rank well.
Text link advertising then can and will continue to affect rankings. Search engine space is competitive and those who are willing to pay the ante, are going to get in the game and play better. Text link advertising is not necessarily evil, even in Google Evil definitions. It's just part of the new search engine optimization landscape. It is used skillfully as part of the optimization mix.