Well the answer is YES. It is BAD. Bad, BaD, BAD. At least according to the eyes of Google. If you are concerned about search engine rankings and you do not know how certain "shady" tactics will do more harm than good- read this article and the attached one at the bottom. I would love to know how many ActiveRain members have any idea that this stuff has a great impact on $$$$ they are spending.
I just downloaded a "whats included" datasheet from a fairly sizable SEO firm in the real estate industry that had the statement: "Production of text-based link ads and installation of inbound relevant links. We write text-based link ads that are filed with your site’s information with real estate directories initially and throughout the term of your subscription. Directories accepting this data will then provide an inbound link to your site raising your sites authority to the search engines. As this process continues during your subscription, your position on the search engines becomes stronger and your site is indexed for the complete suite of keyword phrases contained in all of your relevant HTML tags."
To help clarify some of why "paid links = bad" I am going to qoute some items from Rand Fishkin over at SEOmoz.org (which is a large community of SEO people, sorta the ActiveRain of the SEO world)
"Google's been pretty clear - buy or sell links, particularly those that come from broker-type services, and we'll take steps to penalize your site. At one time, this meant simply devaluing the links that come from paid sources, essentially erasing them from the link graph so as to "take the money out of the rankings." Now, however, a considerable amount of new evidence has emerged to suggest Google's doing more than just leveling the field - they're exacting revenge."