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Yes, This Is Still A Thing

by Lottar

It wasn’t long since search engine optimizers first realized the important role backlinks played in search rankings until some enterprising soul came up with the idea of ​​selling links.

Of course, it wasn’t long before bad actors started abusing it, just like almost every other ranking in SEO. And Google, doing what Google does, started cracking down on the process.

There isn’t much in the way of a gray area regarding Google’s stance on the issue.

The first bullet point in Google’s webmaster guide on link schemes says that buying or selling links that pass PageRank will negatively affect your site’s ranking. This includes “…to exchange money for links, or posts containing links, to exchange goods or services for links, or to send someone a ‘free’ product in exchange for them writing about it and a include link.”

And as good, white hat SEOs, of course, none of us would ever dream of doing such a thing. Except many sites still do. It is not openly discussed in our field, but the practice is still alive.

This naturally raises some questions. Namely, what is the benefit of paying for links? And is it worth the risk?

In this piece, we will answer these questions and take a closer look at buying and selling links.

Disclaimer: The author and Search Engine Journal in no way promote, condone and/or endorse link buying. This post is for informational purposes only, and if you choose to do so, you do so at your own risk.

What is and is not a paid link?

Before we begin, let’s address the elephant in the room: What exactly is a paid link?

When I start talking about paid link building, this is the most common question I get asked.

Google’s definition is clear. Any exchange of money, goods and/or services for a link is prohibited.

In other words, sponsored guest posts and paid reviews are paid links. This is standard practice, but Google cracks down on it daily.

While reading this article, be aware that even “safer” paid link building strategies run the risk of being considered part of a link scheme and violating Google’s terms and conditions.

Why do some professionals still buy links?

Right now you might be asking, why do websites still do this if paying for links is so frowned upon? For the same reason, people race in their cars – it’s faster, and some consider it worth the risk.

This reduces the workload that link building requires (eg creating quality content, searching for link opportunities and building relationships) and significantly reduces the time it takes to start seeing results.

With this in mind, many SEO professionals don’t mind taking a chance. And believe it or not, paying for links isn’t always frowned upon.

In the early 2000s, buying and selling links wasn’t just fashionable – it was considered good business. Directories that let you pay for reviews and service companies that allowed you to buy or “rent” links popped up like dandelions on a lawn.

Then Google brought out the weed killer – which allows users to report paid links – which forced link buyers and sellers to get sneaky or change tactics.

Over the past two decades, buying links has become increasingly risky as Google’s ability to seek out and destroy the SEO value of paid links has become incredibly accurate. This is the critical risk.

If you pay for a link, there’s a good chance the algorithms will silently ignore it. You will have no idea if you just threw money down a well.

That said, Google is not infallible. Some companies still use paid link building because it’s easier, it’s all they know, or it’s standard practice in their industry.

Today, the rise of organic link building and content marketing has more or less eliminated the need to buy links in the SEO industry. But that doesn’t mean the practice has disappeared.

The reality of buying links

So, here’s the rubric: You 100% Definitely Shouldn’t Give a Website Owner $500 to Link to Your Website. It’s a shadow and will probably burn you. But there is a correct way to buy links.

One way is to outsource links to a reputable agency that can earn your links (keyword: EARN). If done correctly, it does not pay for links as defined by Google.

Paying for the work of creating resources, doing outreach and building relationships is not against Google’s guidelines.

There is a big difference between paying someone to build links for you and participating in a link scheme. If you choose to do the latter, beware. There are many low quality link sellers out there. And Google usually knows about them.

That said, there are links worth buying directly. For example, if you want to increase awareness (independent of your SEO efforts), you should pay to appear on reputable sites with properly attributed and nofollow links. These can be a great addition to your link strategy – don’t expect them to help you climb search engine rankings.

Bad link buying practices include anything that Google has worked diligently to eradicate over the past few decades.

These include link farms and PBNs (private blog networks). If your paid links generate a large amount of low quality links, beware, you run a serious risk of getting penalized.

A few recommendations:

  • Never buy sitewide links. Site-wide links (eg links in the sidebar, footer, navigation, etc.) scream “spam” to Google.
  • Avoid link sales services and anyone selling “backlink packages”.Paying someone on Fiverr for a backlink package and contracting a link selling service (eg. Sape) are quick ways to waste money. And if a site openly advertises that they sell links? Run!
  • Avoid “red flag” sites. Sites that were previously penalized, repurposed into link/article farms, and generally rely on ad-heavy, content-thin pages should all set off your internal alarm bells.
  • Always disclose paid links and make sure they are marked correctly with rel=nofollow or rel=sponsored. Don’t buy links for SEO. Buy sponsored packages with properly attributed links if it makes sense for your brand.
  • Did I mention that you shouldn’t buy links for SEO?

Just like organic link building, it is always essential that you monitor the health of your backlink profile. Use link tracking software to measure your links’ impact and prune low-quality links that may have a negative effect on your site.

You should be incredibly diligent if you’ve bought links in the past – take another look at your link profile and consider disavowing any risky links. Yes, even if you paid for it. It’s not likely that you’ll get a manual action for a few paid links, but if you’ve used this tactic en masse, it’s a real risk.

Do paid links work?

The fact is, yes, paying for backlinks can increase your search engine rankings – provided you don’t get caught. If it wasn’t worth the risk, no one would do it.

But it’s getting harder and harder to hide paid links.

Backlinks are valuable in helping to establish a site’s reputation and relevance in Google’s eyes.

But it’s not strictly a numbers game. Earn some links from relevant websites where the links provide a good user experience will outperform dozens of incoming links from low-quality sites.

It is most accurate to say this paid links work until they don’t. Some people are okay with business models that rely on temporary, high-stakes tactics.

Should you buy links?

Now that you better understand buying and selling backlinks, it’s time for the $10,000 question: Should you be doing it?

If you ask me or anyone at SEJ, we will definitely tell you: No. At least not for SEO.

But you are an adult and make your own decisions. It is entirely up to you to determine whether you think the potential benefits outweigh the risk.

Are you willing to accept the risks? Are you okay with being a “churn and burn” site and losing a significant amount of your traffic overnight? If so, you may decide it’s worth taking a chance.

Just be aware that paying for links is a waste of money in the long run.

The time and resources you spend on buying links will be much better served doing above-board SEO work.

Purchased links can give you a quick boost, but at some point, probably much sooner than you’d hope, Google will start ignoring those links you paid for.

But maybe that’s your business model.

If you’re fine with being an SEO comet that burns bright for a short while and then burns out spectacularly, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Just be prepared to lose your investment when Google finds out what you’re doing.

You are much better off paying an SEO agency to legitimately boost your rankings than buying links. In other words, pay for work, not links. Just make sure you do your research and hire a reputable agency or professional who doesn’t just buy links on your behalf.

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Featured Image: Photoroyalty/Shutterstock

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