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Buying backlinks for SEO has been around ever since search engines used links as a ranking factor, especially Google’s PageRank algorithm. Google has always said that they are against buying and selling links for ranking purposes and they have done a better job in identifying links that are bought.
However, buying links is still a common practice. This is because many say that they have experienced success using this strategy and it is one of the quickest ways to increase their website’s authority. But of course, it comes with risks.
Just to be clear, this post is not to promote buying of links or condone those who are using this strategy. This post is created to talk about the practice of buying links and the pros and cons of it to help people decide if they should do it or not.
Buying links (or paid links) is the process of paying another website to insert a link to your website in one of their pages. Usually, the goal is to buy as many links as they can to further boost their rankings in the Google search results.
Buying links can come in different forms:
It is considered to be a form of black hat or gray hat SEO technique since it is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. According to the guidelines, buying and selling of links are a form of Link Schemes as it intends to manipulate the PageRank algorithm. Buying links is also misleading for users.
There are two main reasons why people buy links for SEO; first is that it saves a lot of time and second, the results are fast. Conventional link building takes a lot of time and effort. There are a lot of different strategies but the most common ones are content-driven.
You need to build great content first on your website to make it trustworthy. Then, you either wait for other webmasters to take notice of your content so they link to you as a resource or you can reach out to other webmasters. This process can take months of effort and you might not even achieve the number of links you are aiming for.
However, for those who buy links, things are a lot easier. They allot a budget, contact websites, send their payment, and it’s done! The bigger budget they have, the more links they can buy. It also offers a lot of flexibility since webmasters allow people who buy links from them to decide what content to publish, where the links are placed, the anchor text, and so on.
At first, glance, buying links is an easy win but there are a lot of cons to it. It is expensive and it gets more expensive should you want to get links from higher quality websites.
But money isn’t the only dues that you pay. As mentioned, it is a black hat SEO technique, and techniques that are against Google’s guidelines don’t come without a price.
Whether you are buying links to boost your SEO or you are a website that is selling links as a form of monetization for your website, there is a high risk of getting penalized by Google. This is the biggest downside of using this strategy. Once you get hit by a penalty, it’s almost impossible to recover.
If Google noticed that you are buying links, they will issue a ‘Manual Action’ that can be seen under the Manual Action tab in Google Search Console labeled as ‘Unnatural Links to Your Site’. Once you get slapped with this penalty, your only course of action is to use the disavow tool and disavow all the links that you bought making all the money that you spent go down the drain. The worse part is, disavowing your links doesn’t guarantee that your website is going to recover.
When you read between the lines of Google’s definition of Link Schemes above, it specifically talks about links that aim to manipulate the PageRank algorithm. Meaning, it is talking about ‘dofollow links’. Dofollow links pass on PageRank that may help increase the rankings of a webpage. If you are buying links for this purpose, this is dangerous.
However, Google is not against monetizing websites. It’s just a matter of properly labeling sponsored and affiliate links. Last year, Google announced new link attributes and one of them is the rel=”sponsored’ tag. Google highly recommends that you use this tag for all paid links on your website to avoid being penalized. Prior to that, the nofollow tag was recommended to be used so paid links won’t pass on PageRank. Using one of these tags is fine.
Search Engine Round Table wrote a short article highlighting John Mueller’s advice on affiliate links in a Twitter thread:
It is also important to note that paid links are bad if they are misleading users. If you plan on sponsoring links on other websites, take note that it should be clear to users that this link is sponsored and paid for by your website. Affiliate links should follow the same.
I would still avoid some link buying techniques such as paid guest posts, directories, and private blog networks. If you plan on buying links, keep in mind that your goal should be to promote or advertise your website on another person’s website visitors not to get links and increase your rankings.