Yes, it’s always a thing
Paid link building is taboo in most SEO circles.
We talk about it in a low voice (if we talk about it at all). Most SEOs won’t admit to doing this.
Reputable SEOs outright condemn paid link building, and for good reason – Google’s position is crystal clear:
Buying or selling links is a violation of Google policy Guidelines for webmasters and will incur a penalty if caught.
For these reasons, this article is not intended to promote paid link building, and I personally do not endorse link buying. Whether or not you choose to buy links is ultimately your decision, but be warned: paid links attract a high level of scrutiny and the risk/reward ratio is almost never worth it.
Given my position, you can imagine my surprise when my colleagues and I interviewed 628 different companies and discovered:
- 22% still pay for links without disclosure.
- 37% pay for legitimate links (e.g. paid reviews with disclosure, official endorsements, etc.)
Naturally, these results prompted me to dig deeper into paid link building. I wanted to know:
- Why do SEOs and other business owners still buy links?
- What do they consider to be effective paid link building strategies?
- Do paid links really work?
Read on to learn what I discovered.
What is a paid link?
Before we start, let’s talk about the elephant in the room:
What exactly is a paid link?
When I start talking about paid link building, this is by far the most common question I get asked.
In this article, I will stick to Google’s definition of a paid linkwhich involves “exchanging money for links or posts containing links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a ‘free’ product in exchange for writing about it and a link.
In other words, even sponsored guest posts and paid reviews are considered paid links.
As you read this article, you should be aware that even “safer” paid link building strategies risk being considered part of a link scheme and violating Google’s terms and conditions.
Why do some professionals still buy links?
In the early 2000s, buying and selling links was not only trendy, it was considered good business. Directories that let you pay for reviews and service companies that let you buy or “rent” links have sprung up like dandelions on a lawn.
Then Google released weed killer – allowing users to report paid links – which forced buyers and sellers to tie buyers into getting sneakier or changing tactics.
Over the past decade, link buying has become increasingly risky as Google’s ability to seek out and destroy the SEO value of paid links has become eerily accurate.
That said, it’s not foolproof. Some companies still resort to paid link building because it’s easier, it’s all they know, or it’s common practice in their industry.
Today, the rise of organic link building and content marketing has more or less negated the need to buy links in the SEO industry in general.
SEO PowerSuite’s link building survey and follow-up responses from several leading SEO experts clearly show that creating valuable, link-worthy content is considered the best way to earn links.
That said, 40% of respondents agreed on their most effective link building method: data-driven content creation and research.
How and How Not to Buy Links
Good link buying practices take time and patience. You need to start with the same content that you would use to launch an organic link building campaign – content that is highly relevant to your niche, high quality, and engaging to your target audience.
You also need to have a well-founded link profile before you consider buying links, which means cultivating high-quality organic backlinks first.
Once your assets are in place:
- Examine websites carefully before buying links. Carefully check each domain for anything that seems off, such as domain history, PageRank, and too many spammy outbound links.
- Create a targeted link building strategy. Buy links slowly and intentionally, starting with up to five and gradually increasing over the next few months. Your link profile should never exceed 10-25% paid links.
- Keep your anchor text diverse in each area. Diversity of anchor texts is a must.
Bad link buying practices include everything that Google has worked diligently to eradicate over the past few decades. These include link farms and private blog networks (PBNs). If your paid links generate a large number of poor quality links, be careful, you may seriously risk receiving a penalty.
A few recommendations:
- Never buy sitewide links. Links throughout the site (e.g. links in the sidebar, footer, navigation, etc.) scream “spam” at Google.
- Avoid link selling services and anyone selling “backlink packages”. Paying someone on Fiverr for a backlinks package and contracting a link selling service (e.g. Sape) are good ways to earn a Google penalty. What if a site openly advertises that it sells links? Course!
- Avoid “red flag” websites. Websites that have been previously penalized, repurposed into link/article farms, and typically rely on ad-heavy, thin-content pages should all trigger your internal alarm.
Of course, whether you’re buying links or building them organically, it’s always important that you monitor the health of your backlink profile. Use link tracking software to measure the impact of your links and weed out low quality links that could be negatively impacting your site.
Be especially diligent if you’ve purchased links – check regularly for page quality, authority, etc., and make sure your link’s anchor text hasn’t changed and hasn’t changed. not been switched to nofollow.
Do paid links work?
The effectiveness of paid links is still highly contested. It certainly seems like some companies are successfully combining link buying strategies with organic link building strategies.
We found that 78% of businesses that buy legitimate paid links view them as effective backlink building opportunities. Similarly, 69% of businesses using paid link buying considered their campaigns to be effective, according to our survey.
Although the reported success rate is surprisingly high, the threat of a penalty from Google is significant and very real. If you’re considering buying links, just make sure you understand the risks and consider the potential impact to your long-term SEO before you buy.
The image shown is by the author.