Is Buying Links for SEO a Good Idea?

by Gary on July 2, 2007 · 15 comments

in Link Strategies

Buying links for SEO or PR is not a good idea, but buying them for quality traffic is.

Google uses inbound links to rank websites. When they decided to use the inbound links as a factor in their ranking algorithm the idea was to see how popular the website is, and if a website is popular then it must have lots of valuable, relevant, highly targeted content. By counting the number of incoming links Google gauges the relevance of your website and ranks it accordingly. It makes perfect sense. But people started abusing the system.

It’s hard to know if your link appears on an external website because of your content, or the money you paid for that exposure. Currently Google doesn’t penalise people for buying and selling links for achieving higher rankings, but in future it may, if not penalise, start ignoring purchased links. It is already suggested that you use the rel=”nofollow” attribute to tell the search engines that the link is not for rankings but for straight clicks.

So if right now Google doesn’t penalise you for buying inbound links, why should you not invest in them? In the beginning I said buying links for SEO is not a good idea but I said that from a web designer’s and a search engine optimiser’s point of view, not a business person’s point of view. The long term solution is a collection of naturally generated list of inbound links. This is good for two reasons:

  1. your ranking is solid — this means no search algorithmic changes are going to disturb your ranking
  2. by providing quality content to your visitors you’ll be increasing your business.

Sure, buying links for SEO can get you quick rankings but if Google starts penalising websites for purchasing links purely for that you’ll be hit hard and you won’t be able to complain. The best policy is, generate highly valuable content so that people link to you on their own, without charging you.

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  • Sam

    Thanks for the great writeup.

    Please do take into consideration that new sites almost always have to opt for some level of paid inclusions in order to have a certain chance of being seen. Submissions to a couple of human edited directories is always a good start.

  • Gary

    Sam, thanks for your comments, I cannot agree more. Gary.

  • Single Grain — San Diego SEO Blog

    Fantastic Post. I think if you want to buy links then you should mix it up with some organic links. Paid links is only a temporary solution if that.

  • Brian Chappell

    Alot of what google says about this topic is FUD.

    If google decides to devalue paid links that are relevant and on topic then there will be massive collateral damage.

    • Gary

      Hi Brian, I am no doubt having a blonde moment, but what is FUD?

      Your not kidding about the collateral damage.

      Gary.

    • SEO Carly

      If Google starts to devalue paid links, i don’t think relevence and the Hilltop alogrithm will be the sole determining factor.

      Actually relevence aside, it’s still possible to detect alot of paid links.

      Generally paid links appear in a grouping of 10 or 15 links and change often ie on a monthly basis. They are also generally grouped together in the footer or side bar.

      Why would a link editorially awarded on content be changed monthly? Multiply this with the other 9 or 14 links in the cluster being different every couple of cached snapshots of the page and it gets easier to work out.

      A relevent link imbedded in content that doesn’t alter signifies it’s naturally awarded more then a changing cluster doesn’t it?

      Combine this with the fact that 1,000 links naturally awarded to a page is likely to have little repetition in the anchor because it’s not chosen by the page owner to influence rankings like it would if it was paid.

      There’s other factors but in a nutshell if they started to not award weight to a link within a certain timeframe, and awarded basically no weight to clusters of external links that are removed from content and reduced their tolerence towards a high % of identical anchor text it would impact alot of the paid links.

      As you can see it can be done without taking relevance in to account. I don’t think they will devalue paid links totally, but apply a dampening factor to the amount of weight it passes based on the number of red flags it raises.

  • Brian Chappell

    Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

  • Brian Chappell

    Even those things you mention Carly would have collateral damage. My opinion is that a lot of the things you mention are accurate.

    However I think what they would do to make what you mentioned work, is grandfather link wait currently to a certain degree. Then apply the devaluation to new inbound links, thus withholding there current SERP structure, and alleviating as much manipulation from here out.

  • Gary

    I think Carly has a point, many people (including me) buy links as a way to climb the rankings, and this can affect the quality of the rankings/search experience. It does make sense that Google et al would start to devalue them.

    Brian, IMHO you also have a point there could be collateral damage. But I am unsure if Google would care, if they think it would give a better search performance and more relevant results, they may/will do it anyway.

    Cheers,

    Gary.

  • Pete

    Google will never penalize paid links. However, they may attribute no value to them, but they will not penalize the site the receiving site. Reason: If they did, I and every other competitive person out there would start buying links for their competitors. Simple as that.

  • Marc Levy

    I agree with Pete, although many people will see links with no value attributed to them as penalization.

    On the other hand I am pretty sure that if a site took up a very aggressive paid link building campaign Google may well penalize them by removing indexed pages from their SERPs.

    This has already been done to sites engaging in aggressive reciprocal campaigns and I see Google eventually stamping down in a similar way against blatant paid links.

  • Brian Chappell

    @marc

    “On the other hand I am pretty sure that if a site took up a very aggressive paid link building campaign Google may well penalize them by removing indexed pages from their SERPs.”

    won’t happen

    otherwise I am going to go do that to all my competitors.

    …..

    the difference with recip. link spamming is that you control who you link to, it cannot be sabotaged unless someone hacks into your backend

  • Marc Levy

    Normally Brian I would agree with you, but nothing Google does surprises me anymore.

    You can read a good debate on this related article from Aaron Wall: http://www.seobook.com/archives/001544.shtml

    Many SEO’s seem split on this one, and to be honest it probably comes down to a million different factors.

    So I definitely wouldn’t say I’m wrong as it can’t be proved. Unless you work deep in the Googleplex and know something I don’t?

  • Marc Levy

    Brian have a read: http://www.seobook.com/archives/001544.shtml

    It is not so set in stone…

  • Sanish

    Thanks for this great post. And I would like to know if Google really penalizes for paid links. Or is it something that might happen in future.