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Is Buying Backlinks SEO Best Practice?

Paid link building strategies are something that has been happening in the industry for decades, though it’s kept pretty hush hush. But why? Well, buying or selling links is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and may result in a penalty if you’re caught.

A reputable SEO specialist should outright condemn paid link building but unfortunately, for many, it continues. 

What is a Backlink?

If you’re wondering what a backlink actually is, it is a link from someone else’s website back to yours. They are also known as ‘incoming links’, ‘inbound links’ or ‘one way links’. Effectively, Google sees a backlink to your website as vote of confidence for the content of your website, i.e., it is useful, credible and worth reading.

Obtaining a backlink from the website of a highly recognised brand, a well known industry association or a Government website is SEO gold. Google’s algorithm is likely to consider ranking your site more favourably as a consequence. But the clincher is that these links must be organically acquired, not paid for. 

Backlinks are a great thing to have and valuable to your SEO strategy, however, buying them is less than ideal.  Essentially, buying backlinks means exchanging money, goods or services for links to your content. 

Not all Paid Links Violate Google’s Guidelines

Here’s where it gets tricky. While there are certainly sketchy ways that some SEO businesses do this, even sponsored guest posts and paid reviews are considered paid links and must be clearly flagged to Google. Here’s what Google has to say about it:

“Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Specify that the links were purchased for advertising by doing one of the following actions:
  • Adding a rel="nofollow" or rel="sponsored" attribute to the <a> tag
  • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file”

It begs the question, why take shortcuts in the first place? For those who sell backlinks, it’s often positioned to unwitting business owners as a ‘quick way to see results, shooting your SEO rankings up and attracting more leads’. But Google is far more likely to just ignore a poor quality backlink these days, meaning you’ve just wasted your precious time and marketing budget. Further, if your website has poor content and code, all the backlinks in the world – good or bad – won’t make the slightest bit of difference to your rankings.

It’s 2022. Google’s algorithm has moved on a bit since the noughties.

When is it OK to Buy a Backlink?

Buying backlinks can serve a purpose and may be worthwhile in some instances. For example, if you are selling a new beauty product and pay a beauty magazine to provide a positive review of your product. That’s just good PR, brand exposure and traffic. We see this in Influencer Marketing all the time. As long as the link is tagged correctly, you’re sweet: that’s a good marketing link.
But you don’t have to buy backlinks to have credible sources citing your business. Quite the opposite; the best way to increase your backlinks is by EARNING them organically (for free!) through great content: website copy, blogs, email marketing and social media. If you’ve got great content, people will link to it naturally. It’s the way the web was designed to work. This means that you are targeting the right audience and getting better quality traffic, sticking to Google’s guidelines and more likely to rank better and more consistently.

It is important to keep in mind that backlinks aren’t the only way to improve your SEO. Top class content, a great mobile-friendly UX, lightning fast loading speeds and super clean code are all far more important to Google’s algorithm these days.  Internal and external linking is also a highly effective means of making sure your audience can easily navigate to the information they need. 

Internal linking simply includes adding links to other pages within your own site. This is crucial, particularly in blogging, where you want to send the consumer to the ‘money pages’ of your site (the products and services pages). 

External linking works a little differently, in the way you actually send visitors off of your website and onto someone else’s. This should really only be done when linking to relevant information or another credible source such as a government website, regulations or standards or media releases. The idea is generally to keep people on your own website though, so use this tactic sparingly!

SEO is complex discipline and you should generally avoid buying backlinks like the plague. If you want to start building a backlink profile the right way and get a powerful SEO strategy in place to dominate search engines, contact the SEO specialists at 80/20 Digital today on 0400 677 202.

Colm MacGowan has spent over 25 years working in Sales & Marketing and is one of Australia's leading experts in Search Engine Optimisation and lead generation through Google. Colm's passion lies in helping Small to Medium business owners grow their businesses profitably and sustainably through best practice, results-driven marketing. Get in touch today for a free consultation.

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