Should You Buy Backlinks?

Feature image for the blog post, "Should Your Buy Backlinks in 2021?

Buying backlinks is a practice that you may have heard of, but you might not know whether you should do it.

Buying “cheap” backlinks in bulk from disreputable sources is a Black Hat SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) technique — a way of cheating or misleading Google and other search engines so that your website is ranked higher than it deserves to.

If you buy backlinks and have little to no control over where the backlinks are placed or what kind of content your backlink will appear in, you’re not doing off-page SEO right.

If you pay for a service that helps you to generate exposure, awareness of your brand, and backlinks, that’s a little different.

Generally speaking, the easier it is to buy a backlink, the less it’s worth.

This is because Google and other search engines don’t want to reward spammy behaviour. On the other side of the coin, backlinks that are very hard to secure, such as backlinks from government websites and university websites, tend to be worth a lot more because they’re harder to manipulate.

A screenshot of an online store selling backlinks

An example of the types of backlinks you want to avoid at all costs

 

Why You Should Not Buy Spammy Backlinks

Even though it doesn’t work anymore, it’s still possible to buy backlinks in bulk at ludicrously low prices. Ever seen this advert before? Or perhaps something like it?

Advertisement to buy high domain authority links

Avoid this pop-up ad like the plague!

This is the essence of black hat SEO. If there was ever a link building or SEO strategy to categorically rule out, this would be it. Services like these tend to rely on link farms or low-quality “news” websites that link out to as many different services as possible.

The content on these sorts of websites is often gibberish and the links themselves tend to be completely useless.

Google’s Stance on Link Buying

Google is explicitly against the exchange of money in return for links.

This exchange of money can happen in many ways, and Google doesn’t say that all these so-called “link schemes” will definitely lead to a negative impact on a website’s search engine rankings. Rather, it says that these schemes “can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results” (emphasis ours).

The takeaway from this should be that the more direct and obvious an exchange of money is in return for a link, the less natural it is. The less natural it is, the more likely Google is to punish it. The reason Google uses “can” and not “will” is that there are some link building strategies which — while they involve the exchange of money — don’t fall into the same spammy bucket as some paid-for link schemes.

What’s the Difference Between Follow and No Follow Links?

We’ve already seen the difference between internal and external links. But there are also follow links and nofollow links.

Nofollow is an attribute that can be applied to a backlink by webmasters. It looks like this:

rel="nofollow"

In 2019, Google announced that it would treat nofollow links as hints rather than directives. In other words, sometimes Google will “count” a nofollow link and sometimes it won’t.

We’re not quite sure why Google made this change, but there’s some speculation that it was a response to many major websites moving to nofollow links as standard across their websites. Rather than lose these news sites as sources of information completely, Google made the change so it could continue counting backlinks from some of these sites. But as said, this is unconfirmed speculation.

Screenshot of Google's Rel tag explanation table

Screenshot from Google’s Outbound Link Qualification guide

When Are No Follow Links Used?

Google gives us an example of when they recommend using the nofollow attribute:

“The nofollow attribute is for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”

At the same time that Google made changes to the nofollow attribute, they also added a new attribute named rel=”sponsored”.

Google explicitly stated that this is the attribute you should use if the link has been created for advertorial purposes or in exchange for any compensation (in other words, a paid-for link).

For a more detailed look at running blogger outreach campaigns or sponsored content campaigns, check out Exposure Ninja’s book: The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing & Digital PR.


This article was first written by James Speyer and published in August 2020. It was revised and re-published by Luke Nicholson in July 2021.

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