Should you buy backlinks?
Buying backlinks is a practice which you may have heard of, but you might not know whether you should do it.
Buying backlinks 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 directly, you’re not doing off-page SEO right. If you pay for a service which helps you to generate exposure, awareness of your brand, and backlinks, that’s a little different.
The idea that you can buy quality backlinks is also a popular one, but a backlink which is paid for directly has little to no quality in eyes of most search engines.
Why You Should Not Buy Backlinks
It’s a practice seen less and less on the internet, but directly paying for someone to link to your website is still done in some dark corners of the internet. Ever seen this advert before? Or perhaps something like it?
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 really low-quality “news” websites which link out to as many different services as possible.
The content on these sorts of websites is often gibberish and the links themselves are worse than useless because they can often have a negative impact on your website’s rankings, rather than no impact at all. In short, it’s just not worth the risk of landing yourself with a Google Penalty.
Google’s Stance on Link Buying
Google is against most kinds of link building, though many SEO experts will point out that the data doesn’t match Google’s overtures.
However, Google is particularly 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 money — are not as direct as paid-for links.
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 no follow links.
No follow is an attribute that can be applied to a backlink by webmasters. It looks like this:
It is used to tell search engines “don’t follow this specific link”. But what does this mean? I’m going to quote Google exactly here:
“In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links.”
On the surface, it looks like Google does not count no follow links at all. But they’ve qualified everything they’ve said by putting the phrase “in general” ahead of the rest. Why would they say this unless sometimes they did follow these links? We can only assume that Google sometimes does follow these links — or plans to follow them in the future.
When Are No Follow Links Used?
Google gives us three examples of when they recommend using the no follow attribute:
1. Untrusted content.
All links to sites that you don’t trust should be no follow. Let’s say your website contains a forum which allows users to post links. These links should be no followed automatically to prevent abuse.
Google asks webmasters not to try and influence rankings through buying links. If your site does contain some form of paid-for links, such as advertisements, Google asks you to make this link no follow.
Links that needn’t be crawled.
When Google (and other search engines) matches searchers with websites, it’s not actually using a live version of the web. Instead, it’s using its index, which is Google’s approximation of the web.
To build its index, Google sends out “robots” known as “spiders” to “crawl” the web. As you might imagine, it’s very important that Google’s spiders are able to crawl your website! If they don’t, users won’t be able to find you on Google.
Google’s spiders don’t crawl endlessly; they have a limited budget. This might mean that they are unable to fully crawl large sites. If you have links to something like a member’s area on your website, then there’s no point having the spiders waste their budget crawling that link as they won’t be able to sign in without a username and a password. You can use the no follow attribute to signal to the spiders that this link shouldn’t be crawled, which frees up their budget to be used elsewhere.
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