[OPINION] Buying Links Is Worse Than You Think

Every mainstream SEO will publicly declare that paying for links is a bad idea. After all, it is against Google Webmaster Guidelines, and that is the search engine we all want a leading presence on.

But, that is not why I would advocate against the purchasing of backlinks. While it is a fact that buying links is a risky move in light of being penalized for it, there are larger reasons why we should avoid doing so.

1. No Extra Benefits

This may be a personal gripe, but every marketing channel I invest into is checked to include at least one or more benefits in addition to the principal.

For example:

  • Paid ads could also increase email sign ups and retargeting opportunities.
  • A premium domain could also carry historic links and branding nostalgia.
  • Podcast recordings could also be repurposed into blog posts and social media content.
  • Guest posting could also increase brand awareness and drive targeted traffic.
  • Outsourced content could also be redistributed on other platforms and organically rank for long tail keywords.

Paying for links, however, is much harder to justify. There doesn’t seem to be any side benefit in doing so. Once it’s paid for and live, there is almost no chance it will drive traffic, be syndicated or lead to any other opportunity. In other words, if it fails in its primary purpose (i.e. move the needle for rankings) it fails altogether.

As a result, it makes for a much tougher call whether the cost can be rationalized and substantiated as a long-term strategy.

2. Chance of Impotence

In reality, we don’t really know which links are driving the most benefit to our SEO campaigns and overall marketing efforts. We don’t know which links search engines actually take into consideration and which ones they dismiss as a low quality link.

There are so many factors at play that make it impossible to say with confidence that the links we generate are making a considerable impact on our organic visibility.

Beyond the “no follow” attribute, we are generally ignorant about whether we should purchase:

  • Guest post links.
  • Niche edit links.
  • Homepage links.
  • Sitewide links.
  • Tiered links.
  • Pillow links.
  • Niche relevant links.
  • DA, PA, DR or PR links.

Do we take the shotgun approach and purchase a mix of everything, hoping that something will stick? Or do we experiment with each type of link and track our results?

The chances that Google has preemptively dismissed a majority of these kinds of backlinks is relatively high. In other words, we’re probably buying links that have no impact at all.

Either way, we end up spending a ton of money on links that we don’t know the weight of and simply hoping for the best. More often than not, we are wasting money — money that could have been effectively spent elsewhere with a much greater return on marketing dollars.

3. The Holy Grail Is Out Of Reach

Let’s face it; the best sites are not actively selling links.

The sites with extremely high relevance and authority aren’t easy to get links from. They need to be earned. Not everyone can get a link from such websites, although most SEOs would jump at the opportunity to pay large sums were they to ever offer.

With that in mind, it’s just not feasible to see link purchasing as the way to build up a diverse link profile and rank well with great authority & a competitive edge. You’ll never get a backlink from the upper ranks of the web without working hard for it with great content and even better outreach. That’s just the way it is.

Unless you are willing to acquire a giant website for a large sum of money in order to gain some links, your cash is better spent on building your company to a level where they will want to link to you for the outstanding work you’re doing in your field.

4. The Pain of Management

If you are buying links, the next logical task is to actively manage them.

Every link that has been purchased must be reviewed periodically to make sure that it:

  • Stays “followed” and is not changed to a “nofollow” attribute.
  • Is live in the search engine index and does not fall out for any reason.
  • Remains active at all times, where the link is active and the page in question is not deleted.

Failing to manage such links could forfeit any progress you made by paying for them in the first place. Webmasters will sometimes try to remove the link in an effort to resell the placement to another without you noticing, so if you are not careful it could put your marketing dollars to waste.

To manage your links manually, you would need to routinely check on them and ensure no foul play has occured. That is, unless you invest in a link management tool like Linkio, which can do the work for you but of course will incur an additional cost on top of the links you just purchased. It seems to be a necessary evil if you are planning to purchase links at scale, so be prepared for that also.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is more to it with what appears to be a simple link purchase. It will always end up costing you more than you would expect or likely anticipate, and so it may be best to stay away from the whole idea and just do SEO the good old fashion white-hat way 🙂

About the author

Sebastian Hovv

Sebastian is the founder of SEO 101, a SEO agency for startups. He is also the author of "The Little White Book of SEO" and curates a weekly marketing newsletter just for fun.