What are the two most important ranking factors in organic online searches? Many SEO experts would say keywords and backlinks. Google might say otherwise, but there is no denying that keywords and backlinks are still important. On the subject of backlinks, are they important enough to buy? Some organizations still buy links despite the risks of doing so.
Buying and selling links was standard practice 20 years ago. So was keyword stuffing, by the way. But the powers-that-be at Google, ever concerned about the quality of their organic search results, figured out that paid links and keyword stuffing encouraged poor quality. They set out to eliminate both.
Modern search algorithms are so much more sophisticated than they used to be. Combined with updated policies, algorithms are now surprisingly adept at identifying paid links and keyword stuffing, though the latter practice is getting much harder to find these days. Yet there are still plenty of organizations that sell links to website owners and SEO developers looking for a quick and easy way to get the links they want.
How Google Defines Paid Links
Avoiding the risk of paid links starts with understanding what they are. Webtek Digital Marketing, an SEO and digital marketing firm based in Salt Lake City, UT, says Google defines paid links as any links offered in exchange for goods, services, or money.
Let us say your company sends a free product to a professional reviewer who publishes a review online and links back to your site. That link is considered a paid link. If you pay to have your site listed and linked on a public directory, you are utilizing paid links.
Paid links do have their place at the digital marketing table. But as Webtek points out, do not expect them to enhance SEO performance. Also take the steps necessary to ensure those links do not harm your SEO. The last thing you want is for Google to punish your site due to paid links.
Sometimes They Can Be Helpful
There are times when paid links can be helpful in driving traffic to your site. For example, consider a local attorney who wants his site listed on a regional or national website that offers a directory for divorce attorneys. That site could end up being a gold mine for new traffic.
There is a way to pay for a link on that site and not have it damage SEO performance. How? It is actually quite simple. The link should be implemented with one of the following tags:
- rel=nofollow – This tag tells Google not to follow the link when crawling the website in question.
- rel=sponsored – This tag tells Google that you have paid for sponsored content. It will not treat the link as though it’s organic.
It is fine to buy links in order to generate traffic directly from the sites on which they are found. But again, neither type of link will enhance SEO performance. They can hurt SEO if one of the two tags isn’t utilized.
Google Has Its Ways
In closing, do not make the mistake of buying paid links for SEO purposes and thinking you are getting away with it. You’re probably not. Google has its ways of discovering paid links – including an active program that allows users to report them.
Google knows all the telltale signs of paid links. When they find them, they respond accordingly. So the lesson here is pretty simple: backlinks are still important, but not important enough to take the risks that come with buying them. It is better to generate backlinks organically through tried-and-true content marketing.