For years, Google has been very vocal about why you should never buy backlinks for your sites. There have been a good amount of horror stories about people who buy backlinks and then find their site completely removed from the index for up to 6 months or more. Obviously, this could literally put your company out of business if it happens to you.
And yet, anywhere you go, you’ll see all kinds of ads for sites like Text Links Ads, Links XL, and others, who broker links. They all have huge pools of publishers who they are able to sell links on their own sites through the link broker networks. This seems like a sitting duck situation, where Google could possibly sniff out the entire network and systematically crush an entire portion of the internet. But this doesn’t really seem to be happening, and that’s because these networks are doing a good job of hiding the fact they’re selling links. They leave little if any footprint, so unless Google actually came into their network to sniff out who is participating, things are pretty safe.
But it still begs the question, why does Google not want me to buy links? The answer is connected to the core of Google’s ranking technology, and is a pretty basic one once you see it.
Stuffing the Ballot Box
The super simplified way of describing how Google uses backlinks to determine how a site should rank is that each backlink is a “vote” for the target site. These votes aren’t all equal; a link on a no-name site is not even close to being worth as much as a link on a big authority site. But regardless, a link is an endorsement according to Google.
By purchasing backlinks, you’re all of a sudden “stuffing the ballot box” and artificially increasing your backlink numbers. Without a way of discerning which backlinks were naturally procured as opposed to purchased, Google has trouble knowing how legitimate a site is or if the owner of the site just has deep pockets.
Because of how large and powerful Google is, they are able to set their own internal rules that everyone starts to follow because if they don’t and get caught for something Google doesn’t like, the penalty could potentially devastate their traffic and cash-flow. So Google is in this unique “internet police” position where they can somewhat control people’s behavior online simply by discouraging certain practices.
The Funny Part Is That Paid Links Work. Really Well.
The thing is, if there is no footprint to identify your paid links with, Google has no damn clue that you paid for them. Because of this, if you have the cash, you can snatch some very powerful links that would be challenging to naturally get at least early on in a site’s life and can dramatically increase your site’s ranking.
Despite Google’s authority, they simply can’t be all knowing. Whether you have a handful of independent, powerful sites that you interlink to help each one out, or you buy links, it’s a way to fast track your site to high rankings in competitive niches.
Rand at SEOMOZ wrote a great post about his experiments with paid links, and the results pretty clearly show what I’m saying here. If you have the budget for the links, it’s definitely something to (carefully) use.