Buying links to improve search engine rankings has long been considered a dark art. However, the problem is not paying for the connection as much as not being honest about it.
Google explains the practice in its documentation: “Google understands that buying and selling links is an important part of the web economy for advertising and promotional purposes.”
Google continued: “It is not against our policy to have such links as long as they qualify with the rel=’nofollow’ or rel=’sponsored’ attribute for the <a> tag.”
Connection not required
What search engines like Google don’t like is what some call link spamming, the practice of buying links to get higher in the search rankings. Link spam is still a paid process. There is no other reason to do it.
This is an example of what Google and other search engines call link spam.
- Buy links from low-profile directory sites.
- Paid links and widgets distributed on the web.
- Get paid to include embedded links in blog comments.
- Class credit does not apply to transcripts.
- Business or hospitality information.
This last category of link spam – those responsible for information or visitors – seems to be on the rise.
First, Google Trends reported an increase in searches for “buy backlinks”. Google Trends uses a scale of 0-100 to represent search volume. So, 100 on the Google Trends chart shows the highest number of searches for a given period of time.
From January 2004 to the present, the interest in “buying backlinks” peaked in July 2004. Since then, queries for this phrase have decreased as a percentage of total related searches. The Google Trends volume for the term was only 9 in September 2019. It rose to 16 and equal in September 2021 and 47 in September 2022. We will be back in July 2008 to find more of interest.
The increase in September could be a temporary noise or even an increase in Google’s tracking power (which happened in January 2022).
Second, as a writer for a popular internet publication, the number of emails I receive about paid guest posts seems to be increasing. I have one in January 2022. In October 2022 I have about 50.
I will be careful. These findings may be correct. People who contact me may expect or even plan to use the appropriate link identifiers, rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored”.
But language like “Can you give me a quote for guest posts and link points” in the email made me think of sending the equivalent link from the guest post to the target site.
There is another feeling here. Most of the paid emails I receive are from companies that buy backlinks on behalf of a client.
These companies almost certainly understand that equity links don’t have to go through paid links. And that seems to be what they are doing.
But is it good?
I have written a rough picture of buying backlinks because of the many emails I receive. But a colleague said that it may be reasonable to buy links even when they include rel=”sponsored” and therefore are not spam links.
Google introduced the rel=”sponsored” feature in September 2019, at a time when demand for “buy backlinks” spiked.
Google uses it as a “hint” on the quality of the target page. Therefore, it is possible, in theory, to have an affiliate link that provides valuable content and is useful in Google’s search engine algorithms.
On its developer search blog, Google employees Danny Sullivan and Gary Illyes wrote:
Why don’t we ignore these links completely, like we did nofollow? [Because] links contain useful information that can help us improve search results, such as how the words in the links describe the content they point to. Examining all the connections we see can help us better understand the unnatural connection patterns. By moving to the index form, we will no longer lose this important information, as we allow site owners to indicate that some links should not carry the burden of first approval.
So, while a link purchased with sponsored features isn’t the same as a link without features, it still provides information to Google.
Also, it is a link that can direct visitors to the website.
Buying backlinks is therefore not an SEO practice but a marketing practice. Be honest about it with recommended features, and you’re doing marketing. But trying to navigate search engines is a dark art.