Backlinks are incoming links to a website from external sites. Search engines like Google use backlinks as one of the top ranking signals to determine the authority and relevance of a web page. More quality backlinks from reputable websites generally lead to better rankings.

Is it legal to buy backlinks?

Buying backlinks means paying someone to link back to your site. This raises the questions, is buying backlinks legal and does it violate search engine guidelines? The short answers are yes, buying backlinks can be legal, but the practice also carries significant risks.

How Backlinks Impact Search Rankings

Backlinks indicate the quality, trustworthiness and authority of a website. Google’s algorithm interprets backlinks to a page as “votes” for that page. More backlinks signals that users and webmasters find that content useful. Higher quality sites linking to a page passes more “authority”.

However, not all links are equal in Google’s eyes. Paid backlinks run the risk of being seen as artificially manipulating search results rather than earned through quality content.

Google’s Stance Against Paid Links

Google aims to provide the most honest search results to users based on relevance and merit. Their guidelines explicitly forbid practices like buying backlinks that attempt to game the system. As part of this, Google requires webmasters to disclose sponsored posts and paid links. Failing to do so violates their terms and might incur penalties.

So in short – buying backlinks is legal, but against Google guidelines if not disclosed. The trouble is identifying what constitutes paid links versus editorial links. There are grey areas that raise compliance questions in SEO.

Risks of Buying Backlinks

While paying for backlinks is not illegal, it does carry significant risks ranging from Google penalties to damaged credibility.

Potential Google Penalties

If Google determines paid links are manipulation attempts, they may manually or algorithmically penalize sites. Some potential penalties include:

  • Lower search rankings
  • Removal of site from Google index
  • Manual reviews and actions by Google evaluators

These outcomes severely hurt visibility and traffic from organic search. Most cases of penalties relate to undisclosed paid links and large-scale schemes. However, even a few paid links run the risk of penalties if Google takes notice.

Loss of Trust & Credibility

Users appreciate honesty and transparency. Undisclosed paid promotions, reviews or links erode consumer trust in a brand. This causes reputational damage beyond just search engines.

Within SEO as well, buying links leads to skepticism about whether growth is from merit or manipulation. A site seen as focused solely on gaming SEO faces doubts about providing quality content. This loss of expertise and authority hurts long-term success.

In essence, buying links contradicts building relationships around relevance, expertise and community. These attributes matter more to sustain rankings amidst Google updates.

Recommended Alternatives to Paid Links

There are safer ways to earn high quality backlinks without paying or contravening Google guidelines. These tactics focus on merit-based growth through content quality and community relationships:

Produce Remarkable Content

Great content marketers attract natural backlinks through value, novelty and sharability. Sites can earn links by creating content that gets discovered and shared without self-promotion. Types like research studies, experiential narratives, data projects, and explainers tend to attract high quality links.

Guest Post Outreach

Many webmasters gladly accept relevant pitches for contributed posts, with co-promotion benefits. Reaching out to appropriate site owners to share expertise presents content trade opportunities. Jointly promoting the output helps both parties.

Foster Community Relationships

Building genuine connections in a niche opens collaborative possibilities. Through discussions in community forums and social platforms, influences might cover your content or invite you as a guest contributor.

Outreach for Experts Quotes

Journalists and bloggers frequently seek expert quotes to incorporate in their content. Responding to such outreach requests with helpful insights earns backlinks in reported articles or round-ups.

Syndicate Content

Allowing third-parties to legally reuse or repurpose content can lead to additional exposures. By syndicating articles through affiliated platforms, sites can gain backlinks with proper attribution.

While not completely risk-free, these tactics shift focus away from solely acquiring backlinks. Prioritizing user value helps sites build expertise and community trust. This earns links more organically without manipulative practices.

Key Takeaways

  • Buying backlinks is legal but against Google guidelines if undisclosed or manipulative. This risks penalties by diminishing site quality in Google’s eyes.
  • Beyond lower search visibility from penalties, paid links also erode site trustworthiness among users.
  • It is safer and more sustainable to earn quality backlinks through great content, outreach, PR, syndication and community relationships.
  • While backlinks retain SEO importance, their role is shifting to indicate merit and relevance rather than as direct ranking signals.


In isolation, merely buying backlinks should not constitute an illegal act. However, the practice contradicts Google’s aim of search quality to serve users. Risking penalties through manipulative tactics also hurts site visibility and credibility.

Rather than chasing backlinks as metrics, sites should focus efforts on merit-based signals like content and community. This helps avoid violations while building site authority and expertise. Prioritizing the user experience earns links more organically from those who find the content to be of quality or relevance. While the SEO field retains debates around paid links, avoiding them helps sustain positive visibility.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can you get fined or arrested for buying backlinks?
A: Buying backlinks by itself is not an illegal activity that risks fines or arrests. However, manipulative link practices might violate civil regulations and Google’s terms, opening up sites to lawsuits or penalties.

Q: What percentage of backlinks should be followed vs nofollowed?
A: Search experts typically recommend having a solid mix of followed and nofollowed links, rather than fixed percentages. Followed links pass SEO value so contribute more to rankings. But nofollow links indicate site popularity.

Q: Can competitors sabotage sites by building bad backlinks?
A: Yes, competitors can harm rival sites through negative SEO tactics like building unnatural, poor quality links. Google works to detect and negate such sabotage tries. Sites should monitor unrecognized links and can disavow clear manipulations.

Q: How many backlinks are needed to rank a new website?
A: There is no universal number of links necessary to rank sites. Established authority sites might already have existing links. New sites require time to create quality content and build relationships to drive links organically.

Q: Do number of backlinks correlate directly to higher rankings?
A: In the past, more backlinks alone boosted rankings irrespective of quality. But today’s more advanced Google algorithms assess nuances in link attributes to gauge authority versus manipulation. While vital for SEO, backlink numbers hold less direct ranking power.

Q: Can my website get banned for having paid links?
A: Websites typically don’t get banned outright for paid links alone, but might get specific pages deindexed or demoted. Large-scale campaigns involving undisclosed paid links can potentially risk Google penalties that diminish rankings site-wide.

Q: Should nofollowed links be included in backlink count?
A: Nofollow links do not pass SEO value, so are less relevant in assessing domain authority. But a healthy mix of nofollow links shows content is gaining online visibility through shares, references and citations.

Q: Is buying expired domains for their backlink profiles a good tactic?
A: Buying aged domains rich in backlinks, aka drop catching, held historical SEO value but increasingly risks penalties today. Google expects links and authority to remain relevant to current site purpose rather than manipulatively reused.

Q: How much does a site’s backlink profile contribute to search rankings?
A: Backlinks retain high correlation to top rankings, but hold less direct ranking power than before. Multiple quality signals around relevance, trust and user experience also influence rankings today.

Q: What is a unhealthy link building technique that should be avoided?
A: Any links employing deception or manipulation should be avoided, like building partner links without editorially relevant reasons. Also beware tactics opening sites to potential hacking like email harvesting through comment spam.

Q: Can competitor backlinks hurt my rankings even if not connected?
A: Competitor backlink profiles don’t directly impact unrelated sites. But in highly competitive spaces, their higher relative authority can contribute to rankings plateauing for sites lagging on merit signals.

Q: Is there an ideal number of domain or IP level links to have?
A: Rather than numeric limits, links from the same domains or IPs raise flags if they appear unnatural or manipulative. Sticking to editorially given links avoids perceptions about artificial link building patterns.

Q: Are private blog networks (PBNs) illegal?
A: Using sites in a network solely to cross-link and manipulate PageRank violates Google’s guidelines. However PBNs themselves are not outright illegal unless expressly used for deception. Their spam risks still damage credibility.

Q: Can my competitors buy links on my site without my knowledge?
A: It is possible for competitors to privately offer site owners payments for links without disclosure. This remains difficult to control, so sites should watch for unrecognized new links.

Q: How often does Google update its link spam algorithms?
A: Google does not publicly share details on update cycles. But periodic algorithm updates focused on link spikes and patterns aim to continually improve spam detection.

Q: What is the penalty for buying links? Is it permanent?
A: Penalty severity varies case-by-case. Temporary manual actions are more common, but persistent violators might face lasting drops. Still, sites can recover even from permanent hits by cleaning up practices.

Q: Does Google distinguish between follow and nofollow paid links?
A: Yes, nofollowed links pass no equity so hold less perceived manipulation incentive. But for transparency, Google still expects disclosure of paid posts to avoid deception complaints.

Q: How many links per month are safely possible without flags?
A: Rather than a set number, unnatural patterns in link velocity like sudden bursts or very accelerated builds raise flags. Stable occasional links from relevant sites generally avoid suspicions.

Q: Can I redirect expired paid links?
A: Redirecting manipulative links risks passing equity. Instead, documenting and disavowing these using Google’s tool signals the violations are being addressed transparently.

Q: How much do links impact mobile search rankings?
A: Google officially confirms their algorithms assess backlinks identically for both desktop and mobile results. This includes filtering techniques against web spam and manipulation campaigns.

Q: What is the average price for paid links in 2023?
A: Link pricing varies significantly based on site traffic and authority. An informal recent survey of SEOs indicates average prices ranging from $50 for niche sites to $250+ for quality news domains.

Q: What web spam tactics does Google currently target the most?
A: Google prioritizes enforcing against large networks involving hundreds of interlinked sites and arcs aiming to misrepresent popularity. Content scraping and cloaking also remain top violations.

Q: Can I reacquire an expired domain containing paid links?
A: Reacquiring domains with existing links risks inheriting algorithmic flags. Safest practice is allowing domains with excessive manipulative links to fully expire rather than reusing them.

Q: How often does Google discover new link spam tactics to address?
A: Google likely identifies new tactics and iterations hourly given the scale of web activity. Updates aim to predict spammy patterns so still-unknown techniques likely hold short shelf life as future threats.


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July 2024


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