Purchasing backlinks can be risky in terms of your site’s search engine rankings and visibility. Here are some of the potential risks of buying backlinks:

Is paid backlinks safe?

Google Penalties

Google strictly prohibits paid links and considers buying backlinks to be against its webmaster guidelines. If Google determines you have paid for links, either directly or indirectly, your site could receive a manual penalty. Google penalties include:

  • Manual actions – If caught buying links, Google could manually lower your rankings or remove your site entirely from search results.
  • Algorithmic penalties – Google’s algorithms, especially Penguin, are designed to catch unnatural link profiles and can automatically filter sites from rankings.

Low Quality Links

Most paid link offers do not come from high authority sites relevant to your industry. Low quality directory links or widget links can actually hurt your organic growth efforts.

Lack of Site Editorial Control

When paying for links, you have little control over how that site sources the links, if they use shady redirection tactics, or if they remove the links later without notice.

Financial Exploitation

Link selling is often paired with overpriced packages, monthly subscriptions, and upsells which aims to financially exploit site owners desperate for quick SEO wins.

Increased Risk Over Time

Link sellers often promise “permanent” do follow links, however the risk increases over time as sites get penalized or delete content. What was once deemed “safe” can quickly become a liability with shifting Google updates.

Potential Benefits of Paid Links

Despite the risks, some site owners still opt to buy backlinks. Here are a few of the touted benefits associated with paid links:

Quick Link Building Opportunities

Paid links offer site owners an immediate way to acquire backlinks from a variety of sites. This can help quickly increase domain authority and perceived trust.

Gain Initial Traffic

For newer sites with thin content, paid links can help expose your brand to new visitors by placing links on established sites. This can help generate initial traffic and brand awareness.

Ranking Boost Potential

In some cases, paid links have helped sites temporarily gain traction in competitive keywords by building unnatural link velocity. However, this strategy is extremely precarious long-term.

Best Practices for Safe Link Building

The risks often outweigh potential short-term gains from buying links. Instead, focus on sustainable and ethical link building best practices:

Create Valuable Site Content

The best long-term link building starts with high quality content that solves user intent. Position your site as an industry thought leader.

Focus on Organic Link Opportunities

Guest posting, interviews, contributor roundups and other editorial opportunities allow you to gain reputable backlinks through value-focused content marketing.

Be Patient

Trustworthy link building takes time and consistency. Resist urge to pay for shortcuts which rarely provide lasting benefits. Monitor your site’s organic growth patterns instead.

Disavow Toxic Links

If your site already suffers from an unethical link profile, use Google’s disavow tool to remove shady links while ethically rebuilding your backlink profile.

Making an Informed Decision on Paid Links

Ultimately the choice comes down to your risk tolerance and priorities in your search optimization efforts:

Weigh Temporary Wins Against Long-Term Goals

If your main goal is sustainable organic rankings, focus on long-term white hat link building strategies instead of risky short-term paid links.

Understand Google’s Stance

Be aware paid links violate Google guidelines. While plenty of sites may get away with it for awhile, penalties can happen months or years later with detrimental impacts.

Assess Impact to Domain Reputation

A few shady links likely won’t unravel years of quality content building, but assess whether a temporary boost is worth risking long built domain authority.

Analyze links case-by-case. Not all paid links carry the same level of risk depending on factors like relevance, site quality and link velocity. Proceed cautiously with full transparency into any paid links on your site.

Key Takeaways on Paid Backlink Safety:

  • Buying backlinks carries inherent risks, including potential Google penalties, low editorial control and financial exploitation.
  • While paid links can deliver quick wins like initial traffic gains and temporary rankings bumps, benefits are often short-lived.
  • The best long-term link building strategy focuses on creating high-quality content that naturally attracts backlinks over time through guest posts, interviews and brand awareness building opportunities.
  • If choosing to buy links, thoroughly vet sites first and monitor new links to check for any shady redirection tactics or content changes. Limit link velocity and evaluate ongoing value of paid links over time.


In summary, most SEO experts advise avoiding paid backlinks given shifting Google algorithms, potential manual penalties, and their innate lack of authenticity. However, not all link building tactics carry equal levels of risk. Taking a balanced and ethical approach can help minimize potential downsides of paid links while still moving the needle for your organic search visibility. Carefully assess the tradeoffs of any paid links to determine what makes sense for your specific business goals and risk tolerance.

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. Are paid links always bad?
No. While inherently risky, not all paid links are toxic, depending on factors like site relevance, link redirection methods, link velocity and integration within site’s editorial content. Treat paid links as shortcuts that likely won’t impact your site long-term.

2. What happens if Google catches you buying links?
If Google catches paid links, expect a full or partial site ranking drop through manual or algorithmic penalties. In serious cases where site exhibits an extremely unnatural link profile, Google can de-index your pages entirely.

3. Should I disavow all paid links?
Not necessarily. If link risk seems low or links come from reasonably reputable sites, you may choose to leave them intact. Use disavow tool mainly to remove toxic links from low quality sites obviously paid for including link networks/farms.

4. How do you know if a backlink is paid or not?
Look for context clues like an unnaturally high amount of links from the same site, suspicious redirection tactics and irrelevant sites suddenly linking without clear explanation. Check for paid posts disclosure if unsure.

5. Can I get in trouble for someone else buying links for my site?
Yes. As site owner, you are responsible for monitoring marketing tactics of any agencies or freelancers working on your behalf. Lack of awareness around paid links will not absolve penalties. Ensure full transparency.

6. Should I remove a paid link if the site is high authority?
Not necessarily, as long as link velocity seems natural and site is relevant to your industry. High authority links still provide SEO value through brand visibility and domain authority gains. But investigate redirect methods.

7. Is buying expired domains with backlinks risky?
Yes, especially if domain has toxic links you fail to properly disavow. Thoroughly audit inbound links from any expired domain purchase to avoid inherent risks from shady previous SEO tactics.

8. Can competitor backlinks get me in trouble?
Intentionally targeting a competitor’s backlink profile through negative SEO techniques like link spoofing is extremely risky and unethical. However, naturally earning links from the same reputable sites as competitors is fine.

9. Are private blog networks (PBNs) safe for links?
No. Google highly scrutinizes patterned links from hidden PBNs. Despite claims of safety, recent updates caught even “aged” high quality content PBNs. Consider them a high severity threat.

10. Can my agency get me in trouble for paid links?
Yes. As site owner, you are liable for any black hat techniques used on your domain, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Thoroughly vet agencies on link building tactics before retention. Require full paid links disclosure.

11. Should my disavow file list paid links?
Yes. The disavow tool serves to notify Google which links to ignore from compliance and ranking analysis. List any paid or unethically acquired links for fastest penalty recovery.

12. Can I reacquire links lost to penalties later?
Only once you successfully recover from the penalty by removing toxic links through disavows and rebuilding reputation over time through ethical tactics. Do not try to reacquire the same unethical links.

13. Is buying outdated links from closed sites risky?
Yes. Google frowns upon “ghost link building” tactics of resurrecting domains specifically to capitalize on expired links

14. Can I remove only a portion of paid links as a test?
Technically yes, but not advisable until conducting a proper link audit. Removing a few paid links risks drawing manual review attention without effectively distancing your profile from “at risk” linking patterns.

15. How many paid links triggers a penalty?
No definitive threshold exists. Penalties can happen after a single paid link or hundreds, depending on severity, relevancy, anchor text optimization and overall site content quality. Use discretion in link velocity.

16. Should I 301 redirect removed paid links?
No. Eliminate paid links completely through no following or removal instead of redirection, which still passes equity to your site. 301 redirects also wrongly signal to Google the paid link was an authoritative resource.

17. Can I earn links to cancel out risky paid links?
In theory, yes. Ethical, relevant links could help offset the toxicity of paid links in small volumes. But focus on link removal through disavow process before attempting to counterbalance techniques which violate Google guidelines.

18. What happens if a site removes my paid links later?
Expect rankings volatility any time paid links get removed unexpectedly, especially in large volumes. To get ahead of potential drops, document any paid links for easier disavowing if sites remove links without notifying you.

19. Can Google de-index all my content due to paid links?
In severe penalty cases, yes. More likely, Google will just filter your pages from ranking in search results while still leaving pages indexed and discoverable for browsing users. But full de-indexing happens periodically.

20. How do I safely remove paid links en masse?
Install Google’s disavow tool for bulk uploading of toxic domains. Upload frequently updated disavow lists as you continually monitor your backlink profile for newly discovered paid links to efficiently flag issues for Google.


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April 2024


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