BACKLINKS: BUILD OR BUY?
Backlinks are hyperlinks from other websites that point to your website. (This is different from internal links, which point from one page on a website to another page on that same site.)
Building backlinks is a vital SEO exercise, because backlinks function like a “vote” — a third party stamp of approval that shows that you are a credible source. Increasing the number of backlinks that point to your site will improve your site’s authority, and thus your rankings in search engines like Google. The more that reputable websites link to your site, the better you’ll rank.
Now, there are lots of ways to acquire backlinks. For a comprehensive list of link building techniques, you’ll want to download our guide “The Ultimate List of White Hat Link Building Techniques Small Business Can Use.” But for our discussion today, we’re going to lump the various techniques into three categories: organic link acquisition, link buying, and link building—and tell you which of these categories should be part of your SEO strategy, and which ones to avoid like a whiskey sour from Bill Cosby.
WHAT IT MEANS TO ACQUIRE LINKS ORGANICALLY
If you’re regularly creating good content on your site—which you absolutely should be doing—people may discover that content and decide to link to it. This is called organic link acquisition, and it’s the gold standard for obtaining natural, high-quality links. Unfortunately, it’s also slow. For small and medium-sized businesses, organic link acquisition alone is unlikely to produce the SEO outcomes you need to grow. You will almost certainly need to add some fuel to that fire by building some backlinks yourself.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BUY LINKS
Buying backlinks is when you pay another site owner to link to your site. These kinds of links violate Google’s webmaster guidelines, unless they are marked as “nofollow” links, which reduces their SEO value to near zero. Buying links is generally considered a “black hat” SEO practice. If Google catches on that you are buying backlinks, they will discount the value of the links and possibly penalize your site, dramatically harming your ability to rank. For these reasons, we generally advise against buying backlink placements.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BUILD LINKS
Buying links is not the only tactic for obtaining backlinks that puts you in the driver’s seat. There are many legitimate, “white hat” methods of “building” backlinks for your site. Some of these include:
- Writing a guest blog post for another site and asking them to post it
- Asking popular bloggers to review one of your products
- Reclaiming your own broken backlinks with 301 redirects
- Snatching up your competitor’s broken backlinks
- Identifying unlinked mentions of your brand
Step-by-step instructions for these and several other link building techniques can be found in our guide, “The Ultimate List of White Hat Link Building Techniques Small Business Can Use.”
Now, these techniques are time-consuming, and you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. It may make sense to hire a link building expert (I mean us! Hire us!) to do this part for you.
Now you might be wondering, “But Tobes, you wise, delightful sage of marketing wisdom, didn’t you say that spending money to get backlinks was frowned upon?” And that would be very perceptive of you. But no—there’s nothing wrong with engaging in white hat link building, and there’s nothing wrong with hiring a reputable link building service to help you do it, either.
Again, what’s out-of-bounds is paying a website owner to give you a link. We don't do that.
EARN, BUILD, OR BUY?
Google Search Central states, “the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.” Again we see that earned, organic link acquisition is the best way to increase your website’s authority and improve your SEO. But for most brands, organic link acquisition won’t be enough to move the needle on its own. SEO success also depends on building high quality links with white hat link building techniques.
Remember that buying backlinks is highly discouraged. Google doesn’t like it, and there may be consequences if they catch you doing it. Going the easy route by buying backlinks is a risky strategy in the long term. Link building the right way takes a lot of time and effort, but these efforts do pay off—especially when you have a trusted link building expert on your team.