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Buying Links is Bad Policy

You can hear those promises all over the internet: “we can make your website number one on Google.” Any SEO company that makes a promise like that is lying. It is simply impossible to guarantee any particular position for your website in Google’s search results, especially since each unique search will bring up different results. What any good SEO company can do for you: optimize you site with good, keyword rich content. Provide interesting material that people will want to read and find useful.  And update your website regularly with new content, such as a frequently posting to your blog. All of these things are great ways to encourage Google to crawl your website and improve your rankings.

What a bad SEO company will do: buy links to your site. The number and quality of links from other websites helps Google determine how useful people find your site and that impacts how high it ranks in you in search results. Buying links is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and they are very good at detecting these paid links. While it is possible to buy hundreds of links for your site, almost all of these will be from low quality sources that will not help your ranking. And if they do, the effect is only temporary. It will seem to work for the first few months, and then your website will disappear from search results. Why does this happen? Because Google will penalize your company if they find out you are buying links. Here is Google’s Webmaster Guidelines statement about link schemes:

…some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)

A great example of a link scheme gone wrong: J.C. Penny. JC Penny was doing a fantastic job in getting great organic search results for almost anything they sold in their store. The New York Times investigated this phenomenon (read the article here), and found thousands of unrelated websites were linking to J.C. Penny, all using exactly the search terms that of J.C. Penny’s most popular products. When this was reported to Google, they took immediate action. JC Penny went from ranking number one on their main search terms to positions much closer to 78th (which is on the 7th page of search results).  J.C. Penny blamed their SEO firm, Search Dex, who had obviously designed a massive link building scheme.  While buying links definitely did work (at first), it is going to take a long time for JC Penny search results to recover. And the impact of these types of penalties will have much greater effect on smaller companies. (To see a more detailed explanation, check out this article on Search Engine Land)

However, there are some ways that you can help you company rank well without engaging in spam or buying links.

  • Directory listings are counted by Google as citations, and the number and quality of these citations is a part your local search rankings. Optimizing these listings will help you build a consistent web presence which will help your website and to help customers find your business.
  • Create interesting content on your blog that people will want to share will lead to natural links. Examples of this would be local events and funny stories of things that have happened at your company. When people want to share what they read on your blog, you can earn links from other blogs, local websites or industry websites.
  • You can also get your company involved in your community. If you donate money, volunteer for a charity, or join your local Chamber of Commerce, these organizations might link to your website. You did not buy these links; they reflect real relationships and are not counted as spam.

Buying links is a very risky operation, one which good SEO companies strongly advise against.  The immediate gratification of an artificial spike in rankings may be tempting, but the punishment that comes when you’re caught is worse than starting from scratch. There are many other, less risky ways to ways to improve your company’s rankings, ones that do not violate search engine guidelines. The best links are hard to get, and these natural links are worth a lot more than any links you can buy.

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