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Should You Buy Backlinks or Earn Them?

Should You Buy Backlinks or Earn Them?

You want your company’s site to become a Google ranking machine. You also know that in 2022, Google doubled down on its desire for "EEAT-able" websites. What better way to feed Google’s craving for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness than by peppering your content with backlinks? Yet, you’re not sure about the best route to start building links for SEO.

In general, you have two choices: You could buy backlinks or earn backlinks. Both strategies are frequently applied in the SEO world. However, one is far less risky than the other, which is why you should have a clear-cut understanding of how each approach works.

Does Buying Backlinks Work?

In the age before Google’s notorious 2012 Penguin update (operating in a real-time capacity since 2016,) buying backlinks was a popular marketing activity. In just a few days or weeks, any website could start rising in the rankings thanks to a boatload of backlinks. The only problem? A lot of those backlinks were nothing more than spam.

As soon as Penguin began scanning for spam, sites with historically high rankings — often driven by the backlinks they’d bought — tumbled off page one. Within months and years, those who had the wherewithal (and funds) to make changes survived. Those who clung to the hope that Penguin might be reversed didn’t.

This is the darker side of the “black hat” SEO method of buying backlinks. Of course, it’s totally OK to hire someone who does outreach and builds relationships to secure links back to your site. Exchanging money directly for a link is what we’re talking about here.

So, in what situation should you buy backlinks? Generally, it’s better not to. PPC advertising tends to be a more effective — and safer — way of getting pages to the top of search engine results pages (or SERPs) because that’s what it’s designed to do. PPC is a great way to get visibility at the top of SERPs while you work to build your pages’ organic keyword presence. Conversely, if Google determines that you’ve accomplished this by buying backlinks, it can penalize you for it.

If you still want to buy backlinks to complement your SEO strategy, though, you should ensure that you’re getting sponsored or nofollow links back to your pages. This can help prevent Google from penalizing your website. Even so, you can’t afford to overlook three other considerations related to buying backlinks. First, you’ll have to pay to maintain those backlinks — and that can get pricey. Second, purchased backlinks usually only result in temporary ranking boosts. And third, you could end up hurting the user experience, which is a good way to lose business.

With all that said: Does buying backlinks work? Sometimes. Buying backlinks needs to be a very measured choice only deployed in specific, controlled situations. This is why earning backlinks is important.

Earned Backlinks: The Superior, Safe, and Solid Linking Strategy

An earned backlink is a backlink that happens organically. Maybe you wrote a thought-provoking article for an industry publication. Then, you posted about it on your LinkedIn. One of your followers clicked through, read the piece, and decided to link to it in one of their corporate blogs. Bingo! You got an earned backlink that has lots of heft and poses no risk to your standing with Google or other search engines (in fact, it likely helped boost your ranking).

Want to start guest posting to earn backlinks?

Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Being Published


Earned backlinks have sustainable, lasting advantages; yet, they take time and effort to get. Because you only want your earned backlinks to come from relevant and trustworthy sources, you need to make sure you’re investing in the process. It’s a long-term initiative, for sure. But it can have significant payoffs (and practically no risks, unlike buying backlinks). One client we worked with ended up with 223 organic backlinks within a year of publishing a single blog post.

How to Get Backlinks the Organic Way

If you’re eager to earn backlinks, you should start right away. Here are some of the best methods:

  • Put out exceptional content. The better your content, the more likely you’ll be able to win some earned backlinks. It’s impossible to encourage anyone to backlink to you if your content isn’t stellar in every way. You should also make sure that your interactive content contains nuggets and insights that may be hard to find elsewhere. For instance, a case study, video, or data-rich whitepaper would be very “linkable.”

  • Add backlinking to your marketing plan. Does your current marketing plan include strategies on how you’ll earn backlinks? If it doesn’t, you need to start working on getting those coveted backlinks you want. Case in point: Maybe you’ll want to start collaborating and partnering with other reputable companies or media teams. The more relationships you have, the better your chance of winning free, earned backlinks.

  • Thank people and sites that give you backlinks. When you earn a backlink (whether it was expected or not, such as from an influencer), acknowledge it. You can send an email, write a letter, or send a DM. It’s important to be gracious because you’ll not only show you’re appreciative, but also potentially set the stage for future backlinks from the same source.

The Backlinking Bottom Line

The desire for building links for SEO has spawned a lot of problematic behaviors, including buying spammy backlinks. Rather than put your site’s reputation on the line, think twice before hitting the “buy now” button to acquire backlinks. Though buying backlinks can work in very niche circumstances, it’s not a viable long-term strategy for improving your ranking.

While earning backlinks requires more patience, it gives your site more prestige and authority. In the end, you’ll be glad that you have authentic backlinks that serve as springboards to show search engines you deserve a page one keyword rank.

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Picture of Alyssa Patzius

About Alyssa Patzius

I'm the president of Intero Digital's Content & PR Division. Intero Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency whose Content & PR Division helps businesses improve their lead generation, SEO, sales enablement, and thought leadership — all powered by content marketing and PR.

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