As with everything else that one intends to purchase, the same applies to links – perhaps even more so for links, one must be very careful in assessing them. Does the price match the quality? Can you expect to get what the seller claims from the purchased links, as you anticipate?

In this post, we will take a closer look at how you can assess the quality of links and what pitfalls you should be aware of.

Do Paid Links Work in Google?

Let me start with the short answer: Yes (often, but not always).

Google would like us to believe that purchased links don’t work at all. That is far from the truth. Although they attempt to overlook purchased links, in practice, it is an impossible task. They only succeed partially.

Interestingly, they are aware of this as well. Sometimes it slips between the lines, such as when one of Google’s leading search engine people, John Muller, recently responded to a question on Reddit about what can be done to address visibility issues.

“… ‘sometimes it’s not something you can fix by just buying a bunch of links.'”

In other words – sometimes you can indeed 🙂

That has also been my practical experience over many years. Purchased links can certainly help strengthen your authority in Google and consequently improve your ranking on relevant searches.

However, as mentioned, it doesn’t always work as well as desired. So let’s take a closer look at why that is the case.

Paid Links Should Never Stand Alone

A golden rule in link building is “diversity”. The more different types of links you can obtain from various websites, the better. The more natural your link profile appears, the less it will stand out as “constructed”, reducing the risk of suddenly losing visibility because Google penalizes a specific type of link.

The stronger your natural link profile is (meaning the quantity and quality of the links that have naturally accrued), the more purchased links you can get away with without appearing unnatural.

If you have virtually no links or have just started a new website, then you shouldn’t rush out and solely purchase links. You should also ensure that a good portion of the links you acquire come from other sources.

Not All Paid Links Have SEO Value

Google, as mentioned, attempts to filter out paid links and disregard them. Therefore, when purchasing links, you should try to assess how likely it is that Google can perceive – or knows – that it is a purchased link.

According to marketing legislation in most countries, consumers are entitled to know when advertising is advertising. This also applies to the purchase and sale of links. A website selling links must therefore indicate this. If it doesn’t, both you and they could risk fines.

But this declaration can be done in many ways, and some of them are a bit harder for Google to detect.

Many of the websites selling links write “sponsored content” in a piece of graphics. They comply with the law, but Google generally does not see it because they do not scan graphics for text content.

Other websites write it as ordinary text, making it much easier for Google to identify – and they do. So, refrain from purchasing links from such websites (at least if you want value in Google from it).

Google also has real people to look at this kind of thing. But they naturally have limited time. They prioritize accordingly.

In my experience, they are good at manually “catching” the major media outlets selling links. Therefore, you should not expect to gain a lot of link value in Google from purchasing an advertorial in one of the major newspapers.

Conversely, many of the immensely numerous smaller networks of blogs often slip through Google’s filters. There are too many, and they are too small for them to catch everything. Far from it.

So, to summarize: If is often more likely that you get SEO value from buying links from smaller networks or from sites that do not normally sell links and from sites that do not indicate in ordinary (Google-readable) text that your links are purchased.

But that’s not the only thing you should consider when assessing the purchase of links …

Secret Networks Are Best

As mentioned, Google tries both automatically and editorially to identify websites that sell links. Another good rule of thumb when purchasing links is, therefore, that it is best to buy them from “secret networks” and sites that do not advertise that you can purchase links.

You may recall an article I wrote a few years ago: “The Art of Robbing a Bank.” The point of the article is that if you want to “cheat” Google (which they would consider purchasing links to be), you should make an effort to ensure they don’t detect it.

One thing you should definitely avoid is purchasing links from sellers who publish lists of the sites they sell links to in public – whether the lists are freely accessible or shared in Facebook groups. Google often checks these too!

Purchase links from sellers who understand this and treat their websites as confidentially as possible. Some do it better than others.

Buy Links in Editorial Context

Links that people see and actually click on have greater value than links that almost no one sees or bothers to click on.

So, it’s best if the links you purchase appear in relevant articles, serving as inspiration for those who read them.

Links in the footers of sites, on the other hand, are an example of a type of link that almost no one sees or clicks on.

Even better is if the entire website you are getting links from is relevant to your business. So, if you, for example, sell flower pots, links from a gardening magazine or gardening blog would be better than a link from a site about cars or rockets.

In this regard, a completely subjective assessment may also be appropriate – is it a website that you think your business should be associated with? Does it seem like a trustworthy and decent website? It may not necessarily mean much in relation to Google – or maybe it does after all.

Websites that subjectively appear more genuine – more credible, polished, and good, tend to perform better in Google, and thus, probably pass on a little more link value.

Only Purchase Permanent Links!

Some of those who offer you to purchase links have a time limit on them. I would stay far away from that kind of offer. If you purchase a link, those you buy it from should guarantee that they will not actively remove it.

This does not mean that links you have purchased cannot disappear over time. They do. It could be because sites close down or due to errors, etc. But the link seller should not actively remove the links you have purchased.

It may be a good idea to keep an eye on the permanent links you have purchased. If they disappear due to an error, you might be able to have it corrected to get it back.

What Is the Value of Links from a Site?

Many of those who sell links rely on metrics like Domain Rating from Ahrefs.com or similar indicators to assess the strength of a website, hence estimating the value a link from it might hold.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with considering Domain Rating, it’s simply not sufficient.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that Domain Rating may not necessarily equate to the authority Google attributes to a domain.

The exact method Google employs to evaluate links is known only to a select few within Google. Ahrefs has endeavored to create a sensible calculation model, which, while not entirely flawed, is often not entirely precise and almost never comprehensive on its own.

A slightly more precise model has been developed by the company Majestic.com. Their link analysis model is divided into two parts: Trust Flow and Citation Flow.

Citation Flow resembles Ahrefs Domain Rating to some extent. It assesses all links, including links from subsequent links in a ripple effect, somewhat closer to how Google measures it.

Trust Flow solely measures link value from quality sites—editorially chosen sites and links from these. It’s an attempt to mimic the way Google also filters links.

If both Trust and Citation Flow are high, it’s a very positive sign, and in my experience, it closely aligns with Google’s evaluation.

Conversely, if there’s a high Citation Flow and a much lower Trust Flow, it could indicate that while there are many links, there might also be many of insufficient quality, which Google may filter out.

For instance, looking at one of the larger forums in Denmark: Amino.dk, the domain has a Domain Rating of 66.

Looking at Majestic.com, Amino.dk boasts a good Trust and Citation Flow of 45 and 39, respectively.

This paints a consistent picture of Amino.dk’s link authority as high. This is further emphasized by the nearly 7,000 keywords Amino.dk currently ranks for on page 1 of Google.

By considering all three measurement methods, you obtain a much more precise picture of a domain’s strength. However, relying solely on Domain Ratings is not advisable.

But even this isn’t enough. You should also conduct your own assessments of the domain’s authority and the quality of its links.

Link Diversity: How Good is the Link Spread?

Having numerous links and perhaps a good Domain Rating isn’t sufficient. Diversity, as mentioned, is crucial, and two simple methods to examine this are to look at the spread of links in terms of unique domains, IP addresses, and IP subnets.

Through platforms like Ahrefs.com or Majestic.com, you can observe both the number of different domains linking to a website and the number of different IP addresses and IP subnets they originate from.

Let’s revisit Amino.dk.

The IP report on Ahrefs.com typically groups all IP addresses into IP subnets. In this context, IP subnets are defined as IP addresses sharing the same first three numerical sections.

For instance, looking at the first subnet on the list, there are links from domains residing on 15 different IP addresses, all starting with 182.162.17.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Google doesn’t disregard links just because they come from the same IP subnet.

Even major hosting providers often have only one or very few IP subnets. Naturally, since there are many sites on their network, there can be many links from them to yours.

Nonetheless, spread is an expression of diversity. If too many sites linking to you are from the same—or very few—subnets, it could indicate that they’re all acquired from similar types of sites—perhaps a link network.

In Ahrefs.com, you can also see the total number of unique IP addresses. In Amino’s case, there are 2,000, spread across 1,321 subnets. That’s a commendable spread.

The number of unique domains can also be checked on Ahrefs.com. In Amino’s case, links come from a total of 12,233 domains.

In the report, you can also see how many of these links have, and do not have, the NOFOLLOW attribute—a code a website can assign to links, informing Google not to attribute value to the link for various reasons stated in the code.

You can also filter the different types of links, and again, diversity is a good sign.

As you can see, the majority of links pointing to Amino.dk are without the NOFOLLOW attribute. But there are also some with it. However…

Do NOFOLLOW Links Have Any Value?

In theory, NOFOLLOW links shouldn’t have value. But as with much of SEO, it’s not that straightforward.

Firstly, it would be highly unnatural for a website to have no NOFOLLOW links. A natural link profile also includes NOFOLLOW links. So, for that reason alone, it’s actually good to have some NOFOLLOW links.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that the NOFOLLOW attribute is merely a “signal”—not a “command.” Google reads the signal and, along with other signals, determines how to interpret it.

My practical experience suggests that Google apparently attributes direct link value to many NOFOLLOW links. Which ones exactly, and when and why this happens, I cannot say for certain.

But does this mean you can safely buy NOFOLLOW links?

No, there’s still a higher likelihood overall that links without the NOFOLLOW attribute provide value. So when I purchase links, I aim for those without it. In addition I’ll naturally acquire NOFOLLOW links, as I always work with other, more natural methods of link building too.

Stability of Link Value

The number of unique domains, IPs, and IP subnets is a snapshot in time. It’s a good start, but you should also look at the trend.

A website steadily increasing its authority over a long period is good. A website achieving the same in a very short time is somewhat more suspicious.

Below, you can see an example of a domain I considered purchasing links from. Its current Domain Rating is 52—seemingly good. But look at the trend…

It’s quite apparent that this domain has received a substantial influx of links in a very short time. While Ahrefs.com might rate it highly, I don’t, and I doubt Google does either.

And you can actually validate this in other ways…

How Many Keywords Does a Website Rank Well For?

As mentioned, the aforementioned domain seems somewhat suspicious. So let’s see if it ranks for anything at all. We can check this in Ahrefs.com…

As you can see, it’s only present for 22 keywords.

And if we look solely at page 1 rankings, they actually don’t have a single one!

That’s truly unimpressive and underscores my initial impression of the domain.

As you might have guessed, I didn’t purchase a link from this website on this occasion.

Even if a website has a fair number of decent rankings, you should also take a closer look at the trend. Is it moving up or down?

A website that had many good rankings but suddenly loses many of them is not one I would purchase links from.

Purchasing Links from Abroad

It’s always best if the links you acquire for your website are relevant to the content you have. However, that being said, all links can hold value. This includes links from websites primarily in languages other than your own.

A certain amount of links from websites from other countries will also contribute to strengthening diversity. This is beneficial. However, it shouldn’t be the predominant part of your link profile.

So, the same principle applies here—as with the purchase of links in general: Use them as a supplement.

When I mention foreign links here, it’s because you can also find really good deals on quality links abroad at prices far below those in Denmark – where I live. But be cautious; there’s an equivalent amount of junk without any value. It requires very careful evaluation to purchase such links!

Summary: Buying Links

I understand that the above may seem a bit extensive, and yes, purchasing links certainly isn’t entirely easy—at least not if you want to avoid buying a pig in a poke.

However, if you want to ensure that you’re buying links that provide real value, you should be very meticulous. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of junk on the market. But there are also good products on the shelves. It’s your—and your potentially competent advisor’s—responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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