This is a topic that always stirs up debate in the SEO forums with the white hat SEOs claiming that it is illegal, unethical, immoral and probably fattening. Those of a more practical bent note that in cases where the selling and buying of links were blatant and on a wholesale scale, Google has chosen to penalize severely both customers and sellers, in about 99.999% of the cases there appears to be no problem.
This is not to say that there are not attempts to devalue such links, with some sites reporting that their links did not appear to be passing Pagerank or helping much in the rankings, and there are those that say the infamous Google “sandbox penalty” was initiated to discourage the buying of links.
What to avoid when buying links
Like any commercial transaction, you need to evaluate your supplier to ensure that he is reliable and can deliver what he promises. But it's up to the buyer to specify what he wants and so you should beware of the following things which may be red flags to search engines:
- Don't buy links from sites that do not show a good PageRank.
- Do not buy a run of site links which have a link with the same text on every page of ten thousand page site, or even a few hundred pages.
- Don't buy links in large batches from one site. I recommend not buying more than 25 links on any one site.
- Make sure that you know where the links are coming from and verify that they are in fact there and are normal href type links.
Things to look for when buying links
Just as not all retailers offer the same value for money, not all link sellers offer the same value for a given price. Here are a few things to look for:
- A recommendation from someone who has done business with the company before.
- A company who is not brand new
- A company that has many different sites on different topics where they offer links so that in the future if the relevancy of the page becomes important you will not have to start over again.
- A company that gives you some control over the placement and wording of the links.
Buying links is not so much different in my opinion than the practice of many large SEO companies who develop a few hundred sites for their own use in order to quickly and easily gain links for their customers. It can be a valuable tool but like any tool, it may hurt you if it is misused.
When sourcing links commercially buy in small batches from a variety of sites. Each batch of 25 or so links should preferably be on a page with a unique IP address and not on the same Class C address range as the other sites you are buying from.
Don't use the same anchor text all the time, if your anchor text is large green widgets you can use that in a few places and perhaps use green widgets in others, and large widgets on yet other sites.