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Link farms and the risks of buying backlinks

The toughest part of search engine optimization (SEO) is that it’s almost impossible to find two experts who offer the same advice. Google has never revealed its exact search engine algorithm, and likely never will. So, marketers are often left to figure out what works with SEO via time-consuming trial and error.

That being said, there are two components of SEO that are considered to be universal: Unique content and backlinks. But neither of these elements is as simple as it first seems.

Buying backlinks in 2011
For years, the fastest and easiest way for webmasters to boost their SEO power was to buy batches of links — hundreds or thousands at a time. Today, that’s no longer considered a very wise move.

Why? Just as it’s cracked down on “content farms” that offer sloppy, unoriginal content, Google has devalued the power of “link farms,” too. These are link sellers that don’t offer targeted, natural-looking links, but instead sell a package of backlinks that aren’t dependent on your niche and offer no real value to web searchers.

Opinions vary as to whether Google will penalize — or worse, ban — websites that they think are buying their backlinks, as opposed to earning them naturally. Typically what will happen is that the backlinks will simply be ignored — meaning you’ve wasted your money, and however much time you’ve invested in making your decision and your purchase.

But it can get worse. If you’re buying from a “link farm”, and Google knows it to be such, then the actual natural links on your sites — the good links — will be devalued too. On top of that, all your entire SEO efforts, even those unconnected to the batch of backlinks you’ve just bought, will suffer.

The basic idea is to buy backlinks that are sound. Unfortunately, this means that many of the backlink deals you may find on forums are to be avoided, unless you have reason to believe the seller is a serious SEO professional who’s just as concerned about his or her reputation as the money they’re raking in.

How to buy backlinks
If you’re still set on buying your backlinks, here are the main ideas you should consider first:

Get targeted, niche links, not large batches. Backlinks that aren’t related to your niche aren’t going to do you any good. These are the “link farms” that Google typically notices — and penalizes.

Get quality, not quantity. If you’re buying backlinks,  your money will be much better spent on buying quality links to sites that have solid PageRank and are relevant to your niche. A handful of these links is worth more than 1,000 cheap, catch-all backlinks.

Get guarantees. Affiliates interested in paying for improved SEO should spend their money more wisely. That means not only buying backlinks, but getting a guarantee that they’ll work (if possible). And if you do get a guarantee, make sure that whoever’s making it understands your niche and analytics. If they don’t, it’s hard to believe that they can really guarantee SEO improvement.

Get a package. Failing an absolute guarantee, if you’re dedicated to the idea of buying backlinks, you should look for backlinks that come as part of a bigger package. This can include:
• Targeted profile backlinks
• Links via social bookmarking site
• Links via article submission
• Links on high PageRank sites

What’s next?
“You’re not building a sustainable competitive advantage when you pay for links,” writes Gab Goldenberg at WebProNews. Backlinks offer a quick SEO boost at best, and serious Google penalties at worst. The end result is that they’re probably not worth the risk — unless you find a deal with specific advantages to your site.

Later this week we’ll explore whether or not this advice on buying backlinks applies to one of the net’s hottest phenomena, Fiverr. In the meantime, sound off in the comments and let us know your backlink buying experience.