Search engine rankings have never been about the links

Posted on July 4, 2019

 

This week’s social media argument, as that seems to be how my life goes these days, centred on whether or not you should pay for links.

I honestly can’t believe this is still a question in 2019 but, somehow, it is. The issue arose when I was presented with the following advert on Facebook for a ‘white hat’ link building resource.

I commented on the ad to let them know, as I do, that any attempts to manipulate Google’s rankings by paying for links was against Google’s TOS (Terms of Service) so, therefore, could not be considered ‘white hat’. My comment was swiftly removed, and I kept seeing the advert in my feed.

Suitably angered, I decided then to warn others about it, as clearly this is still something people fall for. I posted the screenshots of the advert into a Facebook business group of which I’m a member, and explained how it’s against Google’s TOS and, while you may get a short-term increase in rankings for paying for links, you’re risking the long-term success of your website. Domains can actually become ‘burned’ through unethical practices, and paying for links certainly falls under that category. Once a domain has been burned, it’s pretty much time to ditch it and get a new one for your website.

Someone didn’t agree. Naturally, the reason they didn’t agree was because they specialised in link building and had a vested interest. They were of the opinion that you couldn’t possibly achieve any rankings for your website without links, and you can’t possibly gain any links without paying for them. A second person chipped in and believed them. Perhaps a customer of theirs? Perhaps someone who had paid for links elsewhere? Either way, they were of the same opinion: you can’t get any business from your website without first paying for links.

This is absolute hogwash.

First of all, you don’t need links to a website for it to rank. A website can rank for phrases related to its content without a single link – not one! A well-built website, constructed in the correct way with a sitemap and connected to Google Console, can have its latest content indexed within Google in just a few minutes. It can achieve rankings from Google in a very short time.

I know, because I have done this. Sites do not need links to get rankings or traffic.

Naturally, if you’re in a competitive field and you’re looking at generic search terms, then links would be advantageous. An established website, with several years of history and content under its belt, would also be useful for gaining rankings. If you’re talking about a brand-new website, it shouldn’t have links anyway. It’s unnatural.

Secondly, as mentioned previously, any attempt to manipulate Google rankings by paying for links is against Google’s TOS. If you spend money on links because the link will count as a ‘vote’ in Google, you are risking your website being penalised. Don’t do it. Not ever.

There is an extenuating circumstance to this. If you are paying someone for their ‘time’ in sourcing potential websites for you, and approaching them to add links in the form of guest posts, then this is acceptable as you’re not ‘paying for a link’. If anything of monetary value changes hands between you, the company you’re using and the website placing the link, however, then that is paying for a link.

Will Google ever find out? Maybe not, but if it does, is it worth the risk?

That’s what you need to decide. If you want to pay for links then go ahead and do it, so long as you’re aware of the risk. Are you happy that, should it go wrong, your domain could be rendered useless within Google? Are you happy to risk your website’s long-term performance in Google for some short-term increase in rankings?

If you’re happy with the risk, fair enough.

So how should you do it? This is what I attempted to explain on social media, but was clearly talking to someone who sells links.

In 2018, Google made an estimated $136.22bn. Much of that was made up from advertising revenue from Google AdWords. This is where businesses pay to place ads on Google through PPC. In order for Google to make that money, it needs people, like you and me, to use it when we’re looking for things. The reason we use Google – and not Bing, Yahoo or something else – is because Google tends to find the best websites that answer our questions when we search. The websites are relevant to what we’re looking for.

Now, here’s the clever part, why not make your website one of these relevant results? Rather than spending your time, money and effort on sourcing links or paying for links, why not make your website the best resource it can be for your industry? If there’s something a potential customer or client could possibly search for on Google, why not have your website feature a page containing the answer?

That way, when they search, your website is the most relevant result.

By doing so, you ensure your website is the best result, it answers the question the user posed and – here’s the really clever bit – by having the best content, your website will also attract links from related websites that also want to help their users. Your content will attract links.

This method also ensures your work, that is performed once in producing a page of content, continues to attract customers or clients, and build links for years to come.

It sounds really easy, but that’s because it is.

Meanwhile, this second person who claimed you needed links to attract any business ran an accountancy business. I checked his website and ran it through Copyscape.com. His content featured duplicate content; content that was copied from a variety of other accountancy websites. That’s why his website struggled to get rankings and visitors, not because of any lack of links.

Forget the links – look at your own content.

Darren Jamieson

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 15 years’ experience in these fields.

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