Does Buying Backlinks Boost Traffic?
Buying backlinks to boost traffic has been a major driving force behind the SEO industry. The idea is simple: Google (and other search engines) place a lot of weight on websites linking to you. If you have a lot of websites linking to you, the search engines will start to recognize you as an authority website and will rank you highly in their search engine for keywords relevant to your website. The more links, the more weight you have in the SERPs. Ergo, buy as many links as you possibly can. Game over.
Well, it could be game over, but not in a way that you would like. When you purchase backlinks to your site, you're almost never going to be buying merit-based links. Merit-based links are backlinks that are pointing to your site that are editorially vetted. This means that a human eye looked over the link, looked over your website, and decided to place the link on their site. That's a tough link to get.
Google can recognize a merit-based link. They know that comment links, for example, are easy to get. They don't carry much weight. They also know that a link on a news website, like Fox News, carries a lot of weight. You can't just show up on Fox's website and drop a link into one of their news stories. You have to be vetted by an editor first.
Matt Cutts has even told webmasters, explicitly, that merit-based links are the way to go:
You don't trust Matt Cutts? Yeah, there are many people on the blogosphere that don't like Cutts. He destroys the blackhat dream of gaming the system and taking the first position on the search engine for any keyword. However, Cutts wouldn't have his job if he was incompetent or a liar. Many websites have benefited from going strictly merit-based. Take Twitter for example. There was a time when that website was unknown. The same holds true for Facebook.
While it's true that not all websites are exciting enough to go viral, it's also true that not all websites (and businesses) are made for the web. If you can come up with an exciting way to engage your visitors, then you'll have no problem getting backlinks and traffic.
OK, now for the bad news. There is a school of thought that says buying backlinks definitely works. Entire businesses are built around this concept. In fact, big names like J.C. Penny have been caught buying backlinks. The truth is, a lot of big-name corporations violate Google's TOS and get away with it.
These large companies have the marketing dollars and financial weight to stay out of hot water. Take J.C. Penny. When it got caught buying links, it disavowed any knowledge of the activity stating that it outsourced its SEO. It's hard to believe that a company like that could be totally ignorant of what was going on the whole time. However, they came to an agreement with Google and are back in the SERPs and ranking well again.
Whether or not you can buy links to increase your search rank (and thus your traffic) really depends on how long you plan on being in business and whether you think you can get away with it or not. Some SEO experts swear that buying backlinks is safe as long as you "fly under the radar." Well, the very fact that you have to shield your activity from Google's sight only brings up the question: is this really legitimate?
The penalty for being caught is severe - banishment from the SERPs. The reward? You might obtain higher rankings. The key word here is "might." Do you need massive backlinks to get a good flow of traffic? Not at all.
Take Eric Ward. He's hated by some, loved by most. The number of links pointing to his website make him look like a rookie linkbuilder compared to some SEO companies. But Ward is like a linkbuilding Jedi master. He's definitely not hurting for business, and he only gets merit-based links to his site.