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Is It Illegal to Buy Backlinks?

Is It Illegal to Buy Backlinks?

 Buying backlinks is a common search engine optimization (SEO) tactic used to improve a website's ranking in search engines like Google. However, Google has strict guidelines against manipulating search rankings, so buying backlinks does violate their policies in most cases. But is it actually illegal? Here is an overview of the legal issues surrounding paid backlinks and recommendations for ethical link-building practices.

Google directly states in their Webmaster Guidelines that buying or selling links that pass PageRank is against their policies. Passing PageRank refers to links that influence how Google ranks websites and pages in their search results. Some specific quotes from Google's guidelines:

"Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link."

"Link schemes, such as selling links that pass PageRank, or participating in link networks designed to boost Google rankings, violate Google’s quality guidelines."

So Google defines paid links and link schemes as violations of terms that can lead to manual or algorithmic penalties. This means getting caught buying or selling backlinks risks harming your site's ranking and traffic from Google searches.

While buying backlinks violates Google's policies, it is not necessarily illegal in the sense of federal or state laws. There are currently no specific laws in the US that prohibit buying backlinks or manipulating search engines.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority over deceptive marketing practices, but they have not specifically addressed SEO link buying. Their role generally focuses more on clear disclosure of paid advertising and endorsements.

So buying backlinks exists in a gray area where it violates search engine guidelines but does not clearly break US laws. However, other countries do have stricter laws regarding manipulating search rankings, such as India.

Risk of Lawsuits

That said, there are still risks of lawsuits regarding buying links, especially if deceit or fraud is involved. For example, a company could sue another for false advertising if they promote a site by selling links while posing as a legitimate news site. Risks include:

  • Trademark infringement
  • Unfair competition
  • False advertising claims
  • Consumer protection lawsuits

Issues with disclosing sponsorships and financial connections can also lead to potential liability in some cases when buying links.

As their guidelines mentioned earlier clearly state, Google issues penalties to websites caught buying or selling links. Some examples of Google penalties include:

  • Manual actions - These involve Google reviewers issuing direct warnings or punishments for link schemes. Consequences can range from ranking decreases to removing pages from their index.
  • Algorithmic demotions - Google's software also detects unnatural link patterns and reduces rankings accordingly. Their various algorithm updates target manipulative link-building tactics.
  • Sandboxing - Websites with excessively purchased links might end up sandboxed, meaning they rank poorly during Google's probationary period.

Recovering from Google penalties often requires removing bad links, documenting violations, and requesting reconsideration from Google reviewers. Preventing issues from manipulative links is always preferable to the recovery process.

The risks of buying links clearly outweigh the potential rewards given Google's sophisticated abilities to detect and penalize link schemes. Here are some recommended strategies for building links legally and ethically:

  • Focus on high-quality content - Creating genuinely useful content that readers want to reference provides organic opportunities for others to link to your site.
  • Earn links outreach - You can build relationships with other sites through outreach, guest posts, interviews, or other creative means to earn backlinks. But be upfront about commercial relationships.
  • Leverage existing networks - Connect with past clients, colleagues, or contacts to see if they would be interested in referencing your new site. But avoid mass outreach spam.
  • Prioritize relevance - Links from high-authority yet irrelevant sites can seem unnatural to Google algorithms. Seek niche-specific sites relating closely to your industry or content.
  • Monitor anchor text - Having excessive anchor text examples with commercial terms like "buy now" looks manipulative. Keep anchor text varied and natural.

While building backlinks takes significant effort and time, long-term results based on merit and sound reputation-building tend to fare better than short-term schemes to manipulate search rankings. Avoiding purchased links keeps your site compliant and able to focus on crafting content that earns genuine interest.


In summary, buying backlinks does violate Google's guidelines and can carry penalties including demoted rankings. While not clearly illegal, link buying still poses some legal risks related to fraud, false advertising, and unfair competition. Given the measuring abilities of modern search algorithms, tactics perceived as manipulative link schemes tend to do more harm than good. By focusing efforts instead on establishing sites as helpful resources in their field, following ethics codes, and building relationships with genuine enthusiasts, companies can earn organic link recognition in their niche. While quick fixes like link purchases seem tempting for the competitive demands of SEO, establishing genuine expertise and connections dedicated to serving users provides greater rewards.

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