In broad terms, whenever any user enters a query into a search engine, the search engine needs to determine how to return the best results. One key step is to figure out which pages on the web are related in any way to the query. Another key step is to evaluate which of the pages that relate to the query are the most important, or the most authoritative in regard to that query. One of the biggest factors in deciding that is the link profile of the site containing the web page being evaluated, and the link profile of that page itself.
In principle, each link to a web page is seen as a vote for that web page. In simple terms, if there are two pages that are equally relevant to a given search query, the page with the better inbound link profile will rank higher than the other page. However, the world does not reward those who sit back and wait for links to come to them. It is incumbent on the site publisher to go out and tell the world about their site and get people to link to it. Publishers who do not pursue link building are at high risk of losing their search engine traffic, or never building up their web sites to the point where the traffic they are getting meets their goals.
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A related concept to think about is whether or not the link is something that will help the site with its rankings for the long term. To illustrate, there are types of links that publishers can obtain to their sites that are against the search engine’s terms of service. For example, Google has taken a strong stance against the practice of buying links for the purposes of influencing rankings on the Google index. Yet many people still purchase links and it can and does work for many of them, at least in the short term.
However, as Google actively invests time in finding paid links (and other link schemes they deem to be against their terms of service), even if the links work in the short term for the publisher, there is no guarantee that they will work in the long term. This leads to a choice that every publisher must make: whether to pursue short term strategies, such as buying links, that may bring faster results with less effort, or to pursue longer term strategies that have much lower risk. For the record, we do not recommend pursuing paid links as a strategy. The risk is high, and the consequences of getting caught are high.