Most of the links you are building (or paying someone to build) are completely useless in terms of increasing search engine visibility. And some might actually be harming your visibility in search engines.
Let's back up.
What's a link?
Put simply by w3schools:
A hyperlink (or link) is a word, group of words, or image that you can click on to jump to another document.
If you want to read more about hypertext links, look here, here and here.
By now you should know that when someone searches on Google, their machines search the index for matching pages and return the results they believe are the most relevant to the user.
Relevancy is determined by over 200 factors, one of which is the PageRank for a given page. PageRank is the measure of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other pages. In simple terms, each link to a page on your site from another site adds to your site's PageRank. Not all links are equal: Google works hard to improve the user experience by identifying spam links and other practices that negatively impact search results. The best types of links are those that are given based on the quality of your content.
You should also know that:
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.
I know that some of you think you're pretty smart. You've found a link scheme that works. Good for you.
Others of you used to feel that way. That was until the Penguin Update. Now, instead of paying to build links, you're paying to have them removed.
Which, for many of you, is probably just more wasted money.
You see, you read the part where Google says that they use links to rank pages. But you failed to read the part where they said that not all links are created equal. And to be frank, that's putting it mildly.
Most links on the web are pure crap.
Most links exist for the sole purpose of gaming search engines. Millions of websites exist for this purpose alone. So, to say that not all links are created equal doesn't really tell the whole story. You're better off with the mantra: the overwhelming of links on the internet are completely worthless.
And that's not even to mention links that cause manual webspam actions.
That's why, despite paying thousands of dollars for link building, your site's search visibility has not improved one iota or has suffered.
So, what's a lawyer who relies on clients finding her on the internet to do?
Answer: Create useful pages that people actually want to link to.
In other words, real stuff. Perhaps something like this.
Stop using your website, blog and social media to advertise. Start using these tools to create things for your target audience.
And if you're going to build links, build them where they matter. Build them on sites that are relevant to your practice. Build them on sites that might actually drive meaningful traffic. In other words, build them on real sites. Not sites that exist solely to trick Google into thinking that there's something worthwhile on your site.
Link building isn't inherently bad or unethical. It all depends on how, where and why it's being done.