From The Vault – Should You Pay For Backlinks?
While we’re taking some time off over Xmas we’re publishing some of our most popular or interesting episodes from our archive. Enjoy this chat on one of the polarising topics in the SEO world – should you pay for backlinks?
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Local Digital 0:46
It’s time for the SEO show where a couple of nerds talk search engine optimization, so you can learn to compete in Google and grow your business online. Now, here’s your host, Michael and Arthur.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the SEO show. The first one for 2022. As always, I’m here with Michael Hagen. Yeah, I’m excited to be back. How are you going?
I’m pretty good. You the new and improved 2022 version of Arthur.
I wouldn’t say improved on you. I’m just the 2022 version a lot lately older and less improved. I wouldn’t say less, I’d say the same.
not much has changed since last month.
Yeah, six, six weeks or so. It’s been I think since we did it we we did say at the end of last year and I ever said that we’d be back. You know, mid June.
And here we are. Yeah. And early Feb.
But anyway, you know what, in Australia? We’ve been back at work. Yes, but it really officially kicks off after Australia Day, which was two days ago. So now we can get stuck into things. It’s official. Let’s do it. And we’re gonna get stuck in because we got to be topic today. Your favourite topic? One of one say my favourite in general, was the FCA. Just love talking. Yes, yeah. But then within SEO link building Link building is a big topic. And within the topic of link building a big topic
is should you pay for backlinks? Yes.
Cool. That’s so
we’ll see you next week.
Hope you got some value out of that. But look, should you pay for backlinks? It is a loaded question in the SEO world. Because, well, let’s say first Google doesn’t want you paying for links. And they make that clear. And they put propaganda, so to speak out there in the world to say that you shouldn’t pay for links. Then you have like agencies, muddying the waters, some will say we don’t link build, no, we don’t that’s the right way to do it. Or others will say we only get free links, we don’t pay for links. And then you have the reality of the way the world really is. Exactly. Which is you know, in some occasions, you should be paying for links other occasions. You shouldn’t be. Yeah, definitely. So we’ll jump into that today and chat about when you should be paying for them when you shouldn’t. And what are your thoughts on that topic? Arm?
So where do you want to start? Where you shouldn’t pay for links? Or
maybe let’s start with why people do pay for length. Okay. And and let’s have an honest chat about the landscape when it comes to link building. And that is if you own a website now, like a good website. When I say good, it means it has links. It’s ranking Google it gets traffic, you know, you have readers, it’s a real website or real blog, the real Yeah, site that people actually visiting. Yeah, yeah, you would have been over the last five years or however long you’ve rented, harassed by people trying to buy links from you. So you know your website’s worth something you’ve chances are you’ve already sold stuff before you’ve sold things. So you’ve been given money for a link. So you know if that’s valuable. So when you’re trying to link build, that’s the world that you’re going out into these website owners expect to be paid, because they’ve been paid many times before. So when people say, you know, and the free Link building is the way to do it, you pretty much cutting off the vast majority of websites out there, because if you know you’ve been paid for your site before, and that it’s valuable to other people for SEO purposes, you’re not just going to give it to them free because they asked for it. I mean, why would you? Why would you go out of your way to do something for free? Yeah, you wouldn’t. And it’s not even just doing something, you know, the value that you’re giving to the Absolutely, yes. And so that’s the world that we’re all working in. If we’re trying to do SEO. That’s the sort of baseline when you wouldn’t pay for links in my opinion, when you’re big. If you’re a big brand. Yeah,
if you can acquire links naturally. So if you’re like you said a big brand like Davy Jones, or, you know, Kerrigan, any any big website that gets links naturally from PR websites, news websites, just websites in general
or you are in First thing enough that that PR angle works, right? Like, sure. You gotta be like, because PR is hard, like people say just do some PR. Like, you’ve got to have an angle or some sort of hook that’s going to make it interesting for these journalists to write about LinkedIn.
Yeah. And you need to know the right people as well. Mm hmm.
Like, let’s, let’s say you’re a accountant. You’re not getting PR,
no, not related to something incredible, that will change the world. No one’s gonna care about it.
Exactly. So there might be one or two outliers that do that, then they have 1000s of others that want to rank. So then they can’t rely on just accumulating free links, but like a big tech brand, like a startup or something that’s getting pressed because they’ve taken on heaps of funding, or they’ve got a cool product. Yes, they can get links that way free of charge. Yep. The other way is, I guess, directories two point owes
citations, free free links. Yeah, that you always like to say don’t move the needle. Yeah, which they don’t. They’re good as a like a foundation if you’re starting from scratch, but they’re not going to, you know, put you to the top of Google
Now. So let’s say you’re not a big brand, you’re just a business, you’re a professional service business, and you want to rank in Google, you’re gonna need links. Google says not to pay for links. You’re talking to a few agencies, some are saying, we don’t pay for links, you just you know, we go out and try and get them for you. And we’ll report on it. Others might be upfront and say, Yes, we pay for links. It’s a bit of a minefield, like what do you believe? What do you go with? What’s the right approach?
Yeah, I personally, I think the agencies that say they don’t buy links will probably still buy links, they’re just trying to mask the fact that they’re buying links, because they’re worried that potential clients might know that Google, basically, in their guidelines says you shouldn’t be buying links. So it might be a red flag for them. So they just flat out lie to the client.
Yeah. The other thing they might do is run a private blog network, you know, like they own the websites themselves, and then build links that went and link off them. Yeah, great for the agency, because their costs are low. Because we’ll get to the cost of link building, like buying links in a minute. And they control the whole thing. But that too, is against Google’s guidelines, like operating a network of seven or more. So yeah. So yeah, if you coming back to that example of a professional service business, wanting to rank on the first page, your competitors or have 400 backlinks, you have 200. You can do all your on site, you can do your technical, but you do need to blink build, the algorithm still works this way. I know things like you know, matching intent of the search and the content and all that’s important, but links are also a vital, massive aspect of it. The business in that scenario does need to build links. And we find that for business like that, to do it at scale. To close the gap between them and the competitors each month, the easiest way is going to be to go out and pay website owners who know their websites valuable directly for the link. Yep. That’s sort of unavoidable.
No. I mean, yeah, we’ve done this for a long time. And yep, I can, it’s hard to count how many times we’ve gotten a free link. It’s it’s very hard. You have to have the right client, you know, the right brand, the right angle, a little bit of luck, a little bit of luck. A lot of time. So yeah, if you’re, if you’re just a small service business, there’s no way it’s scalable.
Yeah. So really, it’s inevitable that you pay. The better quality aside is the more expensive it will be generally speaking, yeah. Some website owners don’t truly know the value of their site. Others dramatically overestimate the value of their site. But we find typically a link will cost anywhere between, let’s say, 200, AUD to 1000 plus plus. Yeah. So that’s one link from one domain. And you need to go out and get 10 2050 100 of them. Yeah. So that’s sort of where if you’re working it, it’s tough, because let’s take a step back. It does rely on your risk appetite as well, risk versus reward, my profile is a business. But some people will be terrified of doing any form of paid link building because it’s against Google’s guidelines. And they’ll stick to on site and sort of not ranking. Basically, other people will be like, I don’t care what you do. I just want to rank, you know. So if everyone else is doing that, and that’s the way the world works, then I’m going to be doing it, though you do need to be as long as you’re going into it as a business owner with your eyes open that, yes, I’m going to invest X amount per month in paid links. I’m going to get y return in terms of number of links, and I’m okay with that. That sort of, you know, I know that ranking. I’m going to get all these leads and sales that’s worth doing on the off chance that something happens with the penalty.
Yeah, I like what you said off chance because it’s been a very long time since I’ve personally seen as a client’s website or anyone’s website beep otherwise, I feel like going all the days where your whole site will be wiped from the search results. Because I remember when I first started doing SEO, maybe 2012 2013 sites would get penalised and would be completely removed. Yeah. And it was a pain in the ass for lack of better words to try to get that penalty removed. Yeah, I remember, you know, situations back in the day where you’d have to keep manually requesting Google to review it could take weeks longer. And you might find that, you know, it’s still not good enough and you still have to go and disavow more links, so they’d make you crawl across broken Yeah, like sort of beg and plead to get pretty much Yeah, and I look, maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s just because we’re great. SEO is but it hasn’t happened for a while. Yep. So yeah,
a lot of the stuff in SEO like link building, you’re gonna say something
that I was just gonna say, I find that the risk, the reward outweighs the risk by far.
Yes. Whisk risk. Yeah, that weighs a whiff. They’re pretty light generally whisks. Yes, but um, it it does, like and we’re seeing things like stuff that used to happen back in the day, like, if you over optimise your anchor text profile. Yeah, you could be like algorithmically penalised, or sort of manually penalised. Now, in a lot of verticals, we go into where does seem super aggressive, like just curious. Yeah. exact match anchor text, link building on sites, obviously, link building sites. Yeah. And no punishment or problems for years? Well, for now, yeah. For now. That is a caveat. Yeah, things always change. But you know, if you can get a couple of years of like, super strong rankings and traffic and sales and like, yeah, row on the back of it. Problem is if you go and then I think scale up and then yeah, it’s backwards.
I think the problem is, it’s too hard for Google to algorithmically figure out whether links are real, Linkous like something that’s been purchased at scale. So unless they’re manually going through and finding footprints or, you know, looking at websites to see if, you know, looking at the backlink profile to see if they actually are I want to try and say sorry, basically manipulating the search results by buying links, and requires a human Yeah, that’s how I lost my set your camera before.
We’re actually recording video footage. That’s what we should have spoken about that at the start. Yeah, New Year 20. For the first time, not just our voices, you’re here. It’s our faces, you’ll see
awkwardly looking around at the cameras. It’s a bit distracting, but it’s okay. You’ll get you. I’ll get used to it. Yeah.
So let’s assume that that’s the case. We don’t even need to assume because we’re seeing it out there in the world. Coming back to the topic, should you buy links? In my opinion, it’s unavoidable. Yeah. And in most cases, you probably should, because your competitors are anyone ranking in any sort of competitive space, generally would be if you’re working with an agency, or a link building service, normally there, they should be upfront. Well, let me rephrase them. A link building service, if you’re investing money with them each month, you’re normally going to be charged per link price. And you know what you’re getting back by way of links, but if you’re working with an agency, where they say they don’t build links, and you know, they’ve got their own tactics and approaches, and they do it all in house, but they don’t actually pay and blah, blah, blah. You don’t really know what’s going on there. I kind of like the appeal of transparency, transparency, and clear link building budgets. So going into it, like if, if if you are comfortable with paying for links and using that as part of your SEO campaign? Yes. Which we would say you should be if you really want to get results. Yeah.
I mean, would we work with someone that wouldn’t want to do link building if we knew that we wouldn’t be able to get the results without doing it? I mean, that’s,
I know, well, that sounds like an ethical thing, right? Like, yeah, we could take your money each month just to write some blog posts for you,
but it’s not going to do anything. So yeah, we wouldn’t be working with them in the first place. Yep.
And we regularly do send that like at our agency, we have a minimum investment that you’re going to need to spend each month for, it’s even worth working with us. And that gives enough budget to do everything we need to do. And if you can’t afford to invest that then you probably shouldn’t work with any agency, because the ones that do take your money are going to be doing nothing, nothing or just blog posts or nothing, probably nothing. And on the link building, to me going out and building links, paid links, but on quality sites, because there’s so many metrics that you look at for quality. Like as we’ve said, in previous episodes, there’s over 20 Different things that will run every site through before we decide if we want to link from it. Yep, paid links on them is going to be much better than a really cheap and nasty agency building the PBN links are just spun junk, crappy, cheap things. And that is the option like if you’re spending 500 bucks a month on SEO 1000 1500 You’re not gonna get very far because as we said before, links on good sites anywhere from 200 to 1000 bucks per link. Yeah. So yeah, for me, the paid link Some quality sites is better than that bottom of the barrel, low end of the range of them.
I think it also comes back to the client. And you know whether or not they understand how link building works, because, you know, you might be pitching to a client, and the last how many links we build a month you tell them for. And then they’ll get back to you and say, Oh, this other agency said they’ll do 20 links per month. Yeah. So you know, they don’t understand the value of link building what a good link is not realising that the links that the other agencies building are probably free directory links, or, you know, the links that are going to move the needle, so to speak. So making sure that the client understands this, at the start of the campaign, when you’re pitching to them that you know, it’s definitely quality over quantity when it comes to link building.
And so what is the quality link? We’ve covered that in other episodes, but for mine, like the ones that you’re paying, it’s a website’s going to be run by a person, or maybe it’s run by a company, or a publishing brand, or something like that. They might have a couple of authors or something like that. But they’re a real brand. They’ve been around years. They have social profiles, they have traffic to their site, they have rankings themselves in Google, they themselves have a lot of links. It’s just a real website. Yeah, that is a good link. And we do this all day, every day, we have a whole team that deal with publishing, you know, publishers, website owners, when you reach out to them, you’re dealing with the person, you’re talking to them. And it’s like a business deal. Exactly. Every little link acquired is a little mini business deal where you sort of talk to them, you pitch the content you want to put on there and negotiate bit of back and forth. And you can’t do that for cheap, you just know, think about it and business owner. Exactly. And also,
I’m glad you touched on that, because that’s another thing that you kind of factor into the cost of Link building is the time it takes link builders to actually find these sites, get in touch with the blog owners or webmasters, and then start that conversation and probably have, you know, a dozen back and forth emails, before any content is even placed on the site. That takes time, you know. So doing that at scale takes a lot of time. Yeah. And that’s something that a lot of people probably don’t think about when you know, when you’re sending a report, and they see four links, or Yeah, I can understand on face value, they’re probably scratching their head saying on this is what I paid two grand for. But they don’t understand everything that’s going on behind the scenes scenes to get that link live.
Yeah. And conversely, they might not think, you know, they might just see dollars and say, Well, this one’s 500 bucks, I’m gonna go with this. And not even think about it. Well, okay, they’re out there talking to website owners and trying to get stuff placed on a website that the owner knows is valuable. How can it be 500? Like, am I getting good links to this? If you can’t be? So I guess you need to sort of look at it through the lens, though that lens like both sides ends of the spectrum.
I guess that’s where the transparency comes into place where, like you said, you know, being upfront and letting, letting them know, we do pay for links. And this is what’s involved from, you know, finding the sights, and writing the content and, you know, the publishing fees involved,
or not even like, I guess it’s they just need to know going into it. That, of course, that they could pay for length. Yeah, well, they could set your risk profile like this, this stuff that should be fleshed out with you, when you first start talking to an agency. Yeah. And they’re proposing a strategy. If you want to go the free route, sure. But it’s gonna take longer, you might get less things. It’s more up and down, like sporadic the links that you do get. You don’t have as much control over things like anchor text and the pages that it’s linking to, and you have to use tactics like PR like, are you interesting, are you just specialising in, like commercial litigation? If so, what’s the PR angle, you know? So there’s that. And then the paid side is yet you can go and pay for them scanner, shortcut everything. But it’s going to cost X amount per link to do it properly. And there is the, I guess, the elephant in the room that Google doesn’t want you to do. Yeah. Who cares what Google wants? Yeah. Because, really, there’s what Google wants and what they reward and they reward sites with what’s the length? Yeah. Yeah. But as long as that’s made clear, and you’re on board, then you just need to think about it. Like, you could spend 500 bucks on lengths, you could spend five grand, what’s probably going to be the better outcome for you as a business. Like how you’re going to get game changing rankings that propel your business to new new levels of growth of a $500 a month investment, or five grand in a competitive space. Probably the answer is pretty clear that right? Yes, five grand during the sales pitch. So anyway, I don’t really think there’s too much more to really dwell on like the answer to the question. Should you pay for links is most of the time Yes, yeah.
It’s unavoidable. Unfortunately, like, like you said, kind of recap. Unless you’re a huge brand, unless you already have a very strong backlink profile and acquired links naturally, then you’re going to need to at some stage pay for backlinks if you want to do SEO properly. Yeah. And, you know, getting free links is fine. But you know, it’s probably something He wouldn’t engage in agency to do especially for a small business just starting out, because it’s not going to, it’s going to take too much time, no one’s going to want to dedicate that much time to get free links, because it’s not scalable. You know, there’s, it’s not going to work. You’re not going to get links, you’re not going to get results and it’s not going to work out. So, yeah,
there’s time pressure. You’re paying them every month. And Mike exactly to coming in and dribs and drabs? Yeah. Now, you could always go out and hunt down website owners and negotiate back and forth with them and pay them direct and cut out an agency you want to do that? I don’t know, most businesses probably don’t. And you’re talking to an SEO guy. So I’ve done? Yeah, because you know what I’m
saying, as, as someone that, you know, if you’re engaging in SEO agency, then obviously you’re not going to get out of your way to handle the link building myself not understanding what it is because it’s you won’t know what a good link is. Exactly. You have to teach yourself SEO. And then at that point, you might as well just do the whole SEO on your site, rather than just the link building. So
and you want to be spending your time working on big ticket stuff. Exactly. It’s not negotiating links. Yeah. That’s where agencies come in. Really, that’s where they have the value. They know where to go. They have relationships, they have the resources, tools, or the software subscriptions that go into it. Sure, you can go do it yourself and cut out whatever margin the agency makes it that’s fine to, but it really just comes back to you. What are you goals? What market are you in? Is free going to work for you unlikely in most cases, so probably go down the peg route. Sounds good. That’s done and dusted. Isn’t it funny? Well, okay, done. I’ll have my people talk to your people after this call.
Well, this, we have the same people. So
we do. Alright, that’s enough from us for the first episode back for 22. Next week, we are going to give you a little free link building tip.
Hang on, we just told people which they should pay for links. I know but,
but what we thought would be cool is there is ways of doing things free. It’s gonna be sporadic. It’s up and down. We’ll talk about it next week. But we thought following on from this one where we’ve just banged on about paid, it would be cool to give you a little free link building looking forward to it. The new one we haven’t given before. So we’ll see you next week. In the meantime, happy viewing
Transcribed by https://otter.ai