Last Updated on by Artem K.
Wondering whether to pay for links*? 😉
Me and my team at LinksHero, a link building service agency, decided to research just that.
In this post I share my findings after investigating 22 links that were paid for by one of the fairly known marketers from the SEO field.
I will also show that paying for links is a waste of time, money and effort.
Table of Contents
There are a few forms of paid links (e.g. packages from link farms, PBNs…)
In this particular case, I look at links that were purchased as a form of native advertising AND had a “follow” tag (it’s Google’s policy to use “nofollow” tag for sponsored content).
How Links Are Bought & Sold These Days
Unlike all the other scammy looking “white hat white label” link building agencies, at Linkshero we help real businesses earn backlinks.
We help them to become freaking awesome so that 1 year later, even if we don’t work together anymore, their websites get links organically…
…because they publish jaw-dropping (!) awe-inducing (!!) amazingly beautiful (!!!) content that literally prompts people to think:
Maaan, that’s awesome! Gonna link to it in my next article!!
With such high expectations, Linkshero’s strategy is non-surprisingly simple (i.e. KISS all the way!) and requires 2 steps:
- Step 1: Build amazing content (the goal is 10 times more awesome than your best competitor)
- Step 2: Tell those that might be interested in it (i.e. blogger outreach)
We also do guest posting campaigns and it is during those we get emails like this:
And like this:
They basically say – “if you want a link from us, you have to pay”.
Mind you, all that with them openly accepting guest posts without mentioning any form of payment on their GP guidelines page (not a bad monetization strategy by the way…it’s just stupid).
This is how sneaky webmasters sell links these days.
They don’t openly state that on their websites, but rather send you a quote with their reply.
Oh, btw, Google hates that.
Can Google Tell That The Link Is Purchased?
There is a big debate going about that in the SEO community.
There are 2 camps.
Camp 1: Impossible!
How would Google know that this is a purchased link?!
Look at it – it’s impossible to tell unless you can see the email exchange.
Camp 2: Of course!
If they sell links to you, they sell them to anybody – this is how footprints appear.
It’s very obvious.
My Point of View
I help real businesses to strive in the years to come.
It means that I am not into using tricks that try to outsmart Google in the short-run, but get your ass burned in the long-run…with one-two next Algo Updates.
Spotting weirdly-looking anchor texts is not that hard to a trained eye.
Look at it:
You don’t really need to be Professor X to read that…
On top of that, we have Garry Illyes, House Elf and Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google, saying that buying links is like throwing money out the window:
The Link Buying Dilemma
Every link builder considered buying links (or just bought them) at some stage.
I am no exception.
In fact, I was considering to include that type of service into our offer not so long ago.
The dilemma I had was internal – I just didn’t feel it’s a right thing to do.
By no means am I a saint, but that’s not what I am talking about…
Time for a short story…
A few years back I did some gymnastics.
There is an element called “stalder press” which gymnasts use to get to handstand.
And then there is a guy asking a coach whether he should first learn stalder press or a handstand.
“What do you press to, if you don’t have a handstand?”, – was the reply.
Link building is kind of similar.
Wil Reynolds put it nicely during The Inbounder, a digital SEO conference I attended in Madrid in April:
SEO gives your website a chance and you need to be ready when you have it.
Not getting it?
Here is what I mean.
Link building will improve your rankings and put you up in the search results, but when people come to your website…are you ready for that?
Do you have amazing content that grabs their attention and shows Google how much they love it so it can promote your in rankings even further?
The answer should be a solid YES because otherwise, you are just not ready for link building – you’d be your wasting time.
My Little Paid Links Case Study
A week ago I was discussing this exact subject of link buying with an online friend of mine, a prominent SEO blogger.
He then sent me a screenshot which belongs to another well-known marketer that buys links using the path I described above.
I then remembered Tim Soulo (of Ahrefs) mentioning that monitoring paid links is another time-consuming activity, which needs to be done because there are quite a few shady webmasters that would remove your link in a certain time period (or they would sell it to your competitor 😉 ).
This got me thinking – I had a screenshot with 27 URLs that I knew had paid links included…I also had their dates of placement and their cost to that marketer (they also included DAs).
So, why not check which links were still live?
My lovely VA typed out the screenshot to a spreadsheet and here is what it looks like:
I had to get rid of the initial screenshot because it would be too easy to know the person and it’s not them who I want to get.
My point is against link buying in general – it’s a waste of money.
It’s also laziness and lack of patience (creating amazing stuff requires both of these).
There are 27 links but only 22 were paid for – the other 5 were obtained via existing relationship and unpaid guest posting.
So for the purpose of my analysis, I threw out those 5 and continued on with the 22.
Here is a bunch of key metrics that you can look into:
- Time period when the links were acquired: Dec 2016 – May 2017 (writing this in June 2018)
- Total links paid for: 22
- Total cost of the links purchased: $1550
- Average link cost: $70.45
- Number of the links definitely lost: 7
- Percentage of the links definitely lost: 31.82% (7 of 22)
- Cost of the links definitely lost: $550 (!)
Very interesting to see how this smaller scale study of mine shows the average link cost to be 5 times less than what Ahrefs found in 2018 – $361.44.
Is it blog quality?
Or someone’s ability to bargain? 😀
2 Other Interesting Observations
Yes, my sample size is tiny, but it gives a good opportunity to look into the data in a lot more detail.
Here is what grabbed my attention specifically.
1. Most of Backlinks Lost (~3+) Are Attributed to One Single Client
That’s an interesting insight that suggests how some niches are more vulnerable to the consequences of buying native dofollow links.
2. Metrics in Details
All the metrics are recorded by me with Ahrefs at the moment of writing.
Here is the breakdown of all the 27 links from the screenshot with their respective average prices in brackets:
- DR 1-10: 6 ($49.29)
- DR 11-20: 3 ($43.33)
- DR 21-30: 1 ($75.00)
- DR 31-40: 5 ($75.00)
- DR 41-50: 3 ($33.33)
- DR 51-60: 1 ($80.00)
- DR 61-70: 3 ($70.00)
- DR 71-80: 3 ($80.00)
- DR 81-90: 1 ($0.00)
It’s quite interesting, but there is no clear “higher DR, higher $ asked”, but again – the sample size is small and I’d say that the person doing it knows how to bargain.
Let’s look further…
- Mean DR: 37
- Mean UR: 9
*Medians are almost identical
Ok, these above don’t look bad.
- Lowest DR: 1 (!)
- Lowest UR: 4
Right, this is just horrible…why buy a link from a site with a tiny authority?! Makes no sense to me…
- Highest DR: 86
- Highest UR: 20
Funny enough, but the highest metric links (which are still live today) were both obtained for free via relationship building – that’s exactly what we do at Linkshero.
I’ll tell you this…
Buying links like that is very lucrative for one single reason – it saves a lot of time.
It also allows misleading a client (unless they specifically asked for it, which is, in my opinion, really dumb for business in the long-run).
If you buy links like that then you should be ready for:
- The dropping off (30% not there after 1-1.5 years!)
- Wasting money, time and effort (because in future you will have to create great stuff anyway (G is evolving like crazy – why waste your time now?))
- Not actually improving your SERPs (according to Garry Illyes)
One way or another, I am now adamant – no link buying for me and for my clients.
Pure 100% white hat outreach all the way! 😎
P.S. Have you ever bought links or have ever considered buying any? Comment below!