Over the years SEO has evolved to be something that is much more labor-intensive and has a much higher margin for error. Gone are the days where you can rank a website in a few days with some SEO service you bought online for some change. SEO includes many factors but one of the most important, if not the most important of those factors, is link building. The problem is most people don’t know what link building is or how to do it right. Ever since white hat SEO became the only option, most people are at a loss for what to do. To fix that, let’s dive into what link building is, what link building services work, which don’t, and how to tell what a good link is.
What is Link Building?
In the simplest of terms, link building is the art of earning hyperlinks from other websites that point to your website. Do you know that little blue text that you see on most websites? That is a link. Link building is earning those from another website that link out to your site or your website’s content. Links work as a voting or referral system in the eyes of search engines. Think of it like this, if a person who reeked of alcohol stumbled your way in dirty clothes and one shoe and said to you “Sean is really good at SEO” you may not believe them. But if someone like Bill Gates came up to you and said the same thing, you will probably take his word for it.
Links do the same thing for search engines. The higher the authority of the website linking to you, the more that “vote” means in the eyes of the search engine. The lower the authority of the website, the less it will mean.
The same goes for topic relevance, the more relevant to your site, the better for your site’s rankings.
Good link building is the art of earning yourself a high quality, high authority, relevant links in an efficient fashion. Good link building campaigns are hard to scale on your own, so you may want to look into some services, which is probably why you’re here.
There are a few ways to do this right and very many ways to do this wrong, but first, why is it important?
Why is Link Building Important
When it comes to SEO, it’s easy to get lost in the technical jargon. But the technical portion is usually the easy stuff when it comes to execution. Things like robot.txt files and meta tags are easy to fix. The hard parts of SEO are the two most important, one is content creation, the other is link building. Links are what help your website rank as long as all on-site factors are taken care of.
Some SEO’s say it can carry 40% or more value in terms of ranking a website. Without link building, it will be nearly impossible to get your website to rank, especially with more businesses turning to online marketing. Consider this, about 380 websites go online every minute. Even if a fraction of them start creating content, you will have to do much more than write to stand out in the SERPs.
Benefits of Link Building
There is more than one benefit to link building, here is what it can do for your site:
Helps you rank existing content
The first is the most obvious, it can help you rank existing content. If you already have content on your website, which includes pages and blog posts that are targeting keywords relevant to your industry, then a link building campaign will help you move those pages up the search engine rankings. In fact, this is the primary reason why most people look for link building services.
They’ve created a bunch of content but are not seeing the traffic that they should be getting for the volume of content that they have created. With content creation, the term “if you build it, they will come” does not apply. The double edge sword with Google’s guidelines is that if you create good content you will “earn” links, but if your content doesn’t rank, no one will see it, and if they can’t see it, they can’t link out to it. Link building is usually the secret sauce that will help you have the desired outcome.
Helps you rank future content
One thing that people don’t realize link building does is raise the overall authority of your site in Google’s eyes. The more relevant and high-quality links you have pointing to your site, the more trust the search engine will give you. After a while, it starts to see you as a thought leader in your particular niche. Once most of your existing ranking pages climb to page one, you can consider yourself a trusted source. What this will do going forward is to help you rank any future content that you create, as long as it remains high quality.
What you don’t want to do is stop link building once you start getting rankings as you will hurt your progress. Some keywords are much more competitive than others and will require more “link juice” to get to page one.
Helps you get in front of your target audience
If you’re building links the right way, then link building will help you get in front of a targeted audience. Whether you reached out to a journalist to mention your brand, provided a quotable tip, or were part for a guest post, either way, you earned eyeballs. The visitors and audience of that site will now come across your content and your website in one way or another, and it is an excellent way of driving extra attention to your brand. We’ve actually earned quite a few leads from our placements on other sites.
Can help you occupy double the real estate in SERPs
One advantage of building links that people forget about is that they can often rank twice for particular keywords or for different keywords. How? If you’re following the guidelines of what makes a good link, then you will be publishing on a high authority site. If that content is also of high quality, there is a high chance that the page linking out to you now rank in the SERP’S as well. This gives you the ability to occupy 1st-page ranking space for whatever the topic that you’re mentioned in, and if you’re mentioned, it would have to mean it is relevant to you. Which then means you’re driving potential referral traffic to your site.
Link Building Services That Work
Without delaying any further, let’s dive into link building services that work in the year 2020 and beyond.
I’ve put this in first because most SEO’s will throw their arms up in a rage and cite Matt Cutts from 5 years ago and tell me I’m completely wrong and it is against Google’s guidelines. However, there is more than one way to guest post.
Most guest posts involve you writing content for other sites and including a link back to your site from an author bio. Google doesn’t want all your links to be guest posts because it seems unnatural. However, this isn’t exactly how this service works in 2020.
Here’s how to do it right:
You, or the agency you hire, will reach out to websites relevant and high authority websites and offer them a few interesting topics for their website, in exchange for a link. Most websites are looking for fresh content and are even happier about not having to write it themselves. If the website is any good they will provide you their guidelines and pick a topic, then you go off to write it.
However, when you submit it, include a link back to your site within the content, as well as other resources you’ve used to write the article, and ask if they can publish it under their author handle. Most websites would be open to this, the ones that will include your author bio, which is totally fine as it will make up a smaller percentage than those that won’t.
The guest posting services will usually involve the following:
- Research (finding the websites)
- Guest post creation and submission
The costs for something like this vary. Some agencies bulk it as a monthly fee and guarantee a minimum level of links. Some agencies charge per link, with the price varying by link quality.
Things to look out for:
- Cheap rates – link building is very rarely low cost. The costs to consider are outreach, content creation, and publishing fees.
- Website lists with low prices or price-lists
- A website’s with no content quality guidelines
- Spun content
These are all markers of a black or grey hat form of link building and you want to steer clear of them as they can get your website penalized in the worse case. In most cases, they will likely be a huge waste of time and money.
Another form of link building services is outreach only. This is a service where a link building or SEO agency will offer you a flat fee to do the outreach. They will reach out to an X amount of prospects for X amount of dollars. They will also facilitate all the back and forth with your feedback.
With this, you can get a lot of links, or a few links, with no fault of the agency as they only guarantee the targeted outreach. In this scenario, your costs upfront may be much lower, but they will add up because you will have to create any content needed and pay any publishing fees that may be charged. In my experience, about 50% of the website’s you reach out to will charge you a fee for their time. This is totally fine if they have strict guidelines if they don’t then you’re buying that link and that is likely to be a spammy site with a low barrier to entry.
Outreach campaigns are good if you have writers on staff and a budget to play around with. They can also be good if you’re willing to write yourself and need some help with the outreach but can’t afford to go full scale.
This is technically the same thing as outreach, but its geared towards a specific vertical. This is a link building service that offers much more than a link back to your website. When done right, and consistently over time, it can have a few benefits:
1. Reputation management
Podcast interviews, especially successful ones, can help position you as a thought leader in your space. They give you a certain level of clout that you won’t achieve if people don’t hear or see you speak. It’s a way to show the world what you know and the level of expertise that you have. When you do it often, you will begin to build a following and your reputation will begin to precede you. It will be much easier to convert leads when you have that level of authority in your space.
2. Lead generation
One of the biggest benefits of podcast outreach is that you will get links. Most podcasts have a dedicated audience and even more people that randomly find those episodes based on the subject matter. Many people listening are your potential clients and if they like what you have to say, they will pick up the phone and call you.
3. Quality links
Lastly, and in this case, most importantly, is the links you will get from it. The benefit of this stretches beyond the link you will get from the podcast. Most podcast content is repurposed by listeners and other marketers/writers. You will start to see yourself being quoted in content and people will start reaching out to you for quotes on topics related to your industry. This has the potential to earn you high quality, organic links.
This will essentially be an outreach only campaign that will involve you doing the work of prepping and appearing for the interviews. Its a very good way to build your personal brand, and build your links.
One way of building links that many marketers have had success with is through the creation of linkable assets. What this entails is creating ultra-high-quality content that will make people want to link to it. This can include things like infographics, videos, or real in-depth posts that cover a topic better than anything else out there discussing the same thing. But like we said earlier, this can be a double-edged sword because if it doesn’t have enough links it won’t rank, and if it doesn’t rank, no one will ever find it to link out to it.
Normally, this kind of service would involve outreach as well. You can hire an agency to do this all for you, or have them do either the content or the outreach, while you take care of the other half. Once the content is created, it will be important to share it with as many people as possible and “give them permission” to link to it. This outreach can be something like getting social media influencers to share it, or to reach out to blogs and see if they will either quote it or repost it.
Pay Per Link
One of the most popular, although more expensive services, is the “pay per link” model. This is a pretty straightforward charing method that some agencies have. In this case, you’re not buying a link directly. You’re just paying an agency to get you links that hit certain markers. For example, a DA 20 link might only be $80, while a DA 50+ link might cost you $250, per link. This way the agency knows exactly what its cost will be, and you know exactly what you will be getting in terms of quality and quantity.
This is a good option if you have a bigger budget and want very specific quality control over the types of links you go after and how many of them you get.
Broken Link Building
While this is an old method, this is definitely still a method at play in link building services and can definitely serve as a supplement to another link building campaign. What happens to most posts that are old, is that the resources they link out to tend to expire. Most websites don’t last as long as they aimed to and thus become obsolete. At other times they go through redesigns and forget to update the URLs. Whatever the reason, this ends up creating a “broken link” on any website that pointed to them. Most authors of older posts aren’t aware that this happened.
So the service that is offered is finding those broken links that are relevant to the content that you created and reaching out to them to ask them to replace it. Most website owners are happy to do it because it helps them update an error on their site without having to look for a replacement themselves. There are tools you can use to do this yourself but its usually better added to an existing link building campaign.
Listicles and Roundups
Another way of building links is to reach out to authors who have created listicles or roundups. One example of this can be something like “Top 10 Sales Softwares Review.” If you’re a sales software company, what you would do is reach out to the creator of that list and pitch your product to be included. Have some information ready as to why and how it compares to one of the others on that list. Most will be open to it if you create the write up yourself or give them free access to the software. If they say no, ask them to review your software separately, which will also give you a link.
Another way to earn links is to find roundup posts that you can provide value to. This can be something like “25 Marketers Give Their Thoughts on Marketing Trends for 2020.” Similar to a listicle, you simply reach out to the author and offer your thoughts on the subject and why you are qualified to comment. Most would love to include more content within their post.
Full-Service Link Building
The one that you want if you’re serious about link building is a full-service campaign. This will have by far the best results and will provide everything you need in terms of variety, quality, and quantity. This campaign will include all or most of what we mentioned above. A full-service campaign would focus on off-site links within fresh content but would supplement with other forms of link building services we discussed.
This will provide the best variety of types of links and where the links go to. Google tends to dislike anything that looks unnatural and has an obvious pattern, for that reason, this is usually the best way to build links.
Link Building Services That Don’t Work
The only downside to link building is that for every method that works, there is a method that doesn’t work. The bigger downside is that it is often hard to tell when you’re getting a low-quality campaign unless you know a thing or two about SEO. Let’s safeguard you by discussing link building services that no longer work.
The first on the list is the biggest offender because it’s now offered by many SEO’s as a “white-hat” link building campaign and it couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a scenario like this:
You reach out to a blog and pitch them a guest post or free content in exchange for a link. What they should do is tell you the guidelines. Instead what they will do is tell you a fee, that’s usually pretty small, and not provide much of a barrier beyond that. While the fee itself can be normal, its the lack of guidelines, and what comes next that’s the issue. Most likely during or after that transaction, they will send you a list of dozens, if not hundreds of sites and a rate sheet. That’s when you’ll really know to run the other way because these sites accept anyone and become a link farm for low-quality outbound links, of which you do not want to become a part of.
This deserved its own section because most people consider this as separate from “paid link.” If paid links are bad, this is 10 times worse. With link building, there isn’t some short cut that will make thighs faster or easier, and if it looks like there is, it will cost you time, money, and most likely even your site getting banned from the search engines.
Stay away from Fiverr links at all costs. The chance that you find something decent is far outweighed by the change that you will find something that will damage your site or in the best case be completely ignored by Google as automated spam.
Press Release Links
Press Release links were the cheat code back in the day. It was an easy way to get links from high authority websites and have them spread like wildfire through the web of other PR sites. Those days are long gone. While press releases aren’t completely useless and have their place, that place is not for link building in the modern-day. Press release links these days don’t count for much and Google tends to largely ignore them. I have not seen any study that has seen any effect in building a press release only links.
Forum and Comment Links
Unfortunately, this still gets offered as a service out there and is a good way to do absolutely nothing for your website but confuse your backlink checkers with a high referring domain count. This entails leaving comments on forums and websites with links pointing to your website.
One way its bad is that its a no-follow link, which doesn’t way heavily in terms of link juice pointing to your site. The other way its bad is that its a very low-quality link and if it makes up your entire link profile then you will likely see it do more harm than good. You want these to be natural and not artificially implanted. If your content is any good, people will point to it through paced like forums, Reddit, and even website comments as a reference during back and forths.
Steer clear of anyone offering this service to you as a link building campaign. They obviously have not been keeping up with SEO over the last 5 years.
Social Media Links
Some people post across multiple platforms and hope that social media links and “social media signals will help. Case studies done for SEO prove this to be inadequate as a link building campaign. The only benefit seems to be that you can drive traffic and potentially get your posts indexed faster. This should not be considered anything other than sharing content with your social media followers and driving that traffic to your site. It is far from a link building campaign.
Private Blog Networks
Private blog networks have been dead since 2017, but just in case you need a reminder, don’t do them. PRivate blog networks are essentially a group of blogs usually put together by one person or a small group for the sole purpose of building links to other sites. You basically give a link to get a link and link most of the sites out to one. Google devalues and deindexes private blog networks and they no longer work, steer clear.
In the early two thousand’s when SEO first became a thing, it was extremely easy to rank on page 1 for most key terms. One of the ways to do that is to create or purchase link building software that would simply build out a bunch of pages and link out to your website. This is really something that would help you rank. These days it may not be the same way, but people are still selling automated links on a website that are completely irrelevant to your niche and are total spam. Stay away from anything that doesn’t require you to give content or have any input.
What Makes a Good Link?
When being offered these link building services, here are a few things to look out for to determine what makes a good link or not. In fact, you should ask the agency or person you hire to seek these types of links.
1. Contextual link
Most good links will be contextual links. This means that the content is located within fresh, unique, and educational content. The best type of link is when a website naturally (or seemingly naturally) uses your website as a resource, an example, a citation, or to drive a point home. Links within great content will always yield good results and can even help drive traffic to your website.
2. Relevant Content
The more relevant the content the link is located in, to the page it is linking out to, the better. For example, an article about cats linking out to a cat food website is a really good link. However, if it is an article about cat food, linking out to a cat food website, then even better. In fact, the closer it is to the keyword that page is targeting, the better for you.
3. Relevant Website
On top of relevant content, it is really good if the website the content is on is of a similar, if not the same niche as yours. If you’re able to get links from the same industry, it is a really good sign to Google that you’re a trusted source for that particular topic. Try to get links from competitors when possible, just make sure to avoid exchanging too many links as that will devalue some of your efforts and can risk a penalty if it starts to look unnatural.
4. Good Domain Authority
There are a few ways to gauge whether a domain is good or not. The first will always be the eyeball test. If you see that the website is well designed, has high-quality content, and doesn’t talk about anything spammy like gambling or adult categories, then it’s probably a decent site. However, the better way to do it is to use a tool like the Moz bar, which is a Google Chrome extension.
This bar will give you a number for what is called the Domain Authority. This number is measured out of 100 and tells you the overall SEO power of a site. Another metric you also want to keep an eye on is the spam score. The closer to zero the better. There are multiple tools that measure the SEO value of a site and most of the popular ones are good options. One sure way to see if a website has trust from Google is to just check its traffic, the higher, the better.
5. Varying Anchor Text
The anchor text is the text that is highlighted blue that turns into the link. What you want to avoid doing is making every link your target keyword. Instead, you want to vary it, include variations of the keyword you want to tackle, including “phrase” matches. Outside of that, you want to include your domain name as well as random and generic anchor texts like “here” or “this website.” You want it to look as natural as possible but you also want to tell those robots that crawl the sites what the webpage is about, it’s a fine balance.
Here is a quick reference infographic you can download:
How Much Do Link Building Services Cost
Link building costs will usually vary depending on the quality and the type of services offered. Here is a quick breakdown, with ranges, of what typical link building services cost:
- Guest Posting – $1,500-$3,500/mo
10-20 guest posts.
- Outreach Only – $1,000-$3,000/mo
- Linkable Assets (content creation) – $1,200 – $2,400/mo
5-20 pieces of content
- Per Link – $50-$200
Depending on DA and quality
- Full Service – $2,000 – $10,000/Mo
Results vary by agency
Where (and How) Do I Find a Good Link Building Service?
The best way to find out if you’re hiring a good link-building service is to use this article as a guide to asking the right questions. You want to make sure that they are taking a white-hat approach and doing everything that works, and avoiding everything that doesn’t work.
Always ask for past examples of links that they have built for themselves or for their clients. You can even ask them for the domain and check their link profile yourself. This is a good way to weed out those that are doing the right thing vs those that want to make a quick buck off of you.
If you have any questions about link building or are interested in a particular service, get in touch with us today!