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90% of quality links are paid links…full stop

I’ve been thinking which is always a dangerous things to do and I’ve come to an earth shattering conclusion….

90% of quality incoming links are paid links.

Let me explain. Back in the olden days when Google was starting out and it first started looking at the linkscape, I would say that 95% of the links coming to any site were completely natural which was why Google’s algo worked so well. People did things for the love of doing them, created content for the love of it. Someone came across it, thought “hey, that’s cool” and linked to it. What a great idea and what a lovely innocent time.

Fast forward to 2011 and what I’ve realised is that the linkscape that affects people’s rankings now is 90% bought. I’m not talking in the somewhat callous “Here is £300 for a link on your mozrank 8 website homepage” although obviously that can be a very effective way of link building for some but if you consider the amount of time and money that goes into proper outreach and link building.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Blogging competitions

I send out an email, tweet, letter, whatever my form of outreach suggesting that someone’s blog has been shortlisted for a Blogging prize, here is a lovely badge you can use…You’ve been shortlisted, accept by putting the badge on your site linking back….You could win an iPad 2. At that point, are they linking to my content out of the goodness of their hearts, because they think it’s good? No of course, not, they’re linking because they get to say they’ve been shortlisted for a prize and they could win an iPad 2.

The link is paid, cost:

  • an hour or two to make the badges (assuming you have the skill, or that’s outsourced to a designer)
  • an hour to research who is to be “shortlisted” (not based upon the content of their blogs of course but based upon the authority of their site)
  • a couple of hours writing the emails and “managing” the competition
  • and an iPad 2 at about 300 quid.
Does it work….Of course it does, people like their ego stroked, they send piles of visitors to the competition site. Here’s a great example on a (rather good) fashion blog belonging to my friend’s cousin.


THE way to build links in 2010/2011….the infographic. A nice graphic that gives complicated research and information in a nice easy to follow format. The concept isn’t new of course, infographics or “diagrams” as they used to be known predate the internet but creating them for link building is fairly new. Assuming nobody creates an infographic for fun, lets again look at cost involved.

  • Identifying the research you wish to portray in your infographic – Maybe a brainstorming session…Time, a couple of hours.
  • The cost of getting it made, assuming you don’t have an in house salaried designer, this is an outsourcing job and could cost you a couple of hundred quid.
  • The outreach, spending the time (and one would assume the salary cost of the person doing the outreach)
  • The follow up – mopping up who’s using the infographic and making sure they link.

Were those incoming links free then? Doesn’t seem so to me!

Again though, it works, here’s a stonking example of an infographic as linkbait:

Evolution of Google

Notice how it’s easily shared and embedded with their anchor text “Online PhD”, This is obviously done to get links, the site has nothing to do with Google history, but by Zeus it’s a good example! Was it free to make, of course it wasn’t!

A widget

Creating a handy embeddable widget with back link. First, ask yourself. Are you creating this because it’s a useful resource and giving it to other webmasters to use free of charge out the goodness of your own heart? It’s unlikely…You’re doing it to get backlinks on hundreds of sites using the anchor text that you want.

How much is it going to cost you to create and market this widget. Again that all depends on whether you have the resource in house, but it’s not going to be a cheap venture. Then you have to market the widget and do the outreach so there’s some added time, and assuming that your time isn’t free, there’s extra cost there. Again, these don’t seem like free links. It may be very effective, but there’s definitely payment there, you’ve definitely paid for these links in both time and money.

Guest blog posting

It’s amazing just how quickly you can become an expert in something if there’s a potential guest blog with embedded links in the content on offer. Whether you research it yourself or outsource it, you’re not doing it to give value to that blog, you’re doing it to get back linksm, using the anchor text you want, on a high quality site, seemingly for free.

Assuming the blog owner hasn’t contacted you and offered it, you’ve engaged in outreach which costs money. The content doesn’t doesn’t write itself, so you’re either paying in your own time in research, or to outsource it to a writer. You’re not offering the blog owner 300 quid for a link, but the link you end up with may have cost you that much, if not more.


Basically, the way I’m starting to see it now is if you’re doing something with the express purpose of gaining back links, then you’re paying for the links. Whether that’s a payment in your time or actual money for outsourcing, We spend time and money on content creation whether that’s written content, graphical content, widgets, badges and other such staples of the SEO industry. You’re paying for the outreach as well, in either time or money. Maybe we’re incentivising them with the possibility of a prize whether material or “feel good ego stroking”

We put a nice veneer on it, we as white-hat SEOs would never think of buying links. After all, that’s outside of Google’s webmaster guidelines, it’s evil and black hat to buy links.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with anything we do as white hat SEOs, proper outreach is great and of course, it is a white hat way to link build but I think we should be honest with ourselves and say it.

Good link building is paid link building, it costs time and money to do properly and there is no such thing these days as a free quality link*


* Free links do exist

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