As integral as SEO is to modern business and marketing, it’s easy to forget that the entire industry is still just a couple of decades old. Yet over this time, there’s been a lot of change and maturation. What worked in 2005 no longer works today. In fact, some of the techniques that worked in 2015 are no longer considered best practices in 2020.
So much has changed in such a short period of time. As a result, myths, lies, and misconceptions abound. And if there’s one area of SEO that’s especially sensitive to misinformation, it’s link building. Drill down even further and you can really stir up some good arguments by addressing the topic of link buying.
The Outdated Link Buying Methodology
Links have always played an important role in SEO, but few outside of the industry realize just how integral they are.
The best way to think about links is through the analogy of a road map.
If you pull up Google Maps and take a bird’s eye view of the country, you’ll quickly notice which cities are big, important, and heavily populated. They’re the ones with lots of roads feeding into them. In some cases, big cities have three or four major interstates feeding traffic into them. And if you zoom in further, you’ll notice dozens of smaller roads wrapping in and around the larger ones.
But these roads aren’t one-way streets with dead ends. If you trace an interstate out of the city, you’ll find that it connects to dozens of other towns. The American road system is a convoluted yet efficient transportation network that allows people to move from one place to the next.
The internet operates in much the same manner. Websites are the cities and links are the roads, interstates, and highways. The more backlinks a website has coming from other web pages, the more authority search engines attach to it (and the more traffic these sites receive).
It didn’t take long for savvy online marketers and SEO experts to figure this out. In the early-to-mid-2000s, they discovered that acquiring backlinks was one of the best ways to game the system and move up the Google search rankings. But instead of going out and manually producing a bunch of high-quality links that were relevant to their companies’ core business offerings, they simply paid others for link placement.
SEO was essentially the “Wild West” of the early-2000s. Everyone was sort of figuring out how digital marketing and search engines worked at the same time. And without a bunch of rules in place, bad habits quickly formed. People bought and sold links like they were eggs at a farmer’s market.
Links were cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to acquire. You simply contacted a link building “expert” or service and you could set up a budget to buy “X” number of links for a set price. In return, you’d get your links with keyword-rich anchor text (like “buy Viagra online”).
But before too long, Google caught on and really cracked down. They realized that the internet was becoming a spammy place and wanted to ensure its users received a better search experience. Suddenly, people who bought links were getting their websites penalized or removed.
Google’s Crackdown on Paid Links
Today, Google is quite clear on its expectations for links. They don’t approve of buying or selling links and will hand out stiff consequences to violators.
Since 2013, Google Webmaster Central Blog has been clear that, “Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations. The consequences for a linkselling site start with losing trust in Google’s search results, as well as reduction of the site’s visible PageRank in the Google Toolbar. The consequences can also include lower rankings for that site in Google’s search results.”
Overtly paying for a link is no longer a good business practice. In fact, it’s a bad business practice. But this doesn’t mean you can’t proactively acquire high-value links. The game has simply evolved.
The New (Effective) Way to Pay for Links
The phrase “buying links” is a dirty one, these days. Instead, it’s all about “buying link placement.” To someone on the outside looking in, this may seem like a simple change in terminology. However, procuring link placement through a strategic and professional approach is far different than buying a quick link from some guy with a laptop in his basement.
Today’s link placement is about securing high-value content on relevant industry platforms that give readers useful and interesting information. There’s no keyword stuffing or questionable anchor text optimization. It’s a natural, white hat approach that makes the internet a better and more useful place for all parties involved – including search engines, searchers, bloggers, business owners, marketers, and more.
When it comes to “paying” for useful links in 2020 and beyond, here’s what you’re really buying:
Link building is all about having the right connections to bloggers, journalists, webmasters, business owners, influencers, and PR professionals. Organic link building is basically an extension of professional networking. When you “pay” for links, you’re really partnering with someone who has the right connections.
Think of it like a manufacturing company hiring a business advisor with deep connections in the industry. The right advisor can put the company in contact with reliable manufacturing plants, suppliers, and shipping partners. The client isn’t buying these plants, suppliers, and partners – they’re simply leveraging someone else’s connections.
Connections are one thing. The second key to the process is reaching out to these connections and securing the right placement opportunities.
Outreach link building is handled differently depending on the publisher, the relationship, and the objective. Here’s how some different situations are handled:
- Websites that accept sponsored posts and branded contributions. Sponsored posts are one of the best-kept secrets in the link building industry. Websites that accept them are essentially you that you can secure placement for a specific price. This is legal and does not violate Google’s rules (assuming proper attribution). Reaching out to these websites is all about negotiating the right terms and ensuring optimal visibility in return for the sponsored content.
- Pre-existing relationships. When your link building partner has a pre-existing relationship with a blogger, journalist, or editor, he can simply leverage this connection and pitch a content idea. The fact that there’s already a relationship significantly increases the odds of publishing.
- No existing connection. Cold outreach is the most challenging aspect of link building. However, link placements services have systems in place that increase their ability to secure links on authoritative publishing platforms. These systems involve proprietary methods of pitching, communicating, and structuring agreements.
Outreach is arguably the most important aspect of the entire link placement process. When you “pay” for links, you’re paying for a liaison to lobby on your behalf.
Those who are unfamiliar with link building assume you just contact bloggers and ask them to edit their existing content and plug your links into their copy. However, this rarely – if ever – happens. Almost all quality link building and link placement is predicated on original content creation.
Link building outreach services don’t just insert backlinks into random web pages. In addition to connections and outreach, you’re paying for content creation.
Quality content takes time to produce – and it’s very much a technical skill. If you lack the time or ability to produce quality content, someone else has to fill this void. Link placement services typically have access to talented copywriters who can generate white hat content that’s original and on-brand. This content includes backlink(s) to your web pages. It’s then passed along to the appropriate blog or website and published.