Backlinks as we know can have a major impact on the traffic and rankings of pages. Google prefers natural link building. And while it’s always recommended that you should rely mostly on completely “white hat” search engine optimization practices and relying on high-quality content to improve your website’s ranking sustainably – sometimes you need to buy backlinks.
Earning free, editorially placed backlinks became more difficult ever since people realized that they can earn money from inserting links. Webmasters and bloggers capitalize on the popularity and reputation of their websites or blogs by demanding payment in return for placing links on their pages. As more websites and blogs started asking for money when they received backlink requests, having to buy backlinks became a norm.
In fact, the sites that are selling links, or paid guest post placements may surprise you, but there is a lot of revenue that can be generated by it. As shown in this tweet by one entrepreneur below, who also shared that they had a niche site that made over $5,000 in a 1 month period from selling links or guest posts on their site to SEO professionals.
In this article, we are going to systematically tackle all the questions that you might have had about buying backlinks, how to do it correctly, and what to watch out for as well.
Link buying means making a payment in return for having your link placed on another website. In this way, you can directly leverage money to boost the popularity of your page/website.
There might be certain terms and conditions related to the purchase and placement of the links that are bought. Since a webmaster/blogger is giving your link a place on their page, they can specify some conditions related to the link by which you’ll have to abide by. You might also state your terms since you are making a payment.
The price of links can vary greatly depending on the industry, niche, type of website, popularity of the website, quality of content, your brand strength, and other factors.
Sometimes a link’s cost can be subjective, as in, even with a small site, the owner just feels they only want to charge a certain amount. Backlinks cost anywhere from 10$ to 500$ or even higher. Some backlinks are even being sold for thousands of dollars.
|Caveat: let’s not conflate this with the cost of outsourcing link building. This is a different area, and when you’re outsourcing your entire link building process to an agency, you are also paying for additionals like the content for guest posts, time invested into link building strategies, building out a plan for anchor text and link distribution, amongst other areas.
Contrary to what one might assume, the price of placing a niche edit is sometimes more than that of using a new guest post to place a link. Websites in some niches are more open to selling and buying backlinks than others.
For cases like startups (that don’t yet have the contacts and customers) and topics that are geared toward a very specific audience, link buying can help increase link velocity at a faster rate.
It’s also possible to buy links indirectly. This can include paid strategies like purchasing a membership level at a company, or buying corporate sponsorship to partner with that company. On the website, they may mention and link back to the site as being a member or official sponsor.
Those paid strategies are all alternative methods for buying high quality backlinks, and the only disadvantage is that it may incur a monthly, or annual cost, so the cost does rack up after some time. Regardless, it’s a good way of getting very niche relevant websites to link to you.
This question cannot be answered in a binary manner. We cannot say that yes, you should buy backlinks or no, you should not. But choosing to abstain from buying backlinks could make you miss out on a spot on some pretty relevant, decent authority websites. A place on these sites could potentially accelerate the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. In some industries (such as gambling, trading or loans), purchasing backlinks is the primary method for gaining backlinks.
People assume that a higher number of links pointing back to a page will improve search engine rankings. To acquire a higher number of links, some will rush to purchase them without vetting them thoroughly. Buying links for the sake of volume without paying attention to their quality can have the opposite effect of what was intended with the purchase.
What Do Search Engines like Google Think of Paid Links?
Google on the whole, prohibits and frowns upon the practice of buying links. They say this in clear terms that they deem paid links as a way of manipulating a site’s search engine ranking. Search engines want to combat spammy links and prevent pages that are not topically relevant from ranking high. They want to provide the most relevant search results and ensure the best user experience. If they suspect unnatural link acquisition and growth, they could penalize your page with a loss in ranking or even removal from the SERPs if it’s serious enough.
Some scenarios may call for the purchase of links. It is ok to buy backlinks on pages that are relevant and high quality, and the reality is, there is no way for Google and other search engines to know for sure whether a link is paid or not. But when not done correctly, they may or may not catch on to those hints, so it’s crucial to ensure you do very careful vetting during your link buying process.
Despite the murmurs around paid strategies, Buying backlinks has become so commonplace now that in most cases, Google and other search engines seem to be merely devaluing them (if caught) instead of meting out strict punishments. Even though Google keeps warning against trading links (a suspicious number of times), some would argue its mostly fear-mongering to try and prevent the SEO world from exploiting the vulnerability of its algorithm.
While Google insists that high-quality content will attract more backlinks, that only holds if people can find this content in the first place. This is where paid promotions in the form of backlinks come into play.
- A well-built and balanced backlink profile will give you a competitive edge in the SERPs. Your competitors may be amongst those who are investing in backlinks, and especially when you’re dealing with a competitive niche and you need to build links at a significant volume – you may need to add paid strategies into your arsenal as well.
- When you need to build links to “money pages” – i.e. commercial pages, or the very bottom of funnel content, it may be quite hard to convince anyone to link to it. After all, commercial pages don’t often have any actual editorial value. In such cases, a paid link going direct to that page can give it a much needed boost.
- You can only get backlinks on some coveted sites by purchasing them. Even the most personalized outreach emails and mind-blowing content might not move them, although you may be able to get a foot in the door by offering something else of value, or you can at least negotiate the price down.
- Purchasing links works because search engines do not have a surefire way to distinguish between a good-quality relevant paid-for link and a pure editorially placed link.
- Buying coverage/features, or paying people to endorse products has been happening for years in offline media – and it is considered normal. There are ethical questions raised around the topic of product placement in general, but the reality is – it works.
- Yes, in a way you’re still manipulating the algorithm, but then in a way, any form of active link building or digital PR where there is an attempt to strategically build links – is inherently manipulating it in some way.
It’s certainly a complex issue and there is no hard science that either side can present to prove if paid links will cause a reduction in results, and this conversation on LinkedIn summarizes the issue pretty well.
Note: one is a link building agency that supports the use of paid links, the other a representative at a digital PR agency.
This is the crux of the issue. If the “patterns” are not there or you massively mitigate against it with a proper vetting process, will it impact your SEO? Digital PR can be a “safer” alternative on paper, but the reality is that PR retainers come with a much larger cost (often $10,000 – 50,000+ per month with no link KPI guarantees), so it may not be a realistic alternative if you want to attain a certain level of cost-efficiency.
This depends on the context and how you’re buying it from.
But first, let’s assume you’re going to a link building service provider:
- Low end (Freelancers, link database sellers, offshore agencies): $250 – $300
- Mid-tier (Most link building agencies): $300 – $700
- Premium and high-end (Often agencies that are white labelling to the moderately priced agencies, casinos/gambling industry link building, or the average cost of digital PR placement): $700 – $1500+
- Ultra high-end (Underground private groups, and telegram chats, etc)- Guaranteed top-tier media placements and links are sold for upwards of $5000+ (although this obviously clearly goes against the publication’s guidelines).
Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that anything on the premium end is going to be higher quality than the tiers below – this is just the general landscape of what is being charged at time of writing, and I have seen across the industry.
The point is, there is a large market for links out there, and pricing can depend on demand, where the link is, and the other additional costs that are absorbed into the cost of that link.
So it’s important to remember that when hiring a provider, you aren’t just buying a link, but the laundry list of resources that goes along with that – which is the time and resources to ideate and write the content, time spent on customising outreach, trawling through prospecting lists, gong back and forth with targets – to name a few.
But if you aren’t hiring a provider, and want to go out there and build links yourself, there is still a huge spectrum of price ranges:
- Cheap backlinks on Fiverr, SAPE: Can start from $1 or $2 each and up. Quality is very questionable here and is more associated with black hat or tiered link building tactics.
- Guest posting & niche edit databases: Anywhere from $50 – $300+. Again, quality can be an issue and some of these services own the sites they’re selling links on. Often the sites here are mass selling and quality will deteriorate even further.
- Lifestyle bloggers: Very variable pricing if they charge for links. Going from $50 – $500+ and often the price may not correlate with the traffic and quality. This sector tends to barter based on their DA or DA level, and may inflate pricing. But, there can be good quality links here.
- Donations to non-profits, associations and organizations: This may be anything from a nominal donation of $10 to cover admin costs, or involve full on sponsorship of an event for thousands of dollars.
- Digital magazines: Brand partnerships, buying advertising packages is commonplace on magazines in the fashion or luxury industry. This may cost anywhere $1000 and up, but will often be packaged up as a full placement, advertising, social media shares, and most likely will include at least one backlink in digital media.
Aside from this however, when you do actual manual outreach yourself, and aren’t going out there with a preconceived idea of buying anything, you can find some really hidden gems. For instance:
- Sites who need you to pay a sponsorship fee, but the site itself is of really good quality and is a legitimate site in a relevant niche.
- A site that wants some free product, in exchange for linking to you.
- Even better – sites that don’t expect any payment, and just want to link to you based on editorial value, or the content idea you’re proposing to write for them. Those are often some of the best links you can get – and that’s where hiring a reputable agency like TLG can pay off as we’re able to get these types of links as well.
So when we talk about buying links, it’s important to keep these different approaches in mind. Where a reputable agency can come in and make the higher costs worth it, is in vetting quality and being very selective about what links they get. We’ll cover the importance of quality control for buying links, later on.
The truth is that there is no concrete answer to this. A page can rank for competitive keywords with as few as 5 to 7 high-quality backlinks. The number of links you need however, will depend on how much link equity is being passed on, the strength and volume of the backlinks of the competitors in your niche, the intent of that article in relation to the keyword you’re targeting, and other factors.
These factors will help you get an idea of the number of links you need to rank higher:
- Check the keyword difficulty with an SEO tool. For example, Ahrefs has the Keyword Difficulty (KD) score. A higher keyword difficulty means that you need more backlinks to rank. We would always recommend when starting a link campaign for a site, to focus on the easy to moderate level keywords. These terms will generally require less backlinks and should be easier to rank.
Some keywords may not even require you to build any links at all to that page. However, those opportunities may be few and far between, and when it comes to a highly competitive niche like finance or insurance, links will become extremely crucial, and a necessity for ranking.
- Your current authority also determines how many backlinks you will need. A new website needs to increase its visibility and authority and therefore may be more in need of backlinks to gain some traction, than an established domain.
- The strength of your competitor’s backlink profiles will also affect the number of backlinks you require. By acquiring a few good-quality backlinks, you can easily outrank competitors with a weaker online presence.
However, if your competitors have built a greater number of relevant and important backlinks, then you will have to resort to acquiring a greater volume of quality backlinks. You can use tools like Ahrefs and Semrush to analyze the strength of your competitor’s backlink profile, or the competitiveness of the keywords you’re going after.
Let’s say we’re going to look at this keyword: “modular home plans”
Analyzing the SERP of this keyword, shows us google’s search results for this term, generally have quite low to moderate authority sites ranking (as indicated by the spread of DR levels). Some of the ranking pages have a lot of referring domains going to that page, but we can see for instance, a few with less than 10 RDs.
There are different schools of thought of how we would calculate the number of links we need to get to the top spot. We won’t cover that in detail in this article, but we could probably look at the top few results, see who has the most links, and expect that we have to get at least that many links, to outrank them. In this case, the data tells us we have to get our own domain authority to a similar level, and build somewhere between 90 to 100 referring domains to that landing page.
This is only looking at a single keyword, but it’s a fairly commercial term, and looking at more keywords will help you get a picture of the overall competitive landscape. This tells me the modular home sector has sites which don’t have massive authority, so we could, with time, beat these competitors. But when it comes to the commercial pages, it looks like we will have a fairly stiff bit of competition, and may be better served to go for the easier terms, before trying to tackle these.
Caveat: Metrics like KD, and number of unique links going to pages, should not be considered in isolation. It is possible that a competitor may have spammier, low quality links which inflates metrics like the KD score, or it gives the perception that you need to buy backlinks at a higher volume. The key here is to filter out those links when you do calculations, and arrive at a much more accurate figure.
Buying paid backlinks is like wielding a double-edged sword. It could either boost your rank to the top of the SERPs or get you banished from them. Read on to find out more about the problems and risks associated with buying links.
Risk of a penalty
There is always going to be an inherent risk of receiving a penalty, especially if you have an over-reliance on paid links.
Manual penalties can happen, but these are a lot rarer especially if you’re not buying links at a huge scale. What may be more likely, is that the sites you get links from get devalued. In that case, what really happens is that those links will pass less link equity and then your traffic will start to drop.
That gives the impression that you’re getting hit with a Google penalty. In actual fact, it’s just that your backlink profile is being perceived as weaker.
A healthcare niche site was propped up with a profile full of low quality paid links. Think of those “link farm” sites that have no niche relevance, have no editorial standards and just allow everyone to post on them. A few algorithm updates later their traffic dropped until it was essentially cut in half a year later!
Risk of wasting money
The link you acquired might just have very little or no impact on your site. How much impact it has isn’t really about whether you’ve paid for it or not, but the quality of the linking site.
That’s why it’s really important to vet your links carefully before you decide to buy it. We’ve seen many SEO professionals and site owners purchase links from the lower quality link agencies, and even if they did get some boost from them at the start – they eventually found after some time, that the site’s ranking started to stagnate, or started to drop.
And clients often come to us after these experiences, realising they need to change their SEO strategy quickly, and start to build backlinks that have a long lasting, long term impact.
Think about the sites you’re paying for links on, and who else is likely to be linked to from that site as well. That itself may cause a problem if you don’t vet the sites closely.
If you look at a site and it’s a blatant link farm (i.e. they accept content from all kinds of questionable niches as long as they pay them money), taking a link from them could be pretty risky.
For instance, if they’re linking to ED pill websites, casinos, and such others that usually tend to be associated with spammy SEO and black hat techniques.
While a link on such a site is not a guarantee that you’re going to get hit with a penalty, you might be putting yourself in harm’s way if that site starts to sell links too often and Google hits them with a penalty.
The more you’ve relied on creating backlinks with paid techniques on low quality sites – the more likely your traffic will start to deteriorate as more and more of those links get devalued. So its better to vet the opportunities closely before buying them. We’ll cover that next.
You need to take an outreach-driven approach to this, i.e. find real sites/blogs which are getting social shares or traffic and where there could be some relevance.
A paid link could be in the following forms (but not limited to these):
- A link on an existing article (niche edit)
- Paying a contributor or published author to write a piece linking to your product or brand.
- A donation to an industry association/organization/charity where you get a link.
- Purchasing membership of an organization – which gets you a backlink.
You should still qualify sites with a sound prospecting process and actively seek them out; this ensures that the link quality (and link relevance) is kept on point.
Here are more details on where and how you should buy backlinks safely:
Sponsored Posts, Advertorials and “Niche Edits”
To find opportunities for sponsored posts, you can use your keyword + search operator
- You can use a keyword related to the business. For instance, in the case of a law firm, you could use the words ‘legal blog’, ‘law blogger’, ‘attorney’, etc.
- Geo-related keywords such as London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.
- Something connected to the business – e.g. for an immigration lawyer, there is some relation to travel, travel blog, travel visa, etc.
If you’re writing a post and it comes at a charge that would be a sponsored post. Sometimes if you do a good job with the post or just have a good content idea, a site that would normally be a paid opportunity may decide to waive the fee.
Also if you’re getting a link inserted in an existing article for payment, some people may term it a ‘niche edit’ or ‘sponsored link’.
The advantage of a link insert is that it is much quicker, you’ll probably be able to negotiate a lower price since it is a quick link insert they can do in a few seconds.
Online magazines in the lifestyle sector (especially fashion & beauty and luxury lifestyle) offer sponsored placements or advertising packages. Depending on the client it can be effective, especially if the audience of that magazine is in line with their target audience. You may be able to get in such magazines for free, but if you want to make it fairly promotional, it is often sponsored or part of what is termed a ‘native advertising’ deal. For instance, here’s an example from the media kit of one of the Tatler Asia editions. This often isn’t just about an article with a backlink, but you’ll have a whole package of items.
Caveat: If you are going to buy backlinks, just bear in mind that if you were to follow Google’s guidelines, you would need that link to be tagged as rel=sponsored or rel=nofollow. The problem is that by doing so, you would then be telling search engines not to count that link, and therefore, you would not get any significant SEO value from the link.
So if you are buying links for your SEO strategy, you should clarify (if they haven’t said already), that it will not be tagged as sponsored or nofollow links.
Bloggers are very likely to respond well to sponsored post requests since they aren’t always getting direct income from the site.
Again, you can search Google, and find curated lists of bloggers from a niche or geolocation.
You can even use Ahrefs Content Explorer or a Twitter scraper to find bloggers. The beauty of going for bloggers, is that when you initiate the conversation you’re going straight to the site owner, and by and large, you’re approaching someone with a hobby blog that should have a fairly narrow niche.
Depending on what your product/service is, you could even offer a product or discount in exchange for a link instead. This works well for ecommerce brands.
That might help keep your costs a bit lower.
Sometimes you can segue a conversation into getting a link in an existing post (what you might term a link insert or ‘niche edit’). However, the blogger may have some rules on how the link can be inserted, if you can change the surrounding text, if the anchor text should already be existing on the page for example.
Caveat: Some lifestyle blogs veer more into the “link farm” side of things. Many do not, and are maintained properly by their owners and still have some form of editorial standards, and vetting for what they link to. But just ensure to check lifestyle blogs closely before purchasing backlinks on them.
Find contributors from large publications or magazines
So we’re talking about sites like Forbes and Entrepreneur, or it could even be a niche publication in your sector (or related sector) that will let you run an advertorial piece.
So what you’ll ideally want is to find a major contributor who writes about something related to your business or product. Either look for the email in their profile or hunt for it on their sites, or social profiles. Tools like SalesQL can come in handy when someone’s email isn’t public.
Not all whom you approach will respond favorably, but some will. Just be careful with your wording and ensure you don’t offend someone by coming across as if you’re trying to bribe them!
There may be a more subtle way of doing this if you want to buy an editorially placed link in a very large publication (although it’s not generally something we offer as a service) – where you can build a relationship with the writer, and send some freelance writing work their way. In return, they may have some upcoming pieces and reach out if you want to be quoted as a source, or you have a relevant piece of content that could be linked to.
Generally speaking though being able to buy high quality backlinks (at these very large publications) is rare, and generally frowned upon.
Donations and Memberships
Finding organizations in your industry where you can pay for a membership or donate money. It may be listed on their website and you may even see a ‘donators’ page or some kind of ‘Sponsors’ page.
They may not advertise this, but you’ll need to contact them and find out.
It’s still a very valuable method, and competitors may not be aware and even think to get links from these places – which makes it an inherently valuable link.
For example, here’s a cemetery located in Maine, where they have a process for accepting donations, and a corporate sponsors page.
Usually a really simple, straightforward outreach email is enough.
This can be particularly effective if you are trying to build links from your immediate industry, or that have a geographical relevance.
This is very generalized advice, but we also tend to find, the more hoops you have to go through to get the link, the better that link might be.
The number of link opportunities does start to dwindle the more you narrow down the niche or geographic location – so in those cases you will need to expand your pool of targets,by incorporating some paid backlink strategy.
- You don’t want banner advertising or anything else – you want preferably a text, in-content link. Avoid the ‘boilerplate’ links (links in the sidebar, footer, or header) Your link needs to be contextual.
- It should be a dofollow link. Such links are more worthy of purchase as they serve as an endorsement for your page along with bringing traffic to your page.
- There should not be a ‘rel=sponsored’ tag (as that makes it a nofollow link), and you may want to avoid anything with a ‘this is sponsored’ tag on the article.
- Make sure it’s a permanent link, not a deal where you ‘rent’ the link. Although with donations and membership fees, it may be a monthly or annual fee.
- Check if you can get the fee waived by offering a product, getting them a reciprocal link or social share, or something else.
- Avoid ‘link farms’. If you come across a site that talks about a weird mix of unrelated topics and the vast majority of posts seem to be stuffed with links (especially using very obviously placed commercial anchor texts), steer clear of the site because these are distinct indicators of a link farm.
- Do not buy backlinks from these types of sites: the ones that have been massively penalized, those that feature a lot of pop ups, ones with very little content, and sites with poor-quality content.
- Try to acquire links in your specific niche, or on articles where there is some logical crossover with your niche or site’s content.
- DA/DR in isolation means almost nothing. A characteristic of PBNs and link farms is that they often buy an expired domain that has a high DA and they make that a selling point to entice people to pay a premium for a link.
- Make sure you get some knowledge about the TAT and refund policy of the site from which you intend to buy backlinks.
- Some platforms may offer you hundreds of backlinks (that they claim are contextual+quality+dofollow+high authority links) for a few dollars. Those are often the cheap backlinks you get on sites like BlackHatWorld and Fiverr. It’s best to avoid these types of services.
- If you want to outsource your link-building (purchasing) work, make sure that it is an agency you can trust, that can get you relevant and high-quality backlinks. Paid strategies may be one technique they can use, but for most industries, it shouldn’t be the only one.
And here’s the biggest take-home when it comes to buying links – Do you NEED to buy them or can you sustain a campaign with other methods, or build links based purely on editorial merit alone?
If you’re in a competitive niche like gambling, binary trading, or such niches – everyone is buying links, and you will probably need to buy links, to build them at enough velocity.
But if you’re not in that kind of niche, think carefully about how much you need to invest in paid links or if you need them at all.
Many may consider link buying ‘unethical’ and technically it is against Google guidelines, but it is best to have a balanced approach to it. Sometimes it’s just a necessary part of building links. The key is to buy links on the right quality sites and do things in as natural a way as possible.
If buying backlinks is a technique you’re comfortable with, but you’re not able to allocate the time to vetting them – that’s where engaging with TLG can help. Whatever the links cost, we’ll either cover the cost on our end, or try to get links for free. We’ll also be able to incorporate other organic link building tactics, so we can diversify your backlink profile, and protect your search rankings for the long term.