Should You Buy Backlinks? An Honest Perspective

Buying backlinks is easy and you can visit any number of websites to do so.

However, purchasing backlinks comes with a whole host of issues.

Firstly, search engines warn against purchasing links and Google algorithms can reduce your organic traffic as you get caught up in link schemes.

Second, not all backlinks are the same - quality, pricing and results are all wildly different.

In fact, many have moved away from it in favor of more organic link building strategies

In one link building survey, only 30% of responders said they still use paid links as a tactic.

So what about you? Should you use paid backlinks? 

There are thousands of marketers out there who buy high quality backlinks with great results.

There’s also 100 times as many who have been burned with poor quality links that wouldn’t touch paid backlinks again.

This guide will help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

I’ll teach you how to buy backlinks in a more thoughtful manner.

Key Points

  • Search engines warn against buying links, and Google algorithms can reduce traffic if you get caught up in a link scheme.
  • Many people have moved away from buying links altogether in favor of more organic strategies.
  • If you do choose to buy links from a middleman agency, be aware of the risks involved.
  • You can buy links directly from website owners, which is the easiest form of outreach link building if you have a good sized budget.
  • Some link building services agencies can build backlinks without paying for them. 
  • To filter out low quality links, check factors such as how often guest posts are published on the site, whether there is an author persona tied to the site, what other monetization methods the site uses besides selling guest posts, and traffic trends over time.

What is Buying Backlinks?

Buying backlinks is the processing of paying for a link back to your website. The goal of buying links is to improve a website's search engine rankings.

What Search Engines Says About Buying Backlinks?

Google doesn't want you buying links because it considers this a link scheme. However, many people in SEO still do this and Google has seemingly given up on punishing them. 

Instead, they claim to devalue the SEO backlinks that they think are part of a scheme. 

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Personally, I believe them. After being in this industry for 10 years, I've noticed a lack of results from certain types of paid links.

Overall, it's harder to buy backlinks that give you long-term safety and it's become easier to establish a link building process that doesn’t require it.

However, people still buy and sell links in droves. Next, let’s break down why.

Why People Buy Backlinks

People buy backlinks foremost because link building is proven to work as an essential component of improving a site’s ranking.

Although link building is well understood on the surface level, many business owners and marketers struggle with the actual practice of building backlinks.

This causes them to look for ways to buy backlinks.

For example, a business owner might not have enough experience to establish an internal link building team.

An internal marketer might not have the budget to hire full time link builders.

Or an experienced affiliate marketer may simply have trusted vendors that they prefer to use so they can focus on high quality content and other aspects of business and marketing.

If you are thinking about buying backlinks but haven’t quite decided yet then here's some advice.

Should You Buy Backlinks?

The ability to buy backlinks is a powerful in experienced hands and dangerous for novices.

For every successful international, multi-million dollar business in the insurance, casino, and finance industry that is buying links, there are 100s of smaller businesses getting penalized by the Google algorithm for low quality links.

Things have gotten especially riskier as of late.

After PBN links went the way of blog comments, the paid guest post rose in popularity.

Dozens of agencies rose to prominence proving this SEO strategy between 2015-2019.

Buy high quality links and see your search engine ranking grow.

However, many of these links no longer work as well and here's why:

  1. Relevant sites that had good metrics started selling way too many guest posts and Google devalued those outbound links
  2. The boost you'd see in rankings from paid guest posts seemed to go away within a year or two
  3. Real blogs stopped responding to guest post requests, so the only people left responding were those who were selling links.

Sites that relied on paid links got hit by Google. I saw affiliate sites losing website traffic and SaaS sites investing in inbound links but getting no traction.

Let’s not pull any punches if your considering to buy backlinks. This is what the total number of backlinks vs. traffic graph of a typical site who invests too much in paid guest posts looks like:

bad graph.jpg

I think that the main reason why these rankings crash is because of bad paid link building.

This contrasts starkly with websites that focus on acquiring good quality backlinks through organic outreach.

good graph.jpg

As you can see from the figure, their traffic goes up as their number of backlinks go up.

And more importantly, the traffic doesn't get smacked after a couple of years.

Casual backlink buying and doing paid guest posting is not their primary strategy. 

Keep that in mind as we move into the next section.

The Main Four Ways To Buy High Quality Backlinks

In-House Link Building

If you're looking to build links without directly paying for them, one option is to hire an in-house team of link builders. 

This allows you to maintain control over the output and focus on quality relationship building. 

There are a number of ways to acquire white hat backlinks without paying for them, and an in-house team can help you do just that.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to build high quality backlinks.

The costs

Of course, with any internal project, even if you no longer have to cover the backlinks cost there are a number of responsibilities that come along with it, such as managing people, budgets, timelines, and deliverables.

Additionally, the cost of labor will vary depending on the market. 

For example, hiring in cheaper markets like the Philippines or Serbia will be less expensive than hiring in more expensive western markets. 

All things considered, spending $3,000-$20,000 per month on a team of link builders is not out of the question.

If you're interested in pursuing this option, our value first outreach framework is a great place to start.

Middleman Agencies who Buy Links on Your Behalf

There are agencies you can hire that will buy quality backlinks on your behalf. This is a convenient way to buy backlinks, especially if you don't have the time or knowledge to develop a link buying process of your own. 

Basically, you pay the agency a one-time or monthly fee, specify what kind of dofollow backlinks you want, and they'll purchase them from website owners in their database. 

The agency essentially acts as a middleman and is responsible for handling the website owner payment while also charging you for their time, effort communicating with the site owners and creating the content. 

Many marketers choose this route because it saves them time and energy, however there are several concerns with the quality of backlinks from agencies that you should be aware of.

The risks

Most link building services emphasize metrics like DR/DA/TF/CF/Traffic when deciding whether to build links on a site.

Sadly, there is a shady side to these metrics that make sites look good to buyers while hiding their true nature.

Middlemen agencies with poor vetting processes or an immature understanding of what constitutes quality backlinks can include these sites in their database.

Poor vetting

First, gamifying these metrics is easy. Link sellers can build websites using aged domains with high DR and pass them as authority sites. 

The biggest trick of 2022 from link sellers is playing games with Ahrefs Organic traffic stats.

This number is an estimation of how much organic search traffic a website gets each month.

It's the gold standard for evaluating link building quality but its also easy to game.

I did an experiment with one of my test sites recently and was able to get my Ahrefs traffic from 100 to 27,000(!) with just 10 AI generated blog posts.

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The 10 articles targeted  high volume keywords around celebrity net worth, something related to the TV show Home Improvement, a crime story, and some other random terms that have high search volumes but low competition.

(Hint: I found these keywords by checking the rankings of link seller sites who email me)

They're basically low value and mostly low volume keywords that Ahrefs mistakenly categorizes as high so the only bloggers who try to rank for them are the ones selling links.

Now the metrics on my test site (DR 44 Traffic 27,000) look amazing and agencies have been trying to get me added to their blogger database. 

It's a sign of insufficient vetting and is a massive issue within the link building services ecosystem.

If you're considering buying links - these are not the types of follow links you want because they are essentially glorified PBN sites.

Another risk with using middle men agencies is repetition.

Using same websites over and over for all their clients

Most link vendors will sell the same websites to different clients because those websites produce the majority of their income. This is known as the 80/20 rule. 

Because these websites are easy to sell, vendors may become complacent and not update their list regularly. 

As a result, some website owners may unwittingly purchase links from guest post farms or sites that have been hit by algorithm updates, causing more harm than good.

Not all agencies are like this however. Perhaps you will find a good one that doesn’t succumb to these issues but in my experience, I find that the larger the agency, the more they have to use these tactics to maintain their deliverables.

If you're set on buying links from agencies, then there are ways to minimize the risk involved. 

Doing it safely

Work with agencies that only buy backlinks from websites that don't frequently sell links.

Though this may seem like a Catch-22, it's actually possible to find these types of agencies. 

Additionally, if an agency provides you with a list of websites they've worked with in the past, take a close look at the list. 

If there are any notes next to the website name (indicating that the website will only accept certain types of content, for example) or if it's obvious that the agency has a relationship with a freelancer writer of a hard-to-publish-on-blog, then buying backlinks from them will yield better results than a link that can be bought from any website.

The costs

You can buy cheap backlinks as cheap as $5 per link from agencies so we need to add some guardrails to give legit estimates.

If you’re looking to buy links from agencies who work with blogs that have editorial standards, it means agencies need to produce high quality content to get your follow links published. 

That makes this type of agency link building more expensive than submitting $20 articles. 

I would expect a link placement on a DR 50 site to cost $300-$400 to factor in both the links cost, content costs and agency fees. 

In-House Link Buying

Developing an in-house link buying process is a great way to get links without having to go through an agency. 

You can hire a freelancer who has experience with this type of activity and they can do all the work for you, from prospecting to negotiating with bloggers. 

This is the easiest form of outreach link building if you have a good sized budget.

You can have long term success with this strategy if you are picky with the websites you work with but there are lots of red flags to look out for.

Doing it safely

First, you want to learn to spot and eliminate link farms. Here are a few ways to spot a link farm:

  • Look and feel: text logo, random keywords in domain
  • Broad selection of topics: so they can sell more relevant links
  • Types of blog posts they publish: mostly spammy posts
  • Lack of an alternative business model: they probably sell guest blogs if the website has no other monetization
  • Ranking for strange, high volume terms: like random error messages or celebrity long tails

If you take these steps, unfortunately you'll realize how little backlink opportunities you'll actually have to work with since most legitimate blogs just ignore sponsored post requests. 

With enough prospecting and outreach though, you will find bloggers who both care about their content, have a business model outside of selling dofollow links, and are willing to help you out with a link in exchange for some money. 

Here’s an example of a good opportunity.

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The main website has a real business model and just offers paid guest posts as extra revenue and a lead acquisition channel. They have high editorial standards and a publishing process that takes weeks.

A link - even paid - from a website like this will likely retain its value long term.

Another way to buy links is to find freelancers who write for high authority sites in your niche. The site is paying them to write the content and you pay the writer to include your link.

To find such opportunities, Google search for writers in your space or put up a job post up on freelance websites. Work up a relationship and offer to pay them extra for mentioning your content in articles they write for others.

The costs

The cost of buying backlinks will depend on the website owner or writer you are working with, as well as the quality and length of content you are looking for. 

Since you’re going directly to the blogger or writer and cutting out the agency middleman, you could buy backlinks between $60-$300 depending on what the blogger charges. 

Of course you also want to factor in the cost of managing the outreach process - several hundred dollars a month if you have a virtual assistant from Eastern Europe or the Philippines. 

Factor in another $20-$200 per link if you are outsourcing the content creation.

All things considered, it won't be cheaper than using a middleman agency but you have better link quality control and may get better search engine rankings results.

Using a Link Building Agency that Doesn’t Pay for Links

A link building services agency that specializes in outreach and relationship building can build backlinks without paying for them. Instead of paying, they can leverage haro link building, content marketing strategies, link exchanges, and relationships with website owners to deliver free links for their clients.

Brands that continue organic growth year over year invest in content and relationships.

Unfortunately both of these require lots of experience, expertise, people, time and consistent execution to achieve and maintain good search results.

Because of such complexity, businesses with higher budgets typically outsource this activity to agencies.

The costs

Link outreach agencies typically require monthly packages and are more expensive than middleman agencies.

To achieve good results, the client usually needs to have an established brand, good looking website and high quality content on their blog - otherwise good website owners will be hesitant to engage.

However, if that sounds like you, outsourcing to such agencies (like us) is a great way to offload the workload of link building without stressing about link quality. 

Link outreach agencies that don’t pay for backlinks almost always require monthly packages. Because of the somewhat ambiguous nature of outreach, few agencies will guarantee the number of backlinks per month but instead they provide a range, like 5-10 links a month for $1499. 

In general, you can expect to pay between $200-$800 per link across the various popular link outreach services.

Summing up, that's four ways to purchase links. Some involve just directly paying the website owner. Others involve paying someone who pays the site owners. And others still involve paying for people who then perform activities to acquire high quality backlinks.

If paying people and building relationships sounds like too much work and you’d rather just buy quality backlinks directly from website owners, you should have an elite vetting process to eliminate spammy site owners.

How to Filter Out Low Quality Links

The basics of how to evaluate a backlink opportunity are understood by most or easy to learn about.

You need to consider domain metrics, traffic volume, publishing frequency, and content quality. 

Domain metrics like Domain Authority or Domain Rating shows how many backlinks the website has, while traffic volume indicates how many people are exposed to a site's content. 

Publishing frequency reveals how often new content is created, which can give you an idea of how fresh and relevant the site's content is. 

And their content quality standards should be high. 

By taking all of these factors into account, you’ll stand a better chance to buy quality backlinks however link sellers have become more sophisticated now.

They can mimic the look and feel of quality relevant websites and manufacture a backlink profile that passes superficial checks.

 But like I discussed earlier, you need to be really picky otherwise you’ll get caught up in a link scheme.

Here are a few advanced ways to filter out low quality website targets when purchasing backlinks.

How Often Are They Publishing Guest Posts

If a blog only publishes guest blogs submitted by other websites, you’ll want to raise an eyebrow. 

A website should have its own internal writers and content strategy - otherwise what’s the point of existing? 

My personal barometer is that less than 50% of the most recent 10 articles should be guest blogs.

Any more than that, I'd be hesitant about buying backlinks from them. 

(Note - I don’t buy them regardless - our guest blog strategy generates free link opportunities consistently.)

Check the Author of the Site

If the author of most articles on a blog is “admin”, be very afraid. Likewise if there is no author persona or interesting About Us page that proves someone cares about this site.

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Search engines like Google created the concept of EAT just for this purpose. Anyone can make a website but only few care enough about their website to put their name behind it. I would only buy backlinks from websites who have a real author persona tied to them.

How Does the Website Make Money Besides Selling Sponsored Posts

This is a big one because search engine optimization veterans can easily buy expired domains that already have link juice, put up a nice looking blog and start selling links with no other business model.

A dead giveaway is when they have a “write for us” page prominent with no other visible business model.

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The difficult part is actually monetizing the website outside of letting people buy backlinks. If selling outbound links are their only way of monetization, avoid this opportunity and look for other sites.

Selling ads, having a SaaS, providing services, selling products or a course are all legitimate ways to monetize.

Check Archive.org History

You can go back several decades to see what a website used to be. This is especially helpful when trying to buy backlinks.

As touched on above, turning expired domains into cheap backlinks selling businesses is commonplace.

To inspect the backlink prospect in question, enter the domain into the search engine of archive.org.

If you see a big gap in it’s history, the domain likely expired and was picked up again by a new owner.

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Check the Traffic Trend Over Time

Knowing a website’s existing monthly traffic is a valuable metric but it doesn’t tell the whole picture.

The 5 year traffic trend is a more powerful way to gauge the health of a website.

If a website has 1000 monthly traffic now but it used to be 50,000 several months ago, I would avoid getting a link from that website because its highly likely they lost traffic due to a Google penalty.

Alternatively, if a website only has 100 traffic but you can see it just started a couple months ago and is actively working on growing through content and link building then that is an link purchase that will get stronger over time.

Check If They're Linking to Questionable Websites

You can use the Ahrefs outbound links report to see if the website has a history of linking to questionable niches like casino and CBD. It is a clear sign of a website that sells bulk backlinks. And sometimes a sign of a website that will publish anything for money.

In summary

So, should you buy backlinks? The answer is complicated. 

Google and other search engines are clear in their warnings against buying links, and the potential consequences - including a drop in traffic - can be serious. 

However, if you do your research or find a reputable agency to work with, buying backlinks may still be an effective way to improve your website's rankings. 

Just be aware of the risks involved and make sure you're using a natural link building process that will actually help your business grow.

If you’re looking for a reputable link building service to work with that focuses on building relationships with other websites and executing a long term focused SEO campaign, check us out.

Ajay Paghdal
Outreach Labs Founder
🕒 13 mins read
Oct 30, 2022

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Article by
Ajay Paghdal
Outreach Labs Founder
Ajay enjoys tinkering with new link building strategies, building teams and processes around it and in general, has enjoyed being a part of the industry for the past decade.

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