You’re ready to hire a link building service. Cool.
These guys over here are charging $1,000 per link and those guys over there are promising a dozen links for $50.
Another group requires a minimum link building outreach retainer of $5k/mo.
The coupon-clipping section of your brain is pushing you to find the cheapest services possible. But the Rolex-wearing section of your brain is tingling at the perceived luxury of a more expensive service.
We’ve all been there.
There’s a fundamental dilemma here, and it’s not just the tug-of-war between the competing financial intuitions in your head. There may be some irrational variables in play, but in link building and guest posting, you often get what you pay for.
So how can you make sure you’re getting high quality links without breaking the bank?
Table of Contents
What should you really be paying for link building services?
Spoiler: Good, High Quality Backlinks are NOT Cheap
Okay, let’s approach this from a high level first, and then start pinching pennies.
Link building is expensive.
It just is.
Let’s look at some of the details that make it expensive.
Research and strategy
There are some great keyword research tools out there, but… it’s just such a pain. Generating ideas, digging through data, assembling reports, looking at the competition, and working with version after version… it’s super time-consuming.
Part of what you’re paying (or willing to pay for SEO) for is the research and high-level strategy necessary to make your campaign work. And remember, most of these reputable link building vendors have years, if not decades of combined experience to make those strategies even more valuable.
Good links need content. You can’t just spam your links on every forum and blog you can find and expect to get a boost to your domain authority. You need to house them in carefully crafted, unique, engaging content. Depending on the publisher, these pieces range in the thousands of words, contain lots of expertly-researched details, and even have touches of humor. Do you know how hard it is to work humor into an article about window replacement? You can’t just jamb it in.
In any case, good content takes a long time, and great content takes even longer, especially if you’re pitching the idea of providing a guest post to other high quality websites.
You’re paying not just for the writing service, but also the revising, the editing, the back-and-forth consultations with the publication editor, and the finishing touches that take it live.
Backlink cost from longstanding publisher relationships
Speaking of publishers, you’re also paying for the long-term relationships this link building agency has established.
Keep in mind these are not “paid links” in the direct sense, but indirect paid links through bridging the gap quick on link placement relationships with the right partner.
Domain authority is calculated in large part based on the authority of referring links. In other words, the more authoritative the publisher is, the more valuable the link will be.
The problem? The more authoritative the publisher is, the harder it is to get featured. Think of authority as higher and higher walls, keeping out unknown parties. Link building agencies often spend time building better relationships with these fortresses, so they have a much easier time publishing new work. It’s like the Trojan horse that gets you past the walls—except way less sneaky and instead of a horse, it’s a smartly written opinion piece.
Nurturing and follow-through
Link building strategies also require finesse when it comes to nurturing and ongoing follow-through. Published pieces sometimes need follow-ups and monitoring to make sure they go live and stay active. It takes ongoing analytics and observations to improve your approach over time.
Expected losses on costly link building
In link building, things go wrong, and probably more often than agencies want to admit. You’ll have links removed. You’ll have publishers fall through. You’ll have pieces that get stuck in development hell.
Are these mistakes? Sometimes. But most of the time, they’re expected losses—and a necessary cost of doing business. Accordingly, they’re worked into the bottom-line costs.
Mobile app addictions
Link builders are known compulsive spenders on mobile app microtransactions. They need your help to fund their addictions! (Just kidding. Bonafide link builders don’t have time for such trivialities. They have a Terminator-like focus on content).So yeah, all of a sudden it starts making sense that link building prices can range in the hundreds to thousands of dollars per link.
But [Fill-in-the-Trendy-Brand-Name-Here] Promised They Could Get Me Links for Cheap!
You know what? They probably can.
But they’re not the links you’re looking for. Oftentimes, cheap links are a red flag that what you’re about to engage in is a link scheme.
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
They go on to list examples, like directly buying a link that passes PageRank, exchanging links excessively, automated link building techniques, or bullying people into building links with contracts or terms of service.
For a link building strategy to be cheap, it has to bypass the time-consuming and costly elements we listed in the previous section. And it usually means the link isn’t valuable, in one or more of the following ways:
- The content sucks.
- The linking sites are low-authority.
- The links are being cheaply spammed.
- The links are built with automation tools.
- The links aren’t even real. Yes, seriously, we’ve seen some people stuck in this position.
In most cases, this is worse than neutral. Being part of a link scheme or building bad links to your site can actually hurt your domain authority, or result in a penalty that compromises your ability to rank.
So the bottom line here is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Is Expensive Link Building Really Worth It?
Cheap link building’s a no-go. And you get why other types of link building are expensive. But are those relatively expensive campaigns really worth the money you’ll funnel into them?
That’s a big question, and not one you can answer simply. But as you might imagine, there’s a reason these link building agencies are doing well; they get results.
Link building has many factors going for it, when done properly.
Cheap Backlinks ≠ Higher Visibility
From the time the link is published, you’ll increase the visibility and reputation of your brand—assuming the content is good. It may take a while to collect on that, but your name will enter circulation instantly.
You’ll also get near-immediate referral traffic. If the publisher sees a fair number of visitors, and your article gets a decent share of that traffic, a good percentage of people will click your link and visit your site.
Do the math on your own here: W
- What’s your onsite conversion rate like?
- What’s the value of a new customer?
- How many visitors will you need to generate to make expensive, but high quality backlinks worth it?
If everything’s working in your favor, and your onsite conversion strategy is on point, you should be able to break even from referral traffic alone—even with an “expensive” campaign.
That’s before we even look at the SEO benefits.
Cheap Backlinks ≠ Higher Authority
Remember, each link you build will pass PageRank authority to your site, increasing its likelihood of ranking in searches relevant to its industry and topic.
You won’t see the results immediately, but if you build several links over the course of weeks to months, you’ll start generating hundreds, if not thousands of monthly visitors. These results compound quickly, especially if you’re targeting the right keyword terms.
Now take things one step further.
One of the biggest advantages of a link building campaign is its longevity.
What do I mean by that?
Every link you build is functionally permanent. Sure, it might get removed, or the publisher might eventually shut down, but if there isn’t an inciting event, your link will live forever. In other words, each one-time investment you make will have the power to return value to you in dividends, hypothetically forever.
Plus, every new link adds more power to your campaign.
As you target more publishers and higher-authority publishers, you’ll start getting page-one rankings more frequently, and your SEO strategy will really start to take off.
Your link building is not looking so expensive now, is it?
Obviously, the long-term results depend on your commitment; you can’t build a single link and expect a wildly high ROI. But with a good SEO company and consistent effort, you should find yourself in a valuable position.
Link Building Pricing: What’s the Number?
I get it! You want to see the numbers.
Broad terms like “cheap” and “expensive” don’t mean much.
You get why quality link building is important, and why cheap link building is usually problematic. But how much should you really be paying? And how much is too much?
Don’t hate me for this, but it really does depend on a lot of variables. You can expect the price of your link building strategy to vary based on these factors:
- Publisher authority. The more authoritative the publisher, the pickier they are. Big-time publishers require big-time effort, and therefore big-time prices.
- Content length. Content length has an impact on rankings, but it’s typically more expensive. For instance, it takes longer to write a 2,000-word post than a 500-word equivalent.
- Content quality. Good content requires research, outlining, revision, editing, and polishing. Quality is always the right choice, but it’s going to cost more.
- Campaign length. Longer, more committed campaigns have lower per-piece prices. For example, you might pay $800 for a single link and a single article, but $5,000 for a campaign of 10 links and 10 articles.
That’s because it’s better for you and the link building agency to stick with this long-term.
- Campaign bundling. You might also get a discount on link building services if you use the agency for other SEO or marketing services, like keyword research, onsite optimization, or social media marketing.
- Guarantees and protections. Certain companies may offer additional guarantees, protections, or peripheral services that require them to charge a little extra.
- Profit margins. And of course, different link building companies will aim for different profit margins.
Overall, if a company is offering links for less than $100 each, including content and placement, you can expect to be suspicious. In fact, if they’re advertising “buying links” directly, you should probably be suspicious.
Purchasing offsite content development, link building, and link earning services should cost you something in the range of a few hundred dollars per link.
If you get to $1,000 per link or higher, you should see exceptional quality, such as amazing, industry-defining content, or some of the most authoritative publishers online.
Even so, the high cost of SEO is typically still worth the expense.
Is This Link Building Pricing Fair?
Ultimately, there are two things that will help you determine whether this link building cost is appropriate.
Compare different providers. The best way to see whether this pricing is fair is to see if other companies are offering similar services for the same price.
If they’re more expensive, is it because they offer better products and more exhaustive services? If they’re cheaper, is it because they’re cutting corners?
Make sure you look at online reviews and testimonials as well.
Think long-term. Are these prices your company can afford on a monthly basis, for several months?
Are you willing to invest in link building as a long-term strategy, and not just as a short-term boost?
If so, you’ll be much more likely to see a positive return, since the ROI of any link building or SEO effort will increase over time.
There is also a bonus if you’re an SEO agency looking for backlink services.
There are many willing to pitch the idea of white label link building at discount to retail.
But buyer beware. Not all outsourced link building campaigns are created equal.
Link Building Costs: You Get What you Pay for
At the beginning of this article, we compared the two extremes: a dirt-cheap link building operation and a pricier, exhaustive suite of services.
What’s the best way to think about link building pricing?
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to pay too much, of course.
How many links will it take for you to rank? That’s depends, but you definitely don’t want to build more links than is necessary to rank in Google search.
Generally, you should be prepared to pay a few thousand dollars a month, and several hundred dollars per quality link, if you want to succeed.