I’ll get straight to the point on this one just to map this guide out. If you’re not willing to buy backlinks by investing money into the link building process, then you’re going to miss out.
I want to preface this by saying you shouldn’t buy backlinks from the dodgy link sellers who cold email you or fall into your LinkedIn inbox. Nor should you buy backlinks from the same old websites who will sell to anyone who offers them a bit of cash.
What I’m saying is that, in this era of SEO, you have to understand that link building is always about a value exchange, and if you don’t have a budget for some part of this value exchange then you’re going to limit the number of link building opportunities that could be available to you. Let’s break down the types of link building you should be looking into, those you shouldn’t, and the type of budget you can expect to be a realistic one for each type.
Types of link building strategies and what you can expect to spend
Some types of link building strategies will require more of initial upfront investment, whereas others may require more ad-hoc costs. Here’s the average spend when it comes to link types based on what I’ve personally spent when it comes to using these strategies (and continue to do so):
Guest Posting / Blogger Outreach
This is perhaps the main ‘paid’ method when it comes to link building, or it’s at least what 99% of people will think of when anyone mentions paying for a link.
When I first started in SEO it was a bit easier to place guest posts or work with bloggers without money having to exchange hands. however over the last few years it’s simply part of the process that, at some point, you’re going to have to pay a blogger or a publisher for a link.
The cost can for guest post or blogger outreach backlinks can be anywhere from $20 to $500+, and usually depends on:
- The commercial awareness of the site owner – If they know they can make money off links consistently, and if they’re already charging a premium successfully, then they’ll continue to do so
- Their traffic and authority. Usually, the higher the authority and traffic, the more you can expect to pay
- Their niche. Some niches will charge more for a guest post than others, especially if you’re looking for a link to the from the typical CBD, casino, adult and forex sites
So, when it comes to this, how can you work out a) whether a payment is justified and b) whether the site owner is legit?
- Look at their traffic, referring domains and who they’re linking out to. Does this look like churn and burn site? Does it look an expired domain? If they reply immediately asking for money and don’t even ask questions about the type of content you want to send, and if their site doesn’t really have a set topic, then stay away from them. It’s very likely a link farm, and they’ll let anyone have a link who is willing to pay
- Are they working on growing their authority and traffic consistently? If so, and you can expect the site to continue to grow in a way that won’t be ‘spammy’, then it may make sense to agree to providing content and a paying a publishing fee
Essentially, you want to look into providing payment when they prove to you that they care about protecting their site authority and remaining legitimate, and that they’re not just trying to make a quick but of money off anyone. This is what many link building service providers fail to understand in that they’ll just resell links from any website who is happy to publish for a fee.
What you need to focus on is authority, traffic, relevance, and consistency in protecting their authority over time. And, you’ll generally find that the more legit the site, the harder it will be to land a guest post, but the less likely you’ll have to pay (as they want your content as an expert as it’ll bring genuine value to their audience).
Side note and shameless plug – My team has a productised blogger outreach service where you can pre-approve the website and the content sent to them, so you’re not kept in the dark on who we outreach to, and where your site is getting a link. All orders have their own manual outreach via our suite of tools (Hunter, Mailshake, Ahrefs and Pitchbox to name a few), and we don’t work off the same old recycled lists.
Skyscraper Link Building
If you don’t know what Skyscraper link building is, it’s essentially where you analyse similar sites in your niche to see their best performing pieces of content, and then create a ‘skyscraper’ version which is bigger and better than anything that already exists.
Naturally, if you’re creating the best link ‘bait’ article, then you’re going to need an upfront investment to get it done properly. We’re not just talking content here, you’ll have costs associated with:
- Design – This is going to be an evergreen piece of content that you can update and continue to outreach over time, it’ll need to look good
- Outreach Software – You’ll likely be doing mass outreach once you’ve created your skyscraper content, so you’ll need to pay for something like Hunter.io or Pitchbox to make the process more manageable
- Content – Speaking of content, this is no doubt going to be a much longer article than what you already have on your site, so keep that in mind when looking at your content budget
All in all, you can easily spend $1,000+ on a skyscraper piece of content to ensure that it ticks all of the boxes and completely blows your competitors out of the water.
The main thing with a link insert is that you have to go into the strategy understanding that you’re going to struggle if you don’t have any of the following:
- Willingness to pay for a link insertion into an aged piece of content
- Your own website or asset that you can offer a value exchange e.g. a link insert for your website in exchange for giving them a link insert in another site you own (not a direct link exchange from the site you want a link to!) or even a social share if you have a page with a loyal and growing following that would be relevant to them too
I find that having your own asset works very well, as it’s something that can be used if the site owner doesn’t want to do a monetary exchange for the link insert. For this to work though, you have to personally own a site (or sites) with high authority and traffic levels, and be for them to be contextual to the sites you’re reaching out to, otherwise the offer of a link insert back in exchange just isn’t as enticing to the person you’re outreaching to.
It’s the ‘aged’ aspect of the content that really makes this strategy enticing. I wouldn’t use it as my main approach, but done as a supporting approach to a broader link building strategy it can work very well. I recommend running the site through Ahrefs that you want a link insert from, and look at their pages via best by links and top content/best by traffic. Ideally, you want a link insert from a page that is contextual to the site you want a link to, that the article itself has links pointing to it, and that it has sustained traffic via regular visits because it actually ranks for the keywords it’s targeting.
For link inserts, expect to get quoted anywhere from $20-100+. Personally, I wouldn’t pay any more than $50, and it’s not a primary strategy or a lot of work for the publisher to do on their side either.
Media Placements / HARO
Hold on a minute… isn’t HARO free? Yep, it absolutely is. And it’s definitely not worth paying for the premium version either. The cost here is all about what you value your time, and it’s why my team has dozens of clients who outsource their HARO link building to us. It’s because it’s so time intensive and mentally draining if you’re trying to do it on your own.
It’s even more of a time investment if you’re using sites similar to HARO too (which we do). But, these types of platforms are incredible for landing some ridiculously high quality links… so really you’ve got a few options here:
- Outsource your HARO link building effort to get high authority media placements. The average cost per link is anywhere from $200-400 depending on the service
- Respond to all of the requests yourself (absolutely fine if you have the time)
- Create a team to do the responses on your behalf
Private Blog Networks
I’m going to keep this one short as it’s not something I tend to use a lot of. I have tested PBN’s before and yes, they work, but I would be constantly worrying about them getting hit if it was my main method of link building.
PBN links can cost anywhere from $100-1,000+. Some PBN’s are legit in the sense that they’re well made, have no clear footprint from any of their other properties, have huge traffic levels and genuinely do attract legitimate links passively due to their size. Personally it’s not for me, but you might really enjoy testing and seeing what PBN’s can actually do for your site.
I can go down quite the rabbit hole with digital PR link building. For the purposes of keeping this guide less than 100k words, let’s look into some of the tried and true methods of link building that fall under the digital PR category, and what you can expect to pay for them:
This falls under what I’d deem as your traditional campaign. This could be anything from a single question in a survey to accompany a data-lead campaign and appease a journalist, right up to extensive surveys and research pieces to make a mammoth piece of content. It’s not unusual for companies to spend $10,000+ on these studies, however you can also use sites like Statista and The Office of National Statistics if you want to pad your piece with free data too.
Generally though, surveys can get expensive, and you’ll also be looking to pay for a media database in order to get the right journalist contacts. These can start anywhere from $200 per month and easily rack up into the thousands. Without a database and a unique angle with some fresh data you’re probably going to struggle though or tear your hair out by trying to manually outreach to certain journalists who you think might cover your article.
Blogger gifting is an awesome link building method as you generally don’t have to pay for the feature itself, it’s just the cost of the gift being made and sent to the blogger.
Some bloggers will also ask for payment to be included in a review or guide, but usually I just opt for the ones who are happy with a gift.
The great thing about gifting too is that you can tailor it throughout the year, especially if you have a site or work with a client who has the types of gifts that work well for year-round gifting e.g. flowers, candles, gadgets etc.
For example, you could create a gifting PDF of mothers day candles for a specific mothers day campaign, one for fathers day, Christmas… you get the idea!
Where to allocate your budget as you progress in your link building efforts
My advice to anyone starting out (if you’re just doing this yourself and you don’t already have a team) is to:
- Use HARO and its alternatives to build branded anchors to your homepage
- Start looking to establish relationships with bloggers and publishers in your niche to build links via guest post and link inserts, which then gives you the option to vary your link destinations and anchors
- Look at hiring a virtual assistant or part-time team member who can help with the manual side of outreach, which is easily where you’re going to sink the most of your time (other than actually writing the content)
If you’re looking to buy backlinks from a vendor, again go with something like HARO and guest posting, or HARO and Skyscraper link building so that you still can get that branded/non-branded anchor split over time.
Is buying backlinks going to get me a manual penalty?
If you stick to working with legitimate websites, have a vetting process and aim to build the types of links that are natural, then a penalty shouldn’t be something you worry about. For example, HARO link building and proper blogger outreach are not things that could trigger a penalty in the same way as using exact-match keyword anchors only from blatant private blog networks… they’re not even in the same universe, let alone the same ballpark.
I’ve worked with sites that have had recovered from a penalty in the past, and have seen some truly shocking link building that hasn’t triggered a penalty when anyone would’ve assumed that it would be the case… These days it seems like you’ve got to be really leaving a clear footprint to actually get a penalty handed to you, however it’s just not the worth the risk even if you want to trying something a bit spammier just to see what happens.
Should I negotiate for the cost of a backlink?
Usually I find that you can get at least half off the cost of a link when doing blogger outreach or link inserts. Bloggers will tend to pitch at a higher price because it’s likely that they get a lot of people emailing who want to pay next to nothing. If you think the cost doesn’t reflect the quality of the link, then negotiation is always advised.
We’re in an age of link building where it’s getting more and more important to understand that an exchange of value is crucial for many of the types of the links that you’re going to want to obtain. Whether that’s value in the form of money, time for writing content, a gift, a link insertion, or a quote from an expert, there is always some form of currency being exchanged (just that it’s not always monetary).
So, what truly is the cost of a link? If it’s not payment, it’s the cost of your time, or the cost to train a team to do it for you. Hopefully this guide has given you insights into what you can expect to spend on average based on the most popular types of link building, and why it’s so important to know that links very rarely come without any work or value exchange these days!