This is a guest post by Christopher Angus, an SEO expert who runs a bespoke digital marketing agency/SEO company in the Cotswolds, United Kingdom. In addition to his extensive SEO knowledge, Christopher specializes in social media marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click management and website design. Rated the 26th Most Influential Marketer in the World in 2009, Christopher’s portfolio includes a range of high-profile companies within the travel, finance and gaming industries.
Linking is the holy grail of getting better visibility on Google. It’s no secret that getting great quality links from trusted sites is the key to success in terms of organic results and therefore free traffic.
Previous SEO techniques used to mainly involve buying links, as many as you could afford to get, as you knew that if you bought enough of them your website would rank highly. Link buying still takes place and there is still a significant link buying economy. However, because of Google’s penalties and threats thereof, link buying is in decline. I don’t think it will ever vanish, but anyone with something significant to lose tends to think twice before they go on some link buying spree.
I personally don’t have an ethical or moral issue with paid links. However, we as an SEO company  have stopped doing it for our clients, as I don’t think the rewards outweigh the risks. The ROI of paid links is in decline too as Google’s algorithm gets more efficient at filtering them out, so you need many more to get the same benefit.
For several years now people have been creating content, images or anything else that can garner editorial links and stay within Google’s guidelines. The downside is that linkbait is hit and miss, and it's also pretty expensive and time-consuming to produce. You can spend a couple of thousand dollars creating something only for it to fall flat and get no links and no traffic, which is pretty heartbreaking at times.
However, I still believe that linkbaiting or getting editorial links makes more sense from a financial and risk perspective. I’ve outlined some average costs and outputs for linkbait and compared it with paid links.
You can either hire a “linkbaiter” or do it yourself; for this example we’re basing the figures on hiring a person for two projects.
For this example we’re going to imagine that the first article didn’t do very well; it didn’t hit the front page of Digg and the email requests were not well received either. So it only got one decent link. However, the second article fared much better and got eleven high-quality links.
Therefore in total:
2 x article-based linkbait including promotion @ $2000 each = $4000
$4000 / 12 links = $333.33 per link
Now let us compare that to buying the same quantity of links through the “paid link” route.
12 high-quality links for ONE YEAR @ $6000 / 12 links = $500 per link
As you can see, linkbaiting fared a bit better in terms of cost. And aside from the costs, the links that have been given editorially are permanent and will almost all be passing PageRank, which isn’t the case when you buy links as some of them will have been stopped from passing reputation and PageRank.
In summary: I would say for this example you would be getting twice the value from the linkbait as opposed to the paid links. The cherry on the top is that there is NO RISK of a Google penalty.
Even if the commercials didn’t make sense and buying links were way cheaper, I’d still stick with the linkbait because of the risk factor and the fact that the links last pretty much forever.