Paid Links vs. Linkbait: What's the Better Value?


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.

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.

Chris AngusChristopher Angus is 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.

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Ed L.
Jun 17, 2010

Dude, what a crap post. Anyone can pull some numbers out of their rear-end and proclaim that this makes A more cost-effective than B. I don't know where you get your figures from but either you've been ripping off your customers, or you've been ripped off yourself. What a load of bollocks.

To WordStream: please get some better quality guest bloggers, as this type of crap doesn't deserve to be published here.

Jun 18, 2010

Is this a sponsored post for ?
See that anchor text ? No sources for the different figures exposed...Weird article...

Jun 18, 2010

Disappointing post to be seen on Wordstream. Those rates are outlandish for the results you're talking about. $2,000 for one piece of content and a total of 6 links?? Ever heard of basic syndication or piece of content going viral? That alone would well exceed 6 backlinks. At those rates, you better be marketing the heck out of that content. And $500 PER paid link? Those prices are for the top 1% spenders in the market and those big players can buy links all day long (at much better prices) b/c they have the established link profile, brand trust & won't get a Google slap b/c consumers "expect" them to be ranked. So did this content cost you $2,000 or $500 for the paid link?

Tom Demers
Jun 18, 2010

Hey Everyone,
Sorry you didn't like the post. It's certainly not a paid post - we typically let guest bloggers link to their own Web properties liberally, as it encourages people to contribute content to the blog. We also try to let contributers have a reasonable amount of freedom with the content they contribute. The people who guest post on the blog are generally people we've met at industry events and/or on forums and had reason to believe would be quality contributers (which is the case here) and we're grateful for the contributed content and point of view.
Anyway I do appreciate the feedback on the piece, and in future we'll consider either offering more context on posts or a stricter editorial policy with guest posts.
Thanks everyone!
Tom Demers

Gab Goldenberg
Jun 18, 2010

This reasoning is completely circular. The proof that paid links are more expensive is a made up example where paid links are more expensive. This is supposed to be convincing?

Also, buying links is different than renting. You can buy permanent links and do fine, at a good ROI.

Jun 21, 2010

Nice blog post, interesting topic, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Robert

Joe W
Jun 21, 2010

"In summary: I would say for this example you would be getting twice the value from the linkbait as opposed to the paid links."

WTF - there is little context to compare the two and how much value the links offer.

When buying links - you know what you are getting. You are selective, you are in control. It may have become riskier (knowing what does and doesn’t work) but you can plan accordingly. You can plan the anchor text, what page it appears, where it appears and estimate how much PageRank it receives etc.

Linkbait can return greatness or nothing (that’s a risk in itself!)– much less predictable. You really need a skilled linkbaiter to get results. But does that ensure value? Probably, but a skilled linkbaiter is likely to expect a well-paid salary and will need to spend time to plan and roll out his link bait.
Link buying is getting harder but is still easier to execute successfully and by a less skilled link builder who will be on a lower salary.

You can make a strong case for either option. And I am sure most would take linkbait if promise of ROI was positive every time. Unfortunately, it’s never that simple!

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