No one can deny that building links is important. With so many SEO agencies and freelancers selling link building services out there, it’s easy to get frustrated over the real cost of building links. So, the question is: How much does link building actually cost?
In this guide for SaaS and tech companies, we’ll try to analyze the current state of building links as well as provide you with all the necessary information so you can make the right decision about who to trust with your efforts.
This guide may also be useful if you’re running another type of business (e.g. e-commerce), but it is aimed to help the market we serve, which is SaaS and tech businesses.
How the Cost of Link Building is Affected by the Vertical
One of the the first things you need to consider when building links for your website is how the vertical you’re in affects the number of links you need to be competitive. For some verticals, getting 20-30 links to one important page may be enough to rank, while for other verticals, 20-30 links won’t have any impact on your search rankings.
For example, these are the top results for a rather competitive term (a Keyword Difficulty of 33 according to Ahrefs) with more than 1.8K searches per month.
This screenshot from Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer shows us that a) most top ranking pages for that keyword have many links pointing back at them and b) the same pages—except for one—have a high Domain Rating (DR). This means that getting a web page to rank for that term will likely cost more than for a vertical where competition isn’t so fierce.
This shows us that competition (in general) in some verticals may not require as many links. On top of that, we have to consider the fact that even if we manage to build high-quality links to a certain page, again, Google may not give that page a boost in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Image Source: MOZ
However, aside from the number of backlinks competing web pages have for a particular topic, we also have to consider how competitive the landscape is in general. A page may have 50 links today—and that, at first, may seem easy to compete with—but what about the link velocity of that page over time or for the last 30 days?
For example, the page below acquired—either passively or actively—71 new backlinks in the last 30 days. This means that if we were to compete with that page, we’d have to continuously try to build new links, as competition has a higher link velocity.
Thus, we can see that the cost of link building is heavily affected by competition—not just by their backlink profile, but by their link velocity as well. These are things we need to consider before we start working on a new link building campaign.
Consider the Different Types of Links
As we mentioned in the previous section, competition in some verticals may not require as many links. Another important aspect we need to consider is the type of link we’re trying to build. In other words, what will be the main tactics in our link building strategy? For us at MINUTTIA, link building is broken into the following sub-stages:
- Broken links
- Resource Pages & Directories
- Link Reclamation
- Link Intersect
- Content & Brand Promotion
- Guest Posting
Although all of the above white hat tactics can be effective, we always have to consider which of those tactics fit into what case. This means that guest posting (for example) may not be ideal in some cases and for some verticals, while content and brand promotion may be a better way to acquire new links.
Good link building takes into consideration the vertical of the company, its in-house capabilities, competition and other factors in order to decide what tactics will be put into use. In our experience, high-quality backlinks come mostly from high-quality content (e.g. valuable infographics, in-depth guides, original studies and research).
Here comes the question: How can you pitch something to someone if you don’t believe in its value, or if you simply don’t have any value to demonstrate? For us, this is a quick answer. We always connect link building with content creation and adding value to the other party—the person or organization we’re reaching out to and asking for the link, mention or guest post.
It is evident that if you want to build links for your site or for a particular web page on your site, you have to consider the tactics you’re going to use. Some tactics such as broken link building may not cost as much, but at the same time, their value is more likely to be lower.
In our experience, the best links are acquired through guest posting and content/brand promotion. However, we acknowledge the fact that guest posting is not scalable and requires a lot of time for communications, content creation, editing and publishing, especially since large publications usually have many blog posts in the pipeline before they get your guest post published.
Last but not least, when it comes to choosing the tactics you’re going to use, we always advise our clients and prospects to stay away from black-hat tactics (e.g. PBNs, or Private Blogging Networks), and try to acquire white hat links that come up as a result of genuine outreach and relationship-building.
Consider the Additional Benefits of Building a New Link
Another very critical aspect of how the cost of link building should be approached is the additional benefits you may gain from a link. In general, we acquire links that come from a domain with a Domain Authority of over 30—this excludes most spammy and low-quality links.
Besides thinking about just acquiring the link, we also consider the additional benefits that come with it. Some of the things we consider include:
- Whether the link will help us drive referral traffic to the website
- How it will help us increase brand recognition for our clients
- What the link velocity is of the page we want to build a link on
- How it affects the website’s overall visibility and organic traffic
- How it will help us improve the website’s overall domain authority
- If there are any synergies and co-marketing activities that could come up
Quality link building doesn’t take into consideration only a link from a high authority domain with a relevant anchor text. While this is of course very important, we also like to “judge” and qualify opportunities based on other parameters, such as the ones we just mentioned.
For example, we recently acquired a link on behalf of one of our client’s from the following site.
At first glance, you’d think this link has some value, since it comes from a website with a DR of 65. However, the benefit here isn’t the link itself nor the anchor text that we received. Instead, the real benefit is the fact that this is a piece that gets organic traffic—577 visits according to Ahrefs—and sends some referral traffic to our client’s website.
Thus, this is a link that has high value both for us and our client. Moreover, as the page we’ve gotten the link from continues to bring in more organic visitors, the value of the link—all other things being equal—will also increase over time. This applies in all cases, and is something we make clear to our clients when setting Goals and Objectives for our Amplification Strategy.
Most bloggers and people into content marketing judge link opportunities solely by their Domain Authority (or Domain Rating, according to Ahrefs). However, there is much more to get from a link than just the link or the mention itself.
A link placement may be the start of a new relationship with another business, getting referral traffic, or even gaining brand recognition if the link comes from a big publication such as TechCrunch. Thus, you should maintain a holistic approach when it comes to judging opportunities and by extension, choosing how much money to spend on acquiring a new link.
How the Value of a Link Changes With Passive Link Building & Why Link Building Isn’t a Standalone Solution
As we mentioned earlier, the value of a link can change over time. As the page that includes the link gets more search traffic, increases in visibility or acquires more links from other domains, the value of that link increases. Thus, when it comes to analyzing the cost of a link, we’re talking about making a dynamic judgement over time rather than simply a static, one-off judgement.
The truth is that when most people evaluate link prospects (opportunities), they mostly look at things like Domain Authority or Organic Traffic. The problem with this approach is that it gives us a false impression of the quality of that link prospect.
Thus, we should examine every case individually and evaluate our prospects more carefully. We usually use different qualifiers based on the tactic we’re using. For instance, even though we’re generally interested in acquiring links with a DA of more than 30, the same doesn’t apply for guest posts.
Because guest posts usually require more time and effort on our part, we’re more selective when it comes to deciding what websites to reach out to. Moreover—and this is very important—guest posting isn’t as scalable, so the number of websites we’re reaching out to is more limited compared to other tactics such as broken link building.
Besides the limited number in terms of prospects, we also acknowledge the extra effort needed to get a guest post published. Thus, we’re more careful about how we handle those cases and in how we judge and qualify them. In general though, we’re interested in many more things than just a link placement.
Especially when it comes to SaaS companies, partnerships, synergies and co-marketing activities are very important. A link placement can therefore be only the beginning of a relationship which will have multiple benefits for our client. This is something that can’t be overlooked.
Another aspect to consider here is that the cost of link building is affected by how capable the asset (e.g. content piece) is of acquiring links on its own. If you spend $5,000 in just creating an asset that can’t acquire links passively, the cost of link building will be higher. Instead, you should be aiming at creating assets that can acquire links on their own.
Passive link building is a significant aspect of link building and, for us, the ideal Active to Passive Link Building Ratio is 5:1. For every five links we acquire through active link building, we should be able to generate 1 link passively—through search traffic, for example. Otherwise, the cost of building links will be significantly higher.
Last but not least, you have to know that link building isn’t—and shouldn’t be treated as—a standalone solution. The fact that you’re paying $2,000 per month on actively acquiring links doesn’t mean you’ll get results. There is much more to organic growth than just building links. Here are some expectations we set for all our clients:
Having clear expectations comes before investing in a link building strategy, or in any other SEO effort for that matter. This will help you justify the cost later on and decide if it’s something you actually get value out and should keep doing, or if it’s something that doesn’t have a positive impact in your business and thus should be put to a stop.
Break Down the Costs of Link Building
In this section, we’ll try to break down the cost of link building in an effort to understand what is justified and what isn’t. In our experience, some of the main costs you need consider when launching a new link building campaign are:
- Content research tool—Ahrefs or Buzzsumo, both of them starting at $99 per month (for monthly subscription).
- Email finder—Snov.io, starting at $39 per month for 1,000 credits.
- Outreach platform—different options available, ~ $100 per month.
- Search engine scraper—ScrapeBox, at $97 plus additional costs for proxies.
- Manual data entry and research—prices vary based on your capabilities and process, but a rough minimum would be $300-400.
*Prices are accurate as of today, Tue Jan 21 2020.
Note: Our tool of choice is Respona, which is also one of our clients. It combines functionalities from many different tools into one platform.
In the above prices, we haven’t included content creation—which once again varies based on the quality of work, the level of proficiency on the topic or if there will be graphics and other elements included. We also haven’t calculated the time spent in communications and managing relationships in order to get your links placed.
Also—and this is something that clients frequently tend to forget—the above costs don’t include the years of practicing link building strategies and methodologies, or of building relationships with journalists, editors from large publications and marketing managers from companies with which there could be some co-marketing activities.
How much should all that cost? (This is a rhetorical question, of course.)
Even without all these costs though, we can see that the minimum monthly cost for link building is roughly $539 (excluding proxies for ScrapeBox). If you add the ideation and creation of high-quality content along with someone who will be handling the strategy behind all that, the cost rises significantly.
All these show us one thing: Link building is not cheap. You also need to keep in mind that cheap link building in the short term can be a lot more expensive in the long term. Unfortunately, we still have clients who are trying to recover after buying x amount of links from an untrusted source some years back.
Author’s Note: This graph depicts the number of referring pages for one of our clients. The two periods with the spike come from two different vendors the company hired for link building.
When trying to evaluate a quote from an agency or freelancer, you should always keep the following questions in mind:
- How much would all this cost if you had an in-house team handling the process?
- Is the pricing structure clear? (You can watch this video by Ryan Stewart to get a better idea of different pricing options for link building.)
- Are prices justified and deliverables enough, with regard to all the things we covered throughout that guide?
So, for the question, what is an ideal link building cost, our answer is: It depends. For us at MINUTTIA, the cost per link starts at $200. We never guarantee a certain amount of links per month, since the process of building links is not the same as delivering a certain amount of blog posts per month.
Moreover, we build links only for SaaS and tech companies, and everything we do is content-based. This means that there has to be something really valuable we can work with and try to amplify.
Prices when it comes to link building vary, of course. However, as we mentioned earlier, something that may seem cheap in the beginning may harm your website irreparably later on. We therefore advise you to evaluate your options with care and take all aspects of the process into consideration.
According to a 2018 study of 250 sites by Ahrefs, 12.6% of sites across 9 competitive niches sell links. This number is lower compared to 18.4% in 2018, but it still paints a clear picture:
People are still paying for and buying links online. As a principle, at MINUTTIA, we don’t pay for links. After all, buying links is one of the first examples of “link schemes” Google shares in its Quality Guidelines:
“The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link”
In addition, we never pitch just a link—we pitch something of real value. This can be a content piece or oftentimes—since we’re working with SaaS and tech companies—the product itself, if we actually believe that it fits the context.
In general, we have to believe that there is real value in what we’re trying to promote. Otherwise, there is no reason trying to promote something just for the sake of it.
Have this as a principle and you’ll notice that the cost of link building—regardless of whether you’re doing it in-house or have an SEO service or freelancer doing it for you—will be lower as your processes improve and evolve over time.