In the past, I did a blog post on the cost of SEO services, and why going too cheap could actually cost you a lot more money in the long run.

This time around, I’m going to talk specifically about the cost of one of the most important components of SEO: link building.

The truth is, getting real, high-quality backlinks to your website isn’t free. It costs money, often a significant amount of money. But ultimately, if done correctly, the return on your investment can make link building services from a good SEO agency well worth the money.

In this post, I’m going to give you a basic breakdown of where the costs lie when it comes to link building. You’ll be able to see that it can add up pretty quickly, and that building backlinks that matter is an intensive and time-consuming process.


Why Link Building Matters

You might wonder if maybe you can skimp on the link building and still rank. If there’s very, very little competition for a particular keyword, then maybe it’s possible. But at the end of the day, you really do need backlinks.

When Google came onto the scene way back in the late ‘90s, what set them apart was the fact that they took backlinks into account.

Believe it or not, using a search engine used to be rather challenging. You had to figure out the right combination of terms, often using Boolean operators, to find what you were looking for. It was all too easy to come up with results that were totally irrelevant.

Google changed the game by using their Pagerank algorithm, which is actually no longer in use, to take a website’s backlinks into account.

They didn’t just look at keywords on the page. Instead, they also looked at how many other websites were linking to a particular page. This ended up being very effective for bringing up relevant results, at least compared to competing for search engines at the time.

Taking backlinks into account was what helped Google dominate web search. Today, they’re one of the world’s most powerful companies, and they’re even involved in cutting-edge research into things like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence.

Google’s algorithms have been continuously improved and refined over the years, but backlinks are still a major factor. If you want to rank, having proper on-page optimisation and great content is just the beginning. You also need other websites to link to your page.

A while back, Moz published an article that actually examined the question of whether you can rank in Google without any links.

The data they were able to gather indicated that the chances of this were actually very, very low.

They found that 99.2% of top results had at least one external link pointing to the website, and 77.8% had at least one backlink to the specific page that was ranking.

They also found a very high statistical correlation between high search rankings and the number of domains linking to a given website.

They did find that having backlinks to your website, as a whole, was more important than having backlinks pointing to one particular page. While they found that it was quite possible to have an individual page rank without any links pointing towards it, you still need backlinks to other pages on your website in order for this to happen.

Building Links Can Be a Challenge

Link building has changed tremendously over the years. Today, it’s more challenging than ever before. Google wants to show its users the best possible results for any given query. In the past, black hat SEOs used all kinds of spammy link building tactics to game the algorithms, pushing low-quality websites to the top.

A few bad apples can ruin things for the rest of us, and over time, Google has adjusted their algorithms to prevent this kind of spam. As a side effect, link building has become more and more challenging.

What Google actually wants is for the sites that rank highest to have natural backlinks that were given without asking.

Of course, in the real world, it’s not as easy as that.

That’s why we do active outreach to proactively acquire backlinks from relevant, authoritative websites.

Because some of these links do involve payment, while others simply involve a lot of outreach and dedicated employees, link building is far from free.

I Got a Cold Email Offering Backlink Services for Less than £150 a Month!

Why Should I Pay Another Agency More Money?

There are always cheap overseas SEO companies out there that send out cold emails in high volumes to small business all over the UK, US, and other European and North American countries.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason why their services are so cheap. They’re almost never using link building strategies that are up to date and truly “white hat.”

Unfortunately, there’s a reason why their services are so cheap. They’re almost never using link building strategies that are up to date and truly “white hat.”

Link building changes fast, due largely to Google’s periodic algorithm updates.

Spammy blackhat SEO in 2017 can look a lot like what used to be legitimate link building in 2012.

But today, it can easily get you hit with a Google penalty, which can be difficult and expensive to reverse

If your site is penalised for an unnatural backlink profile, you can find yourself disappearing from the SERPs (search engine result pages) entirely. This can be devastating for your business, especially if you rely on organic search traffic as a major source of leads and sales.

So what constitutes a “good” backlink today? What Google really wants to see are editorial links. These are links that are given out naturally, like if an online magazine cites information from an article on your blog, and links it in their content.

Today’s SEO overlaps quite a bit with PR, and this is especially true when it comes to building links.

There can be quite a bit of outreach involved, as we try to get in touch with publishers who might be interested in linking to your content.

We can also help you get both backlinks and exposure in the form of guest posts, which are articles written by you (or a ghostwriter) and published on another blog.

All of this incurs costs that add up quickly, which is why SEO services aren’t cheap.

Where Exactly Is Your Money Going When You Pay for Link Building?

So where exactly is your money going when you pay a digital marketing agency for link building services?

There are several different types of expenses that we need to take into account when we give you a price quote, and all of them involve things that are indispensable for a successful SEO strategy.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the core components of up to date white hat link building:

Content Creation

“But wait,” you say, “isn’t that on-page SEO?”

Technically, it is to some extent. But think about it: if you want backlinks, you need something for people to link to.

And that means creating great content.

What is “great” content?

It’s content that provides real value to your audience. Mediocre, derivative content isn’t very appealing to the bloggers, journalists, and other people that we reach out to for backlinks, guest posting, and PR.

They want to link to something that’s genuinely useful for their audience. That means going above and beyond.

We’ve mentioned before that high-ranking Google search results tend to be relatively long, as far as web content goes.

Just a few years ago, the gold standard for SEO content was 500 words.

If you wrote something longer than that, that was great, but 500 was the minimum.

Today, after studies from Backlinko, Moz, and other authorities revealed that longer content is more likely to rank, we usually create informational blog posts that are at least 1,000 words, if not longer.

It’s not uncommon for digital marketing agencies to create blog posts that are 1500 or even 2000 words long for their clients.

Not every post needs to be a comprehensive treatise that covers everything there is to know about a subject, but longer articles can go into more depth and detail. Ultimately, they tend to be higher quality and provide more value than shorter posts.

As you can probably imagine, longer content takes more time to plan, research, and create. A 2,000 word in-depth blog post will cost quite a bit more than a 500-word post that provides a general overview of a topic.

Some digital marketing agencies do employ full-time staff to handle copywriting and content writing. However, it’s more common for us to outsource it to professional writers who work with us as freelance contractors.

The best professional writers aren’t cheap.

While many people do get into content writing and web copywriting by starting out with low paying work, good writers with experience end up charging more per word.

This also translates to alternative ways of billing for content creation, like hourly rates or monthly content packages.

You also have to remember that when you pay a writer, you’re paying for their time. This is true even if you’re paying per word, rather than an hourly rate.

When you cheap out on content, the writer can’t really afford to spend as much time on your project.

When they can spend more time, they can perform more in-depth research, spend more time editing and refining the piece, and ultimately produce something that’s more informative and insightful.

That isn’t to say that you need Shakespeare himself to write your blog for you.

But you don’t want bland, generic content. You want something with unique value, not something that your readers could find elsewhere on a more authoritative site.

You also want something that’s written well.

This is something that’s very hard to quantify, but you know good writing when you see it.

You also know bad writing when you see it. You can’t have awkward sentences, incorrect grammar, or spelling mistakes on your website. It looks unprofessional.

All of this factors into the price of SEO services, although we generally outsource the content creation to someone who specialises in that. If we want to get you the backlinks your website needs to rank, we need to make sure your site has content that’s worth linking to.


Outreach Employees

In the past, there were many ways of getting acceptable backlinks that could be done independently.

For example, putting up links to your content on social bookmarking sites used to be a very valid SEO strategy.

Remember those sites like that were popular for a while in the late 2000s? Those used to be a major boon for SEO. It was also effective to leave comments in forums that contained a link to your site.

And that’s to say nothing of old-school tactics like link wheels and link pyramids. These are so outdated and black hat nowadays that they’re hardly worth taking the time to explain in detail.

Through Penguin and other algorithm updates over the years, Google has successfully put a stop to tactics that were once highly effective. This has made link building a lot more challenging than it was back in 2010.

Today, it’s all about outreach. White hat SEO involves quite a bit of it.

We actively reach out to bloggers, journalists, and others who might genuinely be interested in linking to your content, or in letting you put up sponsored content on their site.

Ideally, we want links to high authority websites that are relevant to your industry. Like website authority and trustworthiness, relevance is very important.

If you own a local commercial cleaning service that specialises in deep cleaning for restaurant kitchens, a link on a website about restaurant entrepreneurship would make sense.

A link on a website about breeding hamsters would not make sense, and wouldn’t be nearly as helpful for building a robust backlink profile.

As I’ve mentioned, the authority of the website that’s linking to you is also an important factor.

Getting a link from the New York Times is much more desirable than getting a link from a mostly unknown blog with a small readership.

Someone has to reach out to these publications, and the journalists or bloggers who write for them, about getting a link from their site.

And we can’t just send out the same generic email en masse, either.

We need to talk to these people individually, and we need to catch their attention. For that, we have one or more employees who handle our outreach efforts.

These employees are paid relatively decent salaries, and it’s far from being a minimum wage job. Because of this, these employees contribute significantly to an agency’s overhead costs.


Paying to be Featured in Publications

Contrary to what you might expect, getting featured in prominent online publications usually isn’t free. The cost can vary substantially, but it’s actually pretty standard for bloggers, journalists, and other publishers and writers to charge for including a backlink in an article.

Putting up sponsored content in an online publication isn’t free, and that’s on top of the cost of the content itself, plus the outreach that got us in touch with them.

It’s also quite standard for bloggers to charge you for letting you put up a guest post on their site. Keep in mind that the post itself also needs to be useful, informative, and valuable to their site’s target audience.

After all, they care about their blog’s reputation, and they’re not going to let you submit something mediocre or poorly written. Any publication will have quality standards, whether it’s a big name magazine like Entrepreneur, or a successful hobby blog someone runs in their spare time.

So getting featured in a publication isn’t free, adding another cost to our link building efforts.


Link Building Isn’t Cheap, But the ROI is Worth It

As you can see, there are quite a few expenses that factor into what digital marketing agencies charge for link building services. Because of this, it’s impossible to get quality SEO services below a certain price point.

But for many businesses, the return on your investment makes it well worth your while. Of course, this isn’t true for every single company or every single industry.

There are cases where organic search traffic won’t be a primary source of leads and sales, and other marketing methods like PPC (pay per click) advertising or even social media will be more effective.

But when SEO pays off, it pays quite handsomely indeed. Getting on the first page for keywords that reflect a “buyer’s mindset” — that is, being ready to make a purchasing decision — has the potential to be very profitable for you.

To make this work, it’s essential that your website’s SEO is in good hands.

If you’re handling your own SEO right now, and you’re not quite sure about how to plan a backlink strategy that works, feel free to reach out to me any time for a free consultation.


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