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Paying for Content vs. Paying for Links

Last week I was in Las Vegas attending PubCon.  While there, I was able to sit in on a session held by Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager over Webmaster Tools at Bing; you know that other search engine.

In a way, Duane is like the Matt Cutts of Bing, in that he covers alot of webmaster queries and shares how Bing works at conferences and more.  I already discussed what Jason Calacanis and Matt Cutts covered at PubCon and their small scuffle right here.

Today, I want to discuss a topic briefly mentioned by Duane Forrester and dig into some of the ideas that it spawned for me.

Bing-Duane-Forrester
Duane Forrester of Bing

That topic was the idea of either paying for links or paying for great content.  Basically, Duane covered a quick anecdotal story of a webmaster who used to spend nearly $100,000 PER MONTH on links (Yes, that's a crazy high amount!) to help his sites rank better.

Then I believe some of those link networks got taken down (not sure on all the details), but he decided to instead just focus on hiring writers and producing great SEO friendly and sharable content.

The result?

He was getting more traffic AND natural links by producing great content for the same $100k per month investment than he was spending on links before.

So, this spawned a few thoughts for me.  First, why not just buy links?  And second, is it really that easy to get natural links if your content is so great?

Why Not Buy Links?

First of all, I think you would have to be living under a rock to not know that Google has said over and over again, that they will penalize you if you are found to have purchased a link.  There is no questions asked on this one.  Buy a link, get penalized when discovered.

The tempting aspect of it of course, is that Google has no easy way of knowing if a link was purchased.  So, many purchased links are never penalized and can indeed help boost rankings.

Of course, if you are buying links from a known network or other obvious location (i.e. a page that says, “Buy a Link Here”) you are much more likely to get caught.  However, I actually attended a separate PubCon session where the entire presentation was how to go about buying links without getting caught.

So, buying links is extremely risky, but there are indeed methods (such as presented at PubCon) that can reduce your risk.  The purpose of my post today is not to go into all those methods, but here's a couple of ideas:

I'm not here to tell you what is best for your business, but just be very aware of the risks.  However, personally if I am building a website that I hope to have long term potential, I avoid buying any links.

So, if you are building a website that you hope will some day be your full time income, I wouldn't advise buying links; the risk is too high.  So, authority sites, business websites, or other long term projects would not be ideal properties to buy links for.

On the other hand, if you want to dive into the higher risk and quick return venture of small niche sites or multiple simple affiliate sites, maybe buying links to get quick rankings would make sense.

But just realize that those sites might only last 6 months or a year before you have to churn out some more.

Its your choice.

Great Content = Natural Links?

Now, I come back to the story shared by Duane Forrester at PubCon about the publisher that went from buying $100,000 in links per month to spending the same on content instead, and found his return in traffic, links, and rankings to be ever higher.

I will just say right up front, that for a small niche site, its probably going to tough to garner many natural links, unless you really think outside the box.  And I want to cover some of those ideas.

Strategy 1: Lots of Content

However, if you have a large website, focusing on content actually becomes much easier.  For example, my buddy has a larger website project that he has been working on for the past several months, where he is publishing new content on the site essentially every single day (either outsourced or written by him).

These are just well researched articles answering questions or targeting specific keywords within the niche. This friend of mine has not attempted to build a single link to the site or hired anyone to do so.

The result?

Well, the site now is getting fairly large with content, and lots of people are finding it through long tail searches on Google.  In turn, people are sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, and other places, often without any initiation from my friend.

This has also led to natural links from other sites, again, not initiated by my friend at all.

People find the content, like it, share it, link to it, and the traffic just continues to grow without any link building from anyone.

Here's the Google Analytics from that site over the last several months to show you the natural growth.

trafficgrowth

So focusing lots of content on long tail keywords is great way to get traffic from Google (these low competition phrases can rank in Google without any links) and if the content is good, people will share and link to it on their own.  But again, this could take hundreds of articles before you see a lot of traction (the above site has about 120 original articles on it and growing daily).

You have to be good at keyword research and consistent with the content for this to work well.

Strategy 2: LinkBait

Another strategy for strictly using content to garner traffic and links is through good PR or more social content.

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What we are talking about here is linkbait.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in producing link bait, but its a strategy that allows you to focus on exceptional content and get links, rather than paying for links.

Distilled.net produced an excellent guide for creating viral link bait in a number of different ways.  So, if you are interested in understanding the type of link bait that I am thinking about, you can read that.

In addition, there are hundreds examples of websites doing well with some of these link bait ideas.  Here's just a few examples:

Some of these examples have garnered thousands of links and dramatically increased the authority of these sites!  These are really just examples of paying for content such as infographics, videos, or other sharable content, then promoting it through contacts and letting it take off naturally from there.

Linkbait for Niche Sites?

The question is, can linkbait strategies work for niche sites?  Honestly, I can't see any reason why not.  If you are able to come up with an excellent infographic or other shareable content, the results should be the same…people will share it.

So, in fact with the right idea, its possible to just spend a couple hundred dollars on a link bait infographic (or other medium) and generate many more links than you would from buying a link building package somewhere.  Why haven't I been doing this in the past?  Well, it takes a bit more creativity and connections, and paying for links just seemed like the easier way to go.

In addition, I've traditionally built sites that I only expected to make a couple hundred dollars per month from, so it wasn't worth the effort.

However, now that I look at it, this is a much better long term strategy, and there is no reason why it couldn't work for a niche site.  And if you are going into a niche that has growth potential, its probably a great way to go.

For my most recent Niche Site Project, Perrin and I are indeed going to attempt some of these linkbait strategies.  So, rather than just buying a link building package somewhere, we are going to pay for content that we create through our own creativity, and work on ways to promote this content and garner links.

I'll be discussing more on this in the coming week.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, when you are building your own web property, you should be thinking what makes the most long term sense for your business.  Is buying links worth the Google slap risk?

Do you have the creative ability to generate links through some sort of content campaign?  Or are you able to pay for daily or multi-daily content for your website?  If so, you may be able to just pay for content rather than paying for links and still see all the benefits of great links pointing to your site.

In the end, you have to do what's right for your business.

I would love to hear any comments or questions that you might have in regards to buying links or content production.  Feel free to join the discussion below!


Search Engine Optimization

By Spencer Haws
October 29, 2013 | 35 Comments

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Ram Shengale

Hah! I just completed reading your Matt Cutts vs. Jason post and went back to home page to find this post live. Also I have Freelancer.com open in another tab as I was planning to hire someone to write content for my new niche site.

Perfect timing! I think I should read this first before posting the job. 😀

Adam

I’m of the belief for any real long term building content that connects with the reader is going to be key. I could see buying links viable for niche sites you know will eventually take a dive but if the return is worth it then why not?

As for overall link baiting I have plans for my next project to try Pat Flynn’s 200 build a brand contact sheet as well as create several resources that link out to my eventual competitors. But since this is a site I’d rather not get smacked down due to the time/hours/and research I’ll be playing it by the books as much as possible.

Spencer Haws

Makes sense to me…best of luck Adam!

John Shea

I tend to find just connecting with other webmasters and asking to exchange links seems to be “okay” if we are not using link networks or anything that would appear as junk for the the visitors.

I recently had someone contact me about my music site for an exchange and I wrote a very natural blog post that fit with the theme of my site and linked over to his.

Jon Haver talks about this same rule with expired domains, just making sure the content is relevant if a user were to click through to another site.

Spencer Haws

Thanks John!

Phil

Hi Spencer,
This post comes at the right time. I was thinking about this exact topic and tried to figure out what my next project will be.

Since today I didn’t have much success with bought links, but a guide on how and where to buy them would be interesting.

I will have to think more about this 🙂

Nick Kizirnis

Timely post, thanks! I’m looking into working with a freelancer or three for some articles, and going to try some different approaches. I’ll be following along with you guys for sure. I have not purchased any links before, it just seems to unreliable, and I’d rather look into other ways of obtaining links (like some of the other ways you’ve shared before).

John Gibb

I’d rather build/outsource content. Link bait is a big trend nowadays. When you start a new niche site, you should ask yourself, how to create that pillar content, how to ensure my site beats all the other sites in the industry from the content standpoint.

Then you outsource or get a partner to come up with irresistible content.

Jason

Very cool. I’m stoked to see how you come up with Link bait for Perrin’s site.

And I agree that link bait would be a great source of links for the long term. It would compliment a strategy of buying links for short term rankings as you create link bait to help draw natural links for longer term rankings.

Spencer Haws

Yep, it should be fun. We are brainstorming some more fun/quirky type ways we could do this. We’ll see 🙂

Jye @ Full Volt

It was a great presentation.

For the question of “Why not just buy links?”:
Although it’s easier to buy a few links for the same price as buying content over the course of a month, the long term benefit easily lies within the content.
GOOD content will always outlast any search engine updates where as links, purchased or not, will always be on shaky ground and may be worthless after an update.

In saying that, if you buy links properly buy avoiding link networks and farm you are unlikely to be caught out. There are other factors to not of course, like how many outbound links are on the page your buying it on, how relevant and quality is the content on that page etc.

Tung Tran

Yeah content marketing and link baiting are definitely the best way to build a long term niche site. But the question is

Is It Worth The Effort?

Well, It’s worth if you have validated the profitability of the niche first.

What I’m doing now is to build a quick site and use link building to test the water first, if it’s profitable enough I’ll build another authority site in the same niche target the same keyword using white hat strategy 😀

Ethan

I recently did the same thing Tung.

Built up a smaller site and paid for quite a few links. It ranked quite well but for only two months or so. Made some good money and validated the niche.

I am now working on building a larger site with lots of great content.

The only difference between our angles is I think you did yours on purpose…… I was just fumbling along and built a bad website with spammy links……

Thanks for all the good stuff on your site about expired domains by the way.

Greg Nunan

As it sits, despite Google’s efforts, the quickest way to the cash is to use black hat techniques e.g. buying links, building a PBN etc. You need links if you want to make short-term income (which most of us do because we run on confidence and seeing the dollars builds the confidence).

Use the short-term cash generated from black hat sites to fund larger, longer-term projects.

Above all else though, stop looking around at different ideas and take action…

Buying links works, authority sites work, small sites work, creating great content works, link bait works. It ALL works. But reading about what works doesn’t make the money. Doing it does.

Keep up the good work Spencer, I’m enjoying reading along.

Allen L

Excellent post, Spencer. I think the risks of buying links outweigh the rewards. Google has made it a priority to make quality sites on SERPS. They have already shown to what extent they are willing and able to go to achieve their desired results with Panda, et al.

Quality content requires putting the needs of the user ahead of the needs of the creator. This means the days of taking short cuts all in a effort to make a quick buck are giving way to days of constant creation, evaluation, change.

Take a site created and built using quality content and pit it against a site built with purchased links and ask yourself which one do you want to bet on when it comes to SERP staying power? My bet is on the quality site.

Looking forward to seeing how you and Perrin dig into the link bait strategy.

Arbaz K

Writing great content would eventually force people to link to your articles and create backlinks. If you can spend on creating awesome articles for your blog or site then link building would become the thing of your least concern.

Garrick Dee

Having great content is a foundation that every website must have but without promotion all the effort or money spend on quality content will go to waste.

Treat your site like a real business in terms of marketing and promotion. I’ve seen countless niche sites rank in the first page of google then after a few weeks or months it goes down to google purgatory (3rd page and below). And when you look at their backlink profile – you’ll notice that they use some sort of blog network, comment marketing but they have no links from authority sites.

There are lots of great SEO minds out there that give invaluable advice – Rank Fishkin, Jon Cooper, Brian Dean, Jason Acidre and many more.

Yes it takes a lot of hard work but remember the harder it is to get a link, the harder it is to replicate – the stronger you backlink profile is.

Lenny

Hi Spencer

Just to clarify, would you class a service like layered links as link buying, or as a ‘link building’ service ? Is there a difference ?

I hope to use them or someone similar and am wondering if you and Perrin will be doing something similar with a penny shaved ?

I presume this is different as they are just saving time by creating web 2.0 properties, articles for article directories etc ,that you would probably do yourself.

But buying links from a site that advertises link selling is more risky as you don’t know the quality of the sites the links are coming from.

Am I on the right track ?

Thanks Spencer

Lenny

Shawn

Spencer, interesting post here. I think the temptation of ranking a site quickly and making money instantly is what keeps buying links in the back of everyones mind. I have been experimenting with social signals and some different web 2.0 properties to rank quickly and so far have had some success. I have some more testing to do before really giving away the farm but it is basically playing the way google wants you to play…..can’t give any bigger hints than that.

My question is this- if you are targeting smaller niche sites do you think that link bait even works? I have one site that generates between 25-100 dollars a month…. no updates in the last 6 months, totally low hanging fruit that nobody cares about. I would think that there has to be a larger interest in the topic to get enough long tail searches in order to have anyone want to like and share.

I’m completely interested here and can’t wait to see both your and Perrin’s results.

Miki Vicioso

The good way to do it is definitely not buying links but setting up an editorial calendar with posted targeted to competitors top posts and what’s missing out there.

Its pretty simple if you tell me, you just need to find out what people are searching for and write good content about it.

Jeff Coleman

Interested to see how your linkbait strategies work out………nice article.

Steffen

great article you can learn a lot from.

another factor is that you have full control over your content, but not over the links linking to you, they are not yours.

(and links do not get viral and produce more links)

Dan Merryday

Hi Spencer,

I am also building a “content only” website, but in my local language (in South East Asia).

I can confirm that this method does work, but as you say: you have to be patient and keep writing content.

One problem I see is that not everyone has the patience or the time to invest in building out an authority website.

My first website I built while learning affiliate marketing took a very long time to build, not to mention it was prone to trouble (if you have only one site and something happens to it, it’s much more dangerous than having multiple sites)

So maybe the strategy would be to build simple small affiliate sites (if you are a beginner and like all beginners: need money yesterday!), and then move on to bigger, more ambitious authority site projects once you have built a solid foundation – or what my mentor likes to call: “get your foot in the door”.

Cheers,

Enzo Reyn

While I understand what you are saying Spencer, the reason he was paying $100K/month on links is it was working. And, it is much faster return on investment.

While I don’t disagree with your content strategy, I think also, building your own PBN with some High PR/High DA sites (which can now be found real easy with the tools we have available), should be a consideration into your budget. Even a 5 – 10 domain PBN, used in conjunction with a sound article/content strategy is in my opinion the way to go.

Thanks as always for a great post!

Spencer Haws

Enzo – great points. Everyone has to make their own risk assessments and do what’s right for them.

kenny

I just want to know how you are doing Natural Link Building? If anyone share method of SEO beginner then I would not look for Spamming again.

Dwayne

Spencer,

Do you have any advice on how long you should post content daily? If you post content daily initially to build up your traffic, can you taper off later to post content every 3 days or once a week and maintain the traffic?

Spencer Haws

Depends on your goals. Maybe forever, maybe until you reach 100 posts…really depends if you continue to see growth by adding more content and its profitable.

Aaron

I have never bought any links or paid service links on my sites. I would rather spent the money on outsourcing content, or build up a PBN. (Not sure if you would consider using PBN a black hat technique or will Google frown upon this.)
This method seems to work well for me. When the site is profitable, i would then sell it or spend a lot more on quality content to get some natural links. So my long term goal, is not buy any links at all to avoid Google penalty.

Jeff Coleman

I’ve avoiding paying for links so far……

Jamon

I like Tung’s idea of building smaller sites and buying links to test the profitability, then based on your findings creating an authority site in the same niche.

As a beginner, I think creating some small sites first will benefit me (and others who are new) before getting into bigger authority sites.

But I think we also have to think about the time wasted if it turns out to not be a profitable niche. But then again, you’ll have learned a bit.

I guess it’s like Spencer said, you just have to do what works best for you.

Thanks Tung for the idea. And thanks for the post Spencer.

Jamon

Angelina

This method seems to work well for me. When the site is profitable, i would then sell it or spend a lot more on quality content to get some natural links. So my long term goal, is not buy any links at all to avoid Google penalty.

sharma

Method seems to work well for me. When the site is profitable, i would then sell it or spend a lot more on quality content to get some natural links. So my long term goal, is not buy any links at all to avoid Google penalty.

sharma

Method seems to work well for me. When the site is profitable, i would then sell it or spend a lot more on quality content to get some natural links. So my long term goal, is not buy any links at all to avoid Google penalty.
THANKS AS THIS IS THE BEST

yashswey

So my long term goal, is not buy any links at all to avoid Google penalty.

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