Yes, We Know Google Hates Paid Links!

Let me get one thing straight here before you all immediately dismiss this post – Google does NOT want you to buy links! They go as far as to say that paid backlinks go against their Terms of Service and that if a website is found buying links they could suffer a penalty.

Scary stuff, right? Not really, but avoiding detection is really the subject of another post and is beyond the scope of this one. I just wanted to get this point out the way before I dive into the real meat of the article here. Yes, we know that Google doesn’t want you to buy links, but despite that fact, paid links are absolutely here to stay and are the way forward for most solopreneurs and small to medium sized businesses in 2024 and beyond. Now let’s talk about why that is.

The “Hats” of Link Building

You may have heard of “White Hat” and “Black Hat” SEO. There are other similar “hats” but these are the main two. The terms refer to methods of doing SEO and of link building in particular that either do (white) or do not (black) conform with Google’s guidelines.

You might be wondering why black hat even exists if it’s almost certainly going to lead to a penalty at some point? There’s a number of reasons. Some people don’t really understand the Google guidelines and are always looking for the silver bullet, the latest “quick fix” and are lured in by eye catching headlines on forums and social media like “How I ranked my website and got a million visitors in one month!”. They simply don’t know any better, but inevitably end up learning the hard way.

Then there’s a (small) segment of SEO’s that just don’t care about the guidelines. They see an opportunity, no matter how brief, and they look to exploit it. There’s a certain “lag time” to SEO and sometimes a site can rank really well for a quite a while through black hat tactics before the algorithm eventually eventually catches up with it and penalises the site.

So from that, the black hats will do what’s known as “churn and burn”. The basic concept is – quickly create a site that’s monetised in some way, rank it really quickly using the latest black hat tactics, and rake in as much money as possible before the algorithm catches up and burns those rankings down. People who do this will typically churn out as many websites of this kind as fast as they can when a new tactic is uncovered and that’s their whole business model!

Obviously, EN Backlinks does not do that!

So What Does Google Actually LIKE?

I talked a little bit about this in my introductory post. Google want to deliver the best search results they can to their users. They want those users to click a result in the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) and be taken to a website that delivers exactly what they were searching for in a way that offers them a great user experience.

Google is all about the quality of the user experience. This is why things like the speed of loading, navigation and the overall design of a website are important ranking factors – because these factors all contribute to a great user experience.

The “churn and burn” websites mentioned above generally don’t care at all about user experience. They have a single goal and that is to move money from the wallet of the visitor into their own.

If we backup a little bit and consider what backlinks really are, it makes sense that Google doesn’t like it when we buy links. You see, Google assumes that if you’re buying a link then you’re trying to manipulate the rankings in some way (really, ALL of SEO is rankings manipulation right??) So of course they want to discourage that practice, and instead they want webmasters to voluntarily choose to link to another page because that page is useful and relevant to the content they are creating. Let’s illustrate this concept with an example:

Say you run a dog grooming parlour. You might be writing a blog article about how to remove mats in your dogs fur which are often started by pieces of debris that get stuck in their fur on walks. You find an article on The Dogs Trust website (a very authoritative website), which is all about plants found in the wild which can be harmful to your dog. This article has some information about the plants that you’ve mentioned in your post, and so you link out to that article as you know it will be genuinely of interest to your readers. This is called an editorial link, and it is the cornerstone of what is considered white hat link building.

How Editorial Links Get Built

In the example I’ve just used, you probably did some kind of Google search about plants that can get stuck in dog fur and that lead to you finding the article on the Dog Trust website. Do you see the problem here?

In order for you to find an article to link out to in this way (which is how the vast majority of people find content to link to), that page has to already be ranking in Google to get found! That’s fine and dandy when you have a huge brand like the Dogs Trust charity but if you are running a small business that is never likely to be a big brand or you are just starting out, how do you even get a look in?

This is the one flaw with SEO – it rewards those who already have good SEO! If you look into what the main white hat link building methods are you will see that they resolve around primarily around two clear concepts – content creation, and outreach. This combination is known as Content Marketing.

The basic premise is this:

  1. you do some keyword research to figure out a keyword that is valuable to rank for that isn’t already dominated by brands that you don’t have a hope in hell of ever outranking.
  2. Once you’ve picked your keyword, you check out the content of the pages that are currently ranking well for that keyword.
  3. Now you create your own content – and it’s going to have to be awesome because it needs to be better than what’s already out there if you expect anyone to ever link to it.
  4. Next, you research some blogs and websites in your niche that you think might be willing to link to your awesome new content. You can often find these by seeing who currently links to the content that is already ranking.
  5. Lastly, you find the contact details of the websites and then you reach out to them. You may try to create some kind of relationship with them first or you might just drop them a polite email showing them your awesome content and inviting them to link to it if they think it’s going to be useful to their readers.

Content Marketing Works… Kinda

In white hat circles, this is how SEO is done. The benefits are clear – each generation of new websites has to produce better content that the generation before it. Thus the quality of content on the internet goes up and up and up. It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone involved, including Google.

There’s just one teeny tiny problem…

It’s very expensive! How much time does all that work take? Keyword research is probably the quickest item on the list and there’s plenty of tools that can help you generate ideas pretty quickly. But if you want to have success with this method you really do have to create outstanding quality content and whether you do that work yourself, you have staff writers that do it for you or you outsource it, that content is costing you a ton of time which of course equates to money.

Next comes the outreach part and my god is this laborious! Okay maybe that’s just me but when I was doing SEO for clients I really hated the outreach part. For starters, “pitching” for links always felt like begging, and the results were poor; the hit rate was very low.

In order to have success with content marketing, you have to do it at scale. If you pitch your article to 10 blogs, you’re probably going to get zero replies. If you pitch it to 100 blogs, you may get a handful of replies and hopefully you can snatch up one or two links from that effort. But how much time has that taken you? More time = more money.

Oh but it get’s worse and this is my very long winded way of getting to the real point of this article…

The Days of “Free” Links Are Over!

In 2023 I was consulting for a large web design agency in the UK that specialised in hair and beauty salons. This was a great niche to work in as it’s a big industry with an absolute ton of websites to pitch content to. I created some awesome content for their blog and then started my outreach campaigns. I started to notice something….

I was actually getting more replies to my outreach emails than in past years, but almost all of them went something like this:

“hey, your article looks like a great fit for our blog and we’ll be happy to link to it. Our editorial fee is $120”.

You see these days bloggers, influencers and content creators of all kinds are catching on. They realise that their audiences & their website authority and traffic are a valuable marketable resource, and so of course, they started monetising them!

It was already difficult enough to acquire these “free” links via content marketing (I would argue that they are absolutely NOT free when so much time is involved in acquisition!) but now, you you have to pay a fee to the website owner to get them to link to you.

It’s not all bad though, because this very phenomena has created it’s own opportunity, and a new danger along with it.

It’s Now Easy to Buy Links!

I spoke to the company I was consulting with and explained the situation. At this point they were paying me for my time, but there were no other costs involved. I suggested that if they had a budget for acquiring links in this way that we might get a much higher hit rate.

They agreed and I changed my pitch. Instead of basically begging these websites to link to my awesome content, I now just briefly introduced my content and asked them what their “editorial” fees were for a link. My response rate shot through the roof! When you flash cash in somebody’s face they start to pay attention!

Now let’s be clear. This idea of an editorial fee or an admin fee is just a clever play on words to avoid admitting to the fact that you are selling links! But that is just semantics.

The fact is that it is now easier than ever to buy links. You find suitable websites, and you can either ask them to link to your content in an existing post that they have already written or what is a lot more common now, is that you offer them a “guest post”.

Paid Guest Posting

Guest posting was popular many years ago. It was a way for up and coming bloggers to get known in their field. If you write an article on a really popular blog that gets thousands or even millions of views, that’s a lot of eyeballs on your content and a great way to get your own name out there.

When guest posting first started it was common for a guest post to have an “Author bio” section in which they’d have a paragraph about the author of the article and then a link back to their own website”. So not only was this good for direct traffic, but you had the benefit of the backlink as well.

These days, backlinks in author bios are discounted by Google. They know full well that people buy the opportunity to place a guest post on other websites for links and so they have no value. That doesn’t mean that guest posting is dead, far from it. It just means that it’s done in a slightly different way now. For example, becoming a prolific author on Medium is a great way of building your brand.

These days guest posts that have been paid for in order to acquire a link simply aren’t advertised as being posts written by a “guest”; they are simply published as a new post on the site by the regular author. Google has no way of knowing that somebody paid for that post to be there. Furthermore, rather than including an author bio with a link at the bottom, you now have the opportunity to embed your link directly within the content of the article which not only looks a lot more natural, but is exactly what Google wants anyway.

So as long as you’re not doing anything silly with your anchor text such as “buy CBD cheap today!” (we don’t allow such links in our service, sorry!) then you’re golden. I’ll talk about anchor text in another post.

So it’s easier than ever now to buy links because anyone who has a decent website will have no doubt been inundated by outreach emails in recent years, and got wise to the lucrative opportunity that this affords.

Unfortunately, the ease of buying backlinks in this manner has not only brought a great opportunity with it, but a real problem as well.

It’s Really Easy to Buy Totally Garbage Links!

Unfortunately, SEO is one of those industries that get’s easily abused. Once people realised that there was a real market for selling links, the black hat folks started putting up all manner of websites on which to sell those links. A very common tactic is to re-register a domain that used to be valuable but has recently expired for whatever reason, and then just build out a blog on it. Due to lag time with SEO, some of the metrics on that domain (especially Moz DA) are likely to hang around for a little while.

This has led to the rise of the splog (spam blog) which I also talked about in my last post. Whilst I was doing my outreach for my salon client, I must have somehow started to get onto the email list of some of these black hat types. I began to get inundated with emails containing long lists of websites to buy links on at various prices.

Now admitedly, there were a few genuine sites there but the vast, vast majority of them were pure spam blogs. They had no real metrics, no traffic (actually many of them had fake traffic but that is yet another post for another day!) and all they contained was endless blatant guest posts. I have now become pretty good at spotting these kinds of sites!

This is when I got the idea for EN Backlinks. Content marketing is hard, and finding real websites where you can get a link costs both time and money and nowadays you also have to sort through all the splogs as well. For the average small business who just wants to build a few good links to their growing site every month, this is far too much hassle to trudge through.

We aim to fill that gap by sorting through all the crap and presenting to you good links that you have control over and that are also affordable. We segregate our links into various bands to suit all budgets.

Happy Link building