Some thoughts about organic backlinks vs buying links for SEO

Whenever I start talking about backlink building with entrepreneurs or SEO people with limited experience, many of them state the same: We must buy links from influencers and bloggers, because a) nobody links to us/vertical organically, and b) our competitors do it all the time, and if we don't do it as well then they get ahead of us.

It would be tempting to say these people are right. That nobody gives free link love anymore. That buying links gives you dominance. But on most parts any such claims are just utter bullshit (pardon my foul language).

Though link building has become a lot tougher in past decade (mostly because of creative people shifting away from blogs and personal websites into social media services), organic link building is far from being mission impossible. It just requires a totally different kind of perspective than many of these people are accustomed.

What if nobody gave away Dofollow backlinks for free?

Can you imagine a web where you are reading the latest news about SEO or digital marketing on sites like SparkToro or SEORoundtable , but there would be zero external links apart of those of paying partners or advertisers? Most likely you are going to agree with me that it would suck big time.

Like it or not, the entire world wide web is built around the idea of people and organizations linking to each other’s good stuff. This structure is a lot like an ecosystem maintaining life within the web – the more diverse linkage, the healthier the web is. If nobody linked to another’s good stuff (for free), then there would be no influencers of the today or new ones for tomorrow. All in all the whole web would be much more boring place. And of course, most of the search engines, such as Google, would have to find a totally different kind of way to rank web pages.

Why getting backlinks can be so difficult at times?

It is true that for some verticals getting backlinks is harder than for others. There can be various reasons for this.

Take for example heavy machinery such as hydraulic press machinery - it is such a niche topic that very few would ever have interest on reading and writing about it. But still, as one couples Hydraulic Press Channel went from nearly null subscribers to millions of subscribers pretty much overnight, there was plenty of news coverage on the topic. This is a classic tale where fame attracts fame, and it is one of the most efficient link building tactics. Win some major competition, gain acknowledgement, get massive VC investment... They all are surefire ways to gain exposure even if your main business is lacking the link appeal.

Often times the reason(s) why websites and/or verticals have such hard time getting backlinks relate to strong psychological biases. For example it is socially acceptable to link into Playboy website, but pretty much anything else that involves naked human bodies is too much for most online authors. It is about emotions (such as shame) and personal values. Once you identify why getting backlinks is so hard for a topic, then you can usually create a strategy (or change of perspective) for turning the tide.

Be creative, and focus on what you control and not what you do not control

If you ask me what makes some SEOs (like Bill Slawski ) so awesome, it is the ability to think differently and be creative when required. Creativity is also one of the key factors in successful link building.

If you write some random piece of content and expect the backlinks to fall into your lap, then you are in for a long wait.

It all starts with the audience. If the audience your content targets is not creative with access to web publishing, then your masterpiece is very unlikely to have any link love (apart of random personal Facebook wall mentions). If your audience is creative people – authors, photographers, designers, entrepreneurs, journalists, bloggers, researches, anyone that has or can publish content online – then your odds to receive some backlink love increased exponentially. Creativity sparks creativity, as simple as that. So before you start writing articles for linkbuilding in mind, think carefully who will be the audience of your article and if they have the power to show some link love.

Secondly, and even more importantly, in order to receive some link love, the content really has to be not just good but linkworthy. If you write some generic piece that does not provide any additional value, then why would anyone link to it? If you would not refer the content you have written to your mother/father/sister/brother/friend, then why would an outsider show you any link love for it? Writing content that is not linkworthy is really just waste of time and space and other resources. For example I own a number of content websites and as such get more than enough offers for guests posts. To date (and I've been on the industry for 20+ years) I think I have approved only about dozen guest posts, and rejected thousands of pieces.

And last, you have to do outreach. If you do not bring your content in front of people who could link back to you, then you will not receive any backlink love. A lot of the fine art of link building falls into category of networking and socializing. The more creative you are with the outreach, and the more outreach you do, the better results you can achieve. Of course tools can make some aspects of link building easier, but you should really ask yourself 'if everyone on the industry is using the same data and tools, then how are you supposed to get ahead of others in link building game. The answer is definitely creativity.

The value and cost of organic links vs paid links in link building

If you are thinking “but all of that sounds like hard work”, then you are right. Organic link building is hard work, it takes time, and it comes with no guarantees whatsoever. One of the most recent studies I saw on link building stated that it takes roughly 80 working hours to create unique content that has the potential to become a major link bait. And the focus is (and should be) on the word 'might'. Organic link building is like discovering the next hit single or recipe that everyone will love. For every success you will have to fail a number of times, but with experience you will get better at it.

What appeals to many (especially newbie SEOs) in link buying is that it sounds easy, and it gives ‘guaranteed’ results. Let’s say you want to buy 10 quality backlinks from 10 different domains. And you pay something like 250-2,500€ each. It means you have spent a budget of 2½-25K, in addition of time that went into seeking and contacting the potential partners, potentially authoring the guest post etc. So link buying can get very expensive as well.

All in all it is no easy feature to compare these two (and there is lot of territory in between), as basically it is like comparing apples to oranges. With paid links you always get the goods you are after immediately. With organic link building the links will accumulate over period of time in unknown quantity and quality; so it takes a lot of trust.

Personally I would say the 'right choice' depends a lot on the needs:

The call of the dark side

IMHO the reason why many entrepreneurs and newbie SEOs get into link building falls very much down to fear. It is akind of natural knee-jerk reaction when facing the possibility that you cannot predict or manage the future events, or that competitors might get ahead position by buying more links than us.

It is fear that you cannot control what page (if any) will get some link love.

It is fear that you cannot control when (if at all) you will receive link love.

It is fear that you cannot influence what anchor text will be used (or if the story will be positive at all).

It is fear that you cannot meet the expectations and KPIs that are placed onto you by management.

Paid links provide concrete answers to all of the expectations, whereas organic link building most of the times leaves you hanging somewhere between hopes and wishes.

Eventually organic link building will win

Despite paid backlinks provide practical solutions to fill the expectations many business have, they are in no way a long term solution. Google and other search engines are really good at discrediting (=making worth zilch) paid links, and will get even better and better over time.

If you start thinking how Google and other search engines detect abnormal linkage, then you pretty quickly understand that it falls down to four factors:

If thinking the way we people engage naturally on web and in life, then you are looking at a verbose and meandering path over very mixed timeline. That is what organic link building profile looks like.

With paid links the profile is straight and more extreme. Your backlinks pop up faster than average, they all point into one or few well selected landing pages in your site, and they ship with limited variation of anchors. And of course websites selling links – well, they sell them to lot of others too.

If tools such as aHrefs can pinpoint you that website X is buying/selling links, then of course search engine providers will detect the same with ease. In the end they have got some of the smartest minds working for them.

Secret is in discovering the right balance

Despite the overall tone of my writing may seem to favor organic link building, I am also very much a realist.

Like on most venues of life success comes into finding a balance. If organic link building is the main dish, then paid links are very much like the spices. You can do well without them, but when used occasionally and with care they can give the much required final booster to get the desired results.

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