What’s the value of a backlink?
And by value, I don’t mean in terms of ‘link juice’ or quality. I’m talking about cold, hard cash.
To attempt to find the answer, I recently reached out to 250 websites across 5 popular niches and asked 2 questions:
- Do you sell links?
- If so, how much do you sell them for?
In a moment, I’ll share my findings.
But first let’s take a quick look at the link buying and selling industry.
The Lowdown on Link Buying
For as long as Google has used link popularity to rank websites, backlinks have been a commodity.
And like all commodities, there are those looking to buy and those looking to sell.
Early Link Buying: Authority Directories
The earliest, and most ‘white hat’ form of link buying involved submitting your site to authority directories. These directories generally charged a ‘review’ fee.
The now defunct Yahoo directory is probably the highest profile example.
They charged a fee of around £300 for inclusion (although they did reject some sites) and a link from Yahoo would definitely boost your rankings.
Make no mistake, that link was not bought for traffic.
I submitted many sites into the Yahoo directory back in the early 2000s and the referral traffic was minimal. A link from Yahoo was always bought for the purposes of increasing Google rankings.
The Link Buying Boom
By the mid 2000s a whole industry had grown around selling links.
Sites such as Text Link Ads sold links on a ‘rental’ basis.
You paid a monthly fee for a link (generally on the home page) with the cost dependent on the site’s metrics.
And in those days, the metric that mattered was PageRank. Specifically, Toolbar PageRank.
From memory, pricing started at around $30 per month for a link from a PR1/2 site. High PR sites commanded fees of $100+.
Remember, that’s a monthly fee. So $100 per month would end up costing you $1,200 per year.
These links would generally be sidebar links.
But it was also a piece of cake to buy links from within content.
Another popular link buying service was Review Me.
From their site you could buy ‘reviews’ of your product or service from bloggers, with an in-content anchor text link of your choice.
Again, pricing was dependent on the site’s metrics.
As you can see from the screen shot above, the sites selling the links were publicly displayed. Which of course meant it was very easy for Google to take action.
Google Forces Link Sellers Underground
As Google funneled more resource into their webspam team, they started to penalise sites who had been publicly selling links through broker sites, or on forums.
This penalty was generally a reduction in PageRank, but in extreme cases it could be a de-indexing.
They also encouraged users to report paid links directly to Google.
Did this stop link buying?
It just forced those buying and selling links to exercise discretion — making it harder for Google to catch sites who were breaking the rules.
And to clarify, buying links for the purposes of increasing your rankings isdefinitely breaking Google’s rules.
Indeed, buying links is the first example they give of a ‘link scheme’ in their quality guidelines article.
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
So what’s the current state of play with link buying?
Link Buying/Selling In 2016
Here are some of the ways you can buy links for SEO purposes in 2016.
Paid Guest Posts
A quick Google search for “buy guest posts” surfaces a ton of sites offering to get you links from guest posts for a fee.
Of course, some of these will be offering a genuine link building service and charging accordingly. Nothing wrong with that.
But there are lots that are clearly just acting as middle men and paying sites for inclusion.
We get requests like that at Ahrefs all the time.
Here’s an email I got earlier this week.
And here’s Tim trolling some poor guy back in December last year.
If that seems a little mean, you should know that this guy was contacting all our previous contributors to try and sneakily buy a backlink on the blog.
I don’t think we heard back from him after that!
But the thing is…
If he’d actually just written a top quality guest post, we would probably have accepted it and he would have picked up a link for free.
Sape is a Russian link network, which allows you to buy backlinks on high authority domains for a monthly fee.
You can buy the links directly through the network, or use a middle man.
As you can see, the links are very cheap, but this is a mega blackhat service.
Many of the sites on the network are hacked and the links added without the knowledge of the site owner.
Don’t go anywhere near it.
Buying Links From Bloggers
This brings us to where I believe the bulk of link buying and selling takes place in 2016.
That’s private link purchases from bloggers.
I have a few different blog sites and I get these kind of requests all the time.
(I don’t sell links btw!)
And the thing is, for Google, these link buys are pretty undetectable.
How can they tell if a link from within a piece of editorial content has been paid for?
The answer is, they can’t.
Flipping this round, have you ever sent an outreach email and received a response like this?
I’m seeing it more and more.
Many bloggers are well aware of the value of a backlink and are now openly asking for payment.
Which kind of sucks.
But, that’s business I guess.
So just how much private link buying and selling goes on? And what’s the average cost of a link?
Let’s find out.
What Percentage Of Blogs Are Selling Links In 2016?
I picked 5 competitive niches and reached out to 50 sites in each.
Here are the niches:
And here is the email I sent:
As you can see, there was no messing about. I got straight to the point.
I wanted to buy a link on their site and I wanted to know how much it would be.
Here are the results.
I won’t be ‘outing’ any of the sites who were selling links. That’s not what this study was about.
Total Number of Blogs Selling Links
Firstly, let’s take a look at the overall totals:
- Sell links: 46
- Don’t sell links: 22
- No response: 182
As you can see in the chart above, 18.4% of the sites I reached out to agreed to sell me a link.
That’s quite a high hit rate.
But as you will see in a moment, the data is skewed somewhat by one of the niches.
6 of the sites stipulated that the link would be included in a post marked as “sponsored”. There were no sites who insisted the link be nofollow.
Total Number of Blogs Selling Links by Niche
Now let’s break it down by niche.
- Travel: 24/50
- Fashion: 7/50
- Fitness: 4/50
- Finance: 5/50
- Weddings: 6/50
As you can see, travel was by far the biggest niche selling links.
A whopping 48% of the sites I contacted agreed to sell me a link.
This makes sense considering the value of the travel industry. It would also suggest that a big percentage of commercial travel sites are buying links (supply and demand).
Now let’s take a look at the actual cost of buying the links.
What Is The Cost Of Buying A Link in 2016?
There was a big variation in the price of buying the links.
The cheapest quote was £80, which currently works out at $101. That link was from a fashion blog with a Domain Rating of 46.
The most expensive quote was $590 per year. That came from a DR55 travel blog.
Across all 46 sites, the average cost of buying a link was $352.93.
@ahrefs finds the average cost of buying a backlink is $352.93 (study of 250 blogs)
Which means if I wanted to buy a link on every site, it would cost me a total of $16,234.78!
Here’s a breakdown of what that would get me in terms of metrics.
That’s a pretty powerful selection of links right there.
Which I’m guessing would definitely move the needle.
I did not reach out to an even split of sites by domain rating, so this should not be taken as an indication that sites with DR 50–59 are more likely to sell links. I used lists of “top blogs” in the niches to select sites.
It would appear that the link buying and selling industry in 2016 is alive and well.
Of course this was a relatively small sample of just 250 sites, but the takeaway is clear:
If you want to buy backlinks for your site, then you can.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether $352.92 is:
- a) worth the money
- b) worth the risk of getting caught
You can let me know in the comments!