Have you ever outsourced link building? How did you like the experience?
To be honest, mine was terrible. Allow me to share my story.
When I had a typical 9 to 5 job as Marketing Director at SEMrush, we decided to get more links from the top resources in our segment. In the end we hired an agency to help us build these links. The agency was charging us an outrageous $ 13,000 a month, but unfortunately the high price didn't mean the quality. They haven't been able to write anything useful, let alone post their content on trusted industry blogs. What made matters worse was the fact that I got her on board.
Needless to say, we stopped working with this agency. We decided to try another as we thought luck would be on our side this time.
Well, we were wrong. Although the second agency billed us almost three times less and promised top notch work with great links and great results, the result was disappointing to say the least. In the end, we got links from irrelevant content posted on websites that wrote about everything from the ten best sex positions to the ultimate guide to cleaning your toilet.
As ridiculous as it sounds now, I didn't feel amused then. These two failed attempts to outsource link building convinced me in two ways: maintaining high quality links is an internal task, and outsourcing just brings money down the drain.
Fast forward to now and I can honestly tell you that my mind about outsourcing has changed. Since those two unfortunate scenarios with outsourcing, I have moved from SEMrush to a freelancer and as the workload increased, I started my own link building agency Digital Olympus. As I gained more experience in the field, I realized why our outsourcing attempts failed so miserably.
At the time, I wasn't familiar with the ropes of the Link acquisition. We didn't think of setting strict requirements to prevent us from receiving links from poor quality websites. While going through trial and error, I gathered some unique insights into the pros and cons of link building outsourcing. Today I want to share these insights with you so that you can better understand which option is right for you – hiring an agency or an internal link builder.
When is Outsourcing the Right Choice for You?
Here is my perspective as a link building agency owner.
The majority of our customers come to us because they don't have the time or resources to set up a decent link building process on their own. Most of the time their current focus is on some other business goals, but they still understand the value of links and have some pages trying to rank well on Google.
Usually our ideal client knows what types of pages they want to improve through links and they understand how SEO works. For the most part, they have an SEO team that lacks the resources to get started in link building. Hence, they are looking for someone who can help them get some juicy links.
Ultimately, our customers pay for our knowledge and experience. But there are also other reasons why companies might outsource link building to an agency instead of hiring an internal specialist.
1. When hiring an experienced link builder is too expensive
The first reason for outsourcing link building is the cost of recruiting.
According to Glassdoor, the average junior-level link builder salary is between 30 and 40,000, while those with great experience look for an estimated annual salary of around $ 100,000. The lowest hourly rate is $ 13, while seasoned link building specialists expect you to pay up to $ 16 an hour.
Aside from salaries, there are other things you need to consider. For example, your in-house link building specialist would also need content that is specifically designed for link building purposes and should have its own budget. That being said, they need to have access to backlink analysis tools like Ahrefs (costing $ 99 / month), SEMrush (also $ 99 / month), Moz (starting at $ 99 / month), and Pitchbox (ab) to do the job properly 300 USD / month). All in all, you have to pay for these tools, which alone cost around 6,000 a year.
In short, hiring an in-house link builder will cost you a pretty penny. In addition, it can take a while to find the internal link builder you want. While looking for one, an agency can be tried to get your link building strategy in motion.
2. When you need links right away
The biggest difference between hiring an in-house link builder and an agency is the speed at which links are acquired. Usually an agency already has a proven link building strategy in place while an in-house link builder has yet to develop one.
In my opinion, this is the main reason our clients choose our link building colleagues and us. We have a well-established process for building connections, but most importantly, we've already built significant relationships between certain industries and niches. So in some cases it won't take more than a few minutes to secure a link.
However, if you do decide to build the link yourself, don't expect immediate results. On average, it takes 3-4 months to get at least 10-20 links each month. Also, it can take you a while to find the right and meaningful way to connect to other websites and learn how to get your ideas right.
I should say that opening a new niche and building a decent number of links per month is always a big problem even for my agency. The first few months result in 2-4 links, and that certainly can't be called decent link flow.
3. When you need help educating your team on how to properly link links
Sharing knowledge and experience is another reason to outsource link building. Because of this, I outsource some tasks and work closely with those who have in-depth expertise in areas where I feel less confident.
Paying for knowledge is a great way to spend money, especially when you don't have the time. For example, I understand how long it would take me to study before I can do technical search engine optimization myself. So I'd rather hire someone to help me with this. And as we work together, I'll take this opportunity to expand my knowledge as well.
It is precisely for this reason that we have a number of contractors on our team who are working on other projects but are happy to share their unique strategies and approaches with us. It's like a breath of fresh air – your experience gives us new perspectives for building high quality connections.
By the way, if you do decide to hire an in-house link builder, it can take you some time to learn how to work with such contractors while a link building agency already has well-established relationships with them.
So after all that, try to perceive outsourcing as a learning opportunity. If you have previous link building experience, there is no need to ask an agency to train you. Instead, when you see it work, you can follow their strategy. We have some clients who follow this logic as they are doing the link building in-house while they continue to be under our guidance. Sure, one day they could start linking independently, but it feels good that we paved that path for them.
4. When you want links that you would take forever to acquire
Again, this is about the connections and how well you can relate to them. Unless you have a close circle of partners, you cannot expect quick results from your link building efforts.
Usually the best link building agencies already have a large network of partners. However, it's still very important to check that an agency is operating in your niche and has some meaningful connections.
But even if the agency hasn't worked in your niche yet, don't give it up yet. Most likely, the agency can still network faster due to existing relationships with partners and word of mouth.
Even for a seasoned agency, it will take time to build the network of connections in a new and unexplored area. We are always very transparent about telling a customer that we haven't worked in their industry yet, but some customers are willing to wait. However, your requirements may be different. Always ask this question to avoid misunderstandings.
5. When you need to scale your current link building efforts
Sometimes brands realize that link building can be a good strategy for them, but they may not fully understand how to go about it, given the specifics of their industry and niche. In this case, the agency will help you choose the right angle and objectively review your current link building needs.
Another pain point that leads our customers to ask for our help is building connections with problematic destinations. Some pages – for example commercial ones – are difficult to link organically. In my last blog post, I talked more about creating links to commercial sites and some examples of that. However, if you are struggling to get links to some pages, you can outsource that task to an agency that will find the right way to address and address those difficulties.
When outsourcing isn't the best option
As someone who has had an uncomfortable experience with outsourcing, I should say that when you hire an agency, you really need to know what you need. This could be the first and foremost reason not to outsource link building – you should know what to expect.
However, there are other situations where outsourcing link building is a waste of time and money. Let's take a look.
1. You look for digital PR and consider it link building
Over the years I have met many potential customers who have asked for articles on leading websites in their industry, just to have their brand featured on a popular resource. While getting links from such websites would be good for your branding image, it is a PR job.
Here's the thing: links acquired from such resources are usually very weak from an SEO perspective. Also, there are cases where guest contributors sell links from these websites. In one of them, a well-known writer who worked for Forbes and Entrepreneur was selling under-the-radar links, which is prohibited under Google's guidelines.
As a result, links to such websites rarely bring any benefit as they don't have the SEO value we are usually looking for.
From an SEO perspective, the best links come from websites that are not involved in such suspicious activity. Don't trust influencers so quickly as they often sell links on their websites too.
Instead, try to find a website that doesn't have guest posts. Google usually prefers guest posts, while the sites that are only used for link building appear at the bottom of search results.
2. You don't have a solid SEO strategy and you just want to create a few links
Many customers fail to understand that link building and SEO are interrelated. When it comes to link building, you need to keep in mind that if you link to the right pages from an SEO perspective, you will only get results.
What does that mean? Such pages should target the right keywords that are relevant to your business and that don't have insane competition. In addition, the content assigned on these pages should be consistent with user intent.
For context only, it takes 10 times longer for a commercial page to get to the top of Google results, especially if the top 10 are for informational purposes.
Ideally, you should know how many links you need to fill the current link gap. Otherwise, it could take forever for your page to rank well on Google. By analyzing the type of links your competitors have already created, you can determine the right requirements for your link building agency.
3. They have very strict requirements and an agency cannot reach this mark
Sometimes customers underestimate their link building needs. But sometimes their expectations can be way too high and it becomes a real problem. Let me give you a few examples.
Once we had a client who wanted us to implement a completely new link building approach just for their campaign. Everything should have gone great unless he forgot to tell us he needed a unique approach, and what we were able to deliver at that point wasn't what he was interested in.
With this in mind, our partnership naturally ended. We decided to return the money to this customer and move forward. Now we conduct a detailed interview with each customer to give them a very detailed overview of our link building approach and our capabilities.
The same problem can occur in some other cases:
- You want links that are only assigned to specific content. Ask the agency if they get links by blogging guests. If not, this is not the best option for you.
- You have a list of websites that you want to get links from. Contrary to your expectations, creating links is not an exact science, and it is difficult to predict or guarantee that a link will be secured on any given website.
- You only want links to pages that have already created a solid number of links and already ranked well on Google. This is a smart strategy, but should only be done internally as it can take ages to get a link on such a page.
As already mentioned, ask the agency about their functions before outsourcing link building. It would be fair to both parties if you and the agency have clear expectations of the end result.
4. You expect referral traffic from links that an agency creates for you
Unfortunately, there's only a minimal chance that referral traffic will come. Digital marketing experts confirm that the chances are very small that even blogging guests on leading websites will result in a solid influx of referral visitors.
Nowadays, steady referral traffic only comes through sources of organic traffic. A good example is this article with a list of SEO tools by Brian Dean that is receiving over 7,000 organic visitors per month:
Surely the tools listed in Brian's post are also getting some traffic, as these visitors are browsing them and would like to learn more about them.
In general, we rarely see our customers receiving referral traffic. Getting a good link is one scenario, but getting a good link that sends referral traffic is a whole different story.
In my opinion, building the links that are most likely to give you a solid influx of referral visitors requires an analysis of the current sources of referral traffic to your competitors and industry leaders. Then you need to try to understand the reason for that traffic, whether it's an active audience, whether it's featured in a newsletter, etc. However, the whole process is different from the link building strategy we usually follow.
5. You are too busy to give your feedback to the agency
If you expect the link building agency to deliver the expected results, communication is key. Outsourcing is not about delegating the task and forgetting it. It's about a close cooperation.
However, be prepared to have to make a number of calls to an agency to find out what link building strategy you will be pursuing, not to mention any other related meetings that will take place in the process. It's especially important if your link building needs are very specific.
Let me repeat again: Continuous communication is critical to building juicy, high quality connections. If you don't have time to speak to the agency and properly articulate your needs and expectations, outsourcing link building is not the option for you.
6. You don't have a sufficient budget
If you are planning on hiring a link building outsourcing agency, the first thing to do is to evaluate your financial situation as it will cost you a fair amount of money.
To give you some context, we only enter into long-term contracts of $ 10,000 or more, as one-time partnerships do not help produce lasting link building results. In general, the whole process of creating links should continue and your website should continuously display a graph of how the links grow:
No matter how hard you try, the lack of a systematic approach to link building doesn't mean tangible results, and the customer won't make any profit from those links. That's why I understood that one-time link building is a waste of time and money.
What's the verdict?
All in all, I should say that hiring a link building agency is worth every penny as long as they naturally have the experience you're looking for. From a rational point of view, it is much more difficult and costly to do the link building yourself, especially if you know little about it.
There are other benefits of outsourcing link building as well. When you hire an agency to build links, you are primarily paying for the speed with which you acquire links. An agency already has all of the connections to get links faster, in addition to an established process for building links in general.
However, evaluate your needs first. Outsourcing may not be the best option for you if you're more into PR than link building. You may also want to check out what the agency can offer as your requirements may not match their profile. And of course, outsourcing is not an option if you don't have time to communicate with an agency, or if you don't have the resources to partner with.
In general, if you were to ask me if outsourcing is worth it, I would say yes, but only if you get involved. Remember, outsourcing link building to an agency shouldn't be a one-off opportunity. If you want ongoing results, you need to commit to long-term, close collaboration.