We work with a lot of B2B clients who – no surprise – want to see higher page rankings in Google, especially when compared to their competitors. And we're helping them get there! But one thing we've noticed when researching their sites is the massive importance of backlinking. The competitors who are scoring higher page rankings than our clients are winning primarily on the strength and number of their backlinks, with other issues coming in behind.
That kind of result tends to get people wondering: "If links are the key to success, shouldn't we do anything it takes to get more?" Unfortunately, that kind of thinking has created the murky "buyable backlinks" strategy, which deserves its own explanation. Should you pay for links to boost your rankings? No... not unless you do it the right way. Let's dig deeper.
Secrets Under the Hood
We've talked before about how Google came crashing down on article directories and similar forms of cheap backlinking. In Google's eyes, if people just pay for their links then nothing gets done: The Internet gets flooded with cheap, meaningless content that just serves as a vehicle for links, and it becomes difficult to identify which sites are really worth visiting.
To stop this, Google's algorithm takes a careful look at backlinking, where links are coming from, and if they are functional. Google is not afraid to penalize websites for cheap, pay-per-post backlinks or other problems, and now that its algorithm updates are in real time those penalties can happen very quickly.
The problem is that the world of backlinking isn't so much the black and white lines that Google is trying to make it. Do people still pay for links? Of course they do. Are all those links bad? Absolutely not. So, what's the difference?
Guest Blogging: The Best of Both Worlds?
A brand wants to get as many backlinks as will boost page ranking, but also doesn't want to invoke any penalties or be downgraded by doing it. In other words, brands want a white hat practice that also allows them to pay for links: There is are a few current practices that meets that definition (find more ideas here), but the one we would like to focus on is called guest blogging.
Guest blogging isn't exactly pay-to-play, although it does often involve an exchange of services. Blog fees, gifts of free products, promotion – there are many ways to "pay" for a guest blogger, and brands widely practice all of them. But the purpose of guest blogging is to create high-quality pieces, bring in new traffic, and share more useful data...all things that Google supports, so the search engine rarely penalizes guest blogs. Think of guest blogging as the last "legal" way to pay for backlinks.
How to Start: A Little Money, A Lot of Communication
The next question for most brands is, "Okay, how do I find them and how much do I have to pay?" But steady on! The first thing to know is that guest blogging isn't about the money, it's about the connection you make with a blogger. You cannot take up every offer you get from bloggers, because that leads you to paying $5 for every broken-English email you get. Instead, you need to focus on finding the right kind of experts and building communication with them in an influencer marketing relationship.
The good news is that you probably already know a few names suitable for guest blogging: The best candidates are already at work in your industry, published frequently in trade journals, and have sizable followings on social media. The key is contacting them in the right way, discussing your plan, and coming to an arrangement.
This in turn leads to questions about money and setting terms. You should either be upfront about what you offer for a guest blog, or ask plainly what their usual compensation looks like. Rates vary, of course, but for true, impressive links that Google will appreciate, you may have to pay $100 to $200. It's hard to put a price on quality content, but don't be afraid to ask further questions or negotiate to find the right amount. Remember, it's about the relationship, not the money.