Cheap link building services: When does cheap become expensive?

29 Jan

Recently, I had a discussion with a (not-so web savvy) friend who felt that link marketing services were pretty expensive. While I do believe that Tribal Internet Marketing‘s rates aren’t exactly cheap (we’re certainly are not expensive either, though), it did made me think: when are link marketing services cheap and when are they expensive? To make my question a little bit more clear, I’ve listed some of the most common types of link building related ‘products’ below. Some of these products may seem really inexpensive at first, but remember that cheap usually is expensive in the long run.

Automated link building software

It may not come as a surprise that I’m not a fan of automated link building software. There are tons of reasons why I believe you should never choose for any link building software, but there are two big reasons why lots of people still do so: it’s easy and cheap.

The low quality of the links that most automated link building programs bring you is the least of your worries. Because most other webmasters that use tools like this usually control websites of reasonably low quality, the use of automated link building software might put your website in a bad neighborhood. That would mean that, in stead of reaping the benefits of your nifty little tool, this might result in you having to clean up your automatically generated link profile all summer long. Manually.

Initial price: $149,-
Added value: None, but a negative added value is possible as well (bad neighborhood).
Additional costs: Labor costs for cleaning up your link profile.
Actual price: $149,- for a big head ache, a link profile that needs to be cleaned and no extra link value.

Directory submission package

In stead of building links the automated way, you can also build links the nearly-automated way. On forums like Digitalpoint, lots of users offer their manual directory submission services. While most of these aren’t exactly manual, some actually provide a package of around 800 manual submissions of your website to general directories. The costs vary from around $100 to about double. Most of the lower prices are in fact automated tools (see above) that do the work. Do you really think that Indian guy who offered to submit your website to 13,000 (!) directories for $13,50 does this manually?

Directory submission packages are near useless in 99% of the situations. The majority of the directories that your website gets submitted to hold no to very little value and you’ve probably already submitted your site to the handful of directories that do carry any value. In some cases -for example when you submit your brand new website to 13,000 ‘high-quality’ directories ‘manually’-, it could even cause serious problems. Let me re-phrase that for you: if you want to prevent your brand new competitor to perform well for a very short while, make sure that his site gets submitted to a large amount of questionable directories.

Initial price: $129,-
Added value: Almost zero, but a negative added value is possible as well.
Additional costs: More AdWords costs, because you do want traffic to your brand new site.
Actual price: $129,-

Do-follow hunting

Apparently, do-follow hunting is the next big thing. I came across quite a few blog posts recently, that discussed how going after nearly any link that is not being nofollowed will help you to gain better rankings in search engines. It’s easy (there are lots of do-follow search engines), it results in extra links and -best of all- it’s totally free!

Well, the only thing free is the waste of time, because the do-follow links that the most are after don’t contribute a lot to your search engine rankings. Most social media profile links don’t pass any value either, will get nofollowed later on, or will simply never get found by search engines. Blog comments (whether they’re dofollow or nofollow) do not pass the same amount of juice as blog post links and most other FFA links hold little to no value as well.

Also, hunting for do-follow links also isn’t exactly free. I’m pretty sure that, in stead of going after those secret, high value links (or hiring someone to do it), you could’ve done something way more productive.

Initial price: FREE!
Added value: Almost zero, but a negative added value is possible as well.
Additional costs: A lot of labor costs (whether it’s your own or somebody you’ve hired).
Actual price: Depends on your hourly wage and the amount of hours spent, but probably $XXXX for a set of links that is really easy to copy by your competitor.

Link brokerage deal

Link brokers are the link building equivalent of Google AdWords. Once you stop paying, the results may drop almost instantly. In some occasions, however, buying links may still work exceptionally well, which is why link brokers (and paid links in general) still exist.

Renting links has two really big advantages. The first one is that, once you stop paying, everything disappears. The links, the rankings, everything. If the ROI happens to be positive, it’s really not a big deal. Keep those paid links until Google finds them and then stop paying. This brings me to the second disadvantage as well: the risk. If Google (or more probably: a competitor) comes across your obviously paid link profile, it can all be over very quickly. And not just the links and rankings, but your brand as well. And it will take a whole lot of time and money to rebuild that.

Initial price: $ 2,499,-/mo
Added value: Great rankings, until a competitor finds out and tells Google about it.
Additional costs: Labor costs for filing a reinclusion request, plus the expenses for hiring someone to clean up your link profile.
Actual price: About $30k for a year. Double that if Google finds out about your shady links.

Pay per link

Where link brokers usually just rent links, other companies charge money for their services based on the amount of links that they’ll obtain for you. Some do this on a flat rate (for example $25/link), others try to differentiate the rates by charging for PageRank (for example $20 for a PR2 link and $50 for a PR4 link).

There are lots of reasons I can think of why such a pricing method is wrong, but Eric Enge already wrote a great post about this earlier.

Initial price: $ 1,000,-/mo
Added value: Links! (probably mostly free) The quality of these links can vary, though.
Additional costs: Depends on the deal you managed to get.
Actual price: About $12k for a year.

Link marketing workshop/ consultancy

A trend that started a while ago -and that will probably go on for at least a few more years- is a growing demand for good SEO related workshops and trainings. While the price (usually low to mid-range $XXXX for half a day, or a several hundred bucks an hour for one-on-one consulting) scares off lots of folks, because it looks pretty expensive for just a few hours of training, from my experience, private workshops tend to have an exceptionally high ROI.

A couple of hours listening to, or brainstorming with, an expert can lead to a lot of extra knowledge, tips, ideas and solid advice. Also, in stead of having to find everything out yourself by trial and error, the expert’s experience can save you time, by helping to filter out all strategies and tactics that might work in your specific situation.

Initial price: $2,499,-
Added value: A lot of extra knowledge (and probably a few great, actionable tips).
Additional costs: Your labor costs.
Actual price: $2,499,- plus your labor costs.


I am not judging any of the link building services listed above, as they might definitely work in certain situations. However, you’ll have to keep in mind that there’s a difference between cheap and inexpensive. Something can only be inexpensive if the ROI is positive, the price alone is not enough to determine this.

5 Responses to “Cheap link building services: When does cheap become expensive?”

  1. Kishor January 30, 2009 at 7:14 am #

    Cheap price not always mean cheap service or use of automated software.
    It basically means, comparatively lower price than other service providers. If a company builds quality links for you and all are developed manually then definitely you will get maximum return on investment. One can not take the guarantee that expensive link building service can produce good return. I think it doesn’t matter service is cheap or expensive the thing matters the most is quality of service nothing else.

  2. Wiep January 30, 2009 at 7:28 am #

    Kishor, I agree that cheap price doesn’t have to mean that you get a cheap service or automated software, but it’s important that you have to look further than price alone. The fact that a company builds links for you manually is not a guarantee for quality. Also, something that looks expensive at first might have an ROI that is much higher than something with a lower price. The thing that matters the most, though, is indeed the quality of the service.

  3. arshad February 2, 2009 at 6:22 am #

    The article was splendid.You mentioned that blog post links pass more juice than those obtained through comments.Does that mean Google finds whether a link on a webpage is obtained through comments or the article ? ?Does it do for every webpage ?thanks .

  4. inkodeR February 19, 2009 at 3:01 am #

    “…if you want to prevent your brand new competitor to perform well for a very short while, make sure that his site gets submitted to a large amount of questionable directories”

    That there is spot on and have experienced it first hand.

    It was my own fault as I was being lazy with a clients site that was relativity new. I’m paying the price now as I’m still having issues getting the site to stabilize almost a year later.

    Solid link building takes good old elbow grease.

  5. Paulus February 20, 2009 at 11:07 am #

    Nice to see some prices, Wiep! I think a lot of small businesses will be shocked if the hear these prices, but then again, quality needs to be paid.

    I’ve developed something that may interest your readers; a tool that finds backlinks from their competitors, that they don’t have yet. It may save some time….