At this point we can mostly agree that even A.I. advances from Google have not negated the value of inbound links as part of an overall organic visibility improvement strategy.
While some services are behind the times and still offer forum link building and blog comments, the smart marketer knows that editorial link placements are what Google likes now and in the future.
This has fueled the recent explosion of link building services, ranging from low cost "guest posts" that are nothing more than PBN links to high end link earning strategies, that are based around creating content and exposing it to a targeted audience passively to naturally gain links. In between the two, you have blogger outreach services and outreach link building services. As a business owner or marketer who is not very familiar with link building, it is easy to get confused as to which one you need or are receiving.
Today, we are going to better define the three types and help you to understand which may work best for your business.
Cheap "Guest Posting" Services
Generally, when cheap and SEO are in the same sentence, the outcome is not good for the customer. This holds true for guest posting.
Guest posting to build links is a very effective strategy when properly executed. Unfortunately, many service providers use the lack of link building knowledge that most customers have, to pass off low quality sites as guest posts. This is most commonly done using PBN sites.
The easiest way to spot these is pricing and organic traffic. Before your place a test order or try to check your new links for organic traffic, stop and think about the price. To get a guest post link someone has to reach out to a list of relevant sites, pitch them a topic, create content, edit it, and follow up with a site until it is placed.
For the sake of simplicity, let's say a site is found in 30 minutes, an article takes 90 minutes to write, and total follow up time is just 30 minutes. You now have 2 hours wrapped up in a single link and if you have done outreach, you know it usually takes much longer to complete the process. Even at 2 hours, someone selling guest post links for $20-50 is not going to be doing any outreach 99% of the time. Instead, they host PBN sites and drop a $2 outsourced article onto the site. You get a link, but not usually a good one.
Best Suited For: Quality guest post and blogger outreach are both best suited for businesses or websites that do not have a large following that will naturally generate links to new content. I.e.; Wall Street Journal doesn't need them, but your new online store does.
Watch Out For: Don't buy cheap guest posts or you will get burned.
Blogger Outreach Style Link Building
Following much the same concept as guest post link building, blogger outreach involves reaching out to prospective sites, pitching content idea, creating content, and following up until a link is placed. Additionally, as with guest posting there are companies that offer this service but are just placing links on PBN sites or low-quality sites.
Pricing should be your first indicator on this as well. There are well-known blogger outreach services that sell links in the range of $50-$150 as outreach links. While they may not own the sites they post on, there is one huge red flag with the sites they publish on - they do not get organic traffic. This issue is not exclusive to lower cost providers though, it is actually a common problem with the blogger outreach market. The typical range you should expect to pay for blogger outreach links is between $150 and $500 per link with DA in the ranges of 20-50. It may seem costly, but it takes a lot of time and resources to build a single outreach link, so the cost is justified.
However, do not let cost be the final judge of quality. Once you find a company in that range, place a test order and review the links for organic traffic. This can be done using tools like Semrush or Ahrefs, here is an example:
While the exact minimums are debatable, especially with local websites, you should expect to see at least 100+ in the organic traffic column or 100+ "organic keywords" in the column to the left of traffic. Checking those two areas will help you weed out a lot of sites that have no value, and a lot of providers that are selling low quality posts.
Best Suited For: Businesses and websites that need to intentionally increase the number of quality inbound links and do not have the audience to generate hundreds or thousands of links passively.
Watch Out For: Look for realistic pricing and check the links you receive for organic traffic or organic keywords to identify low value sites and links. If you see a recurring trend of no traffic or keywords, look for a new provider.
PR Style Link Building (A.K.A Custom Link Outreach)
This category can be further broken down into companies that actively seek links through outreach and companies that passively seek links.
Active Outreach Link Building
This category of outreach is like guest posting and blogger outreach. The end goal is to perform outreach directly to sites that may link back to the site being promoted. Guest posting and blogger outreach rely upon creating new content to submit to sites in exchange for a link back to your site. Outreach link building can include those methods and others such as resource page link building, broken link building, and PR coverage that results in links.
This style of link building is commonly billed hourly or by project and the number of links earned during a campaign can vary drastically. Since you're are paying for the process, this method often opens the door for higher quality link placements. If you order a DA 20 blogger outreach link, you aren't going to end up on CNN.com, but if you are running custom outreach, you very well could. A lot of outreach link projects start at $1K per month but $2,500-5,000 per month is a more typical budget.
Best Suited For: Businesses who want to diversify their link sources over several months or companies who are producing truly valuable content that other sites are likely to link to. If your business makes $5 million + per year and you are looking for a safe and long-term approach, this is often a great solution.
Watch Out For: Hourly billing without any deliverables or clear report. You should at minimum have an idea of how the time is being allocated for your project, along with reporting on submitted content, pending links, and live link placements. Specifics may vary as a project progresses, but communication is key.
PR (Passive) Link Building
Passive link building is about creating high-value content and seeding it to the right audience. Instead of conducting manual outreach and working with a site directly to earn a link, the focus is exposure. This can include sharing with your mailing list, pushing it out over social media, having influencers re-share your content, or any combination of the above.
This is at it's core what Google pictured when they uttered the first mentions of creating great content that earns links "naturally". The problem with this approach is that if you are a smaller business, your don't likely have the time, resources, or audience to gain heavy traction on your content, which is what makes that above options necessary.
One popular method that falls more in line with "active outreach link building" is the Power Page method first mentioned by Brian Dean. This type of link building focuses on creating a content asset and then manually contacting people and sites to alert them to your new content. If you like the idea of content focused promotion but do not have an audience, that method could be better suited for you.
Best Suited For: This is best suited for companies with larger budgets (enterprise level for example) for content research and production that have established audiences or brand recognition.
Watch Out For: People offering this approach to your if you are a smaller business, lack an audience, and do not have the funds for in depth research and content creation.
So now that you know a little more about each type, you can see that link building is not a one size fits all solution. The most effective method for your business may yield no results for another company. The best way to determine which type of link building would work best is to discuss your needs, goals, and budget with a reputable link building service that can guide you to the right solution.
Whichever route you choose, watch out for cheap (low quality) service providers or you could wake up to an expensive surprise in your Search Console messages.