Never pay for links that look like unpaid links. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Having said that, there are plenty of times when paying for a link in the form of a display ad, paid directory listing, or sponsorship is a great plan.
Our basic process is this:
- Identify the best sites for linkbuilding.
- Attempt to get free links.
- If necessary, pay for links from the most valuable sites.
- Upgrade to paid links from the sites that send the most traffic.
So what kind of site is valuable enough for paid links?
Our Sydney painters have a listing with an Australian directory. The directory is well targeted for them, it’s a good quality site with a PageRank of 7, it allows us to furnish text and images, it includes a link to the company website and social media, and it sends traffic.
A directory with global reach (this client is a housepainter; they need local search), a cluttered ad-heavy page, a site that doesn’t send traffic from free links, a modest footer link, an upgrade that doesn’t significantly improve placement or the amount of information, or a listing that doesn’t give you control over the content of the listing — that wouldn’t be worth paying for.
There are plenty of valuable directories that require a fee, either annual or a one-time editorial fee, for inclusion. While none of them is worthwhile for every single business or website, it’s worth exploring them to see whether they’ll benefit you before you decide against making that payment.
Note that this will vary from one industry to another. Jewelers usually have to pay for listings in strong directories, while musicians often don’t. Some directories will give you a free listing in exchange for an article or for a reciprocal link. Compare these options with the cost and decide which is the best option for you.
A display ad at a popular, high quality blog that serves your target population can be valuable, too. Quite a few of our clients have had good results with this strategy. Targeting is key here. A steampunk artist got excellent traffic from a steampunk blog and an ecommerce site selling men’s underwear did well with a display ad at a blog about men’s underwear. Look for that level of specificity.
Expect to pay $50 to $100 per month for display ads at blogs. Compared with print ads, this is a bargain, and it has the advantage of being trackable. Just be sure to watch the conversion rate as well as the traffic to make sure that the link is valuable enough to pay for.
Websites that aren’t blogs are likely to be more costly, but they may also reach a wider audience and have higher rankings. You might pay hundreds a month for ads at such sites. Measure the results carefully. In general, the more highly targeted, the better. Local sites or sites targeted toward some very specific audience can do extremely well with this kind of link.