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Dec 29, 2021

How to Outsource Your Link Building [FREE Vendor Test!]

AUTHOR
author

Nicholas Rubright

EDITOR
author

Nathan Winfrey

If you’re looking to outsource your link building, you’re not alone. More than 60% of businesses outsource their link building to agencies or contractors.

With 65% of marketers agreeing that link building is one of the most difficult parts of SEO, this makes a lot of sense. In-house employees at a business have higher-level things to think about.

In this article, I’ll go over how I’ve outsourced link building for my own projects with both freelancers and agencies.

After that, I’ll show you how to test your vendor to make sure they’re not just buying spammy backlinks at scale and are, instead, actually securing legitimate placements that Google wants to find.

Full disclosure, I do own an agency that offers link building services.

You’re actually on the website of that agency right now.

That said, I’ll do my best to keep the promotional aspect of this to a minimum and focus on teaching you how to outsource your link building.

Let’s go.

Should you outsource your link building?

Outsourcing link building can get expensive in competitive niches, so it isn’t for everyone.

If you’re a new business with limited resources, I suggest giving it a go yourself first. This way, when you’re ready, you’ll know more intuitively how this works and can make better investment decisions.

Additionally, if link building is a core competency of your business and SEO is your only marketing channel, link building should probably be done in-house.

However you do it, building links takes lots of money and time. Because of this, outsourcing link building is best for businesses that have money to spend and time to spare.

If you’re still trying to decide, check out this guide to outsourcing your marketing from HubSpot.

How to outsource your link building with freelancers

I’ve hired link builders from Upwork and Freelancer with varying levels of success.

In fact, we still work primarily with freelancers at our agency.

If you want to outsource your link building effectively, you need to make sure you attract freelancers with SEO knowledge and necessary link building skills, such as:

  • Persuasive email copywriting
  • Negotiation
  • Organization
  • Analytical and critical thinking
  • Objection handling

Here’s how to do that.

Step 1. Post your job

When posting your job on freelance sites to attract SEO talent, keep some of the things freelancers want in mind, such as:

  • Fair and on-time pay – Chasing clients for money is one of the most annoying parts of being a freelancer and why many choose to get clients via platforms like Upwork that handle payment for them. For top SEO freelancers, Ahrefs found that $100-150/hour is pretty standard, so this would be a good starting point when it comes to determining the hourly rate to put on your job post.
  • Clear instructions upfront – Freelancers aren’t employees. This means that, generally, they’re going to be less open to experimentation, particularly because of the deliverable-based perception of their work. This means that clarity is important for your job description.
  • Interesting, valued work – Some people freelance full-time, some on the side. Whatever the case, these people started freelancing because they wanted to take on fun work and get away from the corporate world. To combat this, in your job title and job description, paint a picture of why they might enjoy link building for your company. As people in SEO will attest to, link building work is generally under-valued, so try to use more high-up titles like “SEO Specialist Needed” rather than “Link Builder Needed” to attract better tallent. Good SEO pros might scroll past link building jobs that smell of cheap labor and ridiculous cost-per-link requests.

Above all, understanding the common fears of freelancers can help you draft a compelling offer that’s designed to attract the best.

For reference, here’s a job post I wrote that attracted some promising link building manager prospects.

 

Upwork-link-building-manager-job-description-sample

With more work going remote, the best freelancers don’t have to look far for work, so you need to make it worth their time to apply for your job.

Step 2. Vet your candidates

After you get some applicants, you want to make sure you do, in fact, hire the best.

There are tons of tips online for hiring link building pros, but here are a few things I do to vet link building candidates.

  1. Examine the links they’ve built –If their links are coming from contributor pages or the content surrounding the link isn’t well-written, this isn’t a good sign. The links are likely not the editorial type that Google likes.
  2. Review their link building email templates – Are they persuasive? If you received their email, would you add the link? Make sure the emails clearly demonstrate a value proposition to the website owner instead of going on about how great your content is.
  3. If they send lists, run – If the freelancer sends you a list of sites, this is a bad sign. It means that the freelancer either has pre-existing relationships with these domains, gets in via contributor contacts, or pays them. In any case, these links aren’t editorially placed. Easy links are almost never good ones.

Most importantly, after the interview, make sure they follow up. This is one of the most important parts of being a great link builder. For us, follow-up emails result in more than 50% of placements.

Finally, and probably most importantly, ask your freelancer if they do the work or have a team. It’s fine if they have a team, in which case they probably operate like an agency, but you’ll want to know this upfront as it may cause some operational delays in their work.

Step 3. Negotiate the job terms

People often want to buy link building at a specified cost-per-link, which is understandable, but unfortunately, the best links can’t be acquired at a knowable cost.

This is because it’s unrealistic to expect to forecast what it’s going to take to build relationships in a specific niche, and how many of those relationships will turn into links.

Because of this, I like to go with people I trust, put them on hourly contracts, and let them openly chase whatever they think is good for my business.

Over time, I work with them to refine the effort so we’re focusing on the ROI of their time spent.

Usually, a good link building freelancer can land 1 backlink per about 8-10 hours of work. If you’re doing outreach, it’ll take about 3 months to land your first link. This is primarily due to editorial turnaround times.

How to outsource your link building to an agency

Hiring an agency is intimidating and, honestly, a bit more expensive than hiring a freelancer.

Not because the rates are necessarily greater, but because they typically require higher buy-in.

For example, we start at $3,000/month for link building work, but if you’re on a tight budget, you can get a freelancer to work with you for about 5 hours/week.

However, freelancers have their limitations. Primarily, the fact that most of them won’t be able to commit to full-time work, making it hard to quickly scale up your efforts with them.

The advantage with agencies is scalability. If you want a plug-and-play link building solution that scales up as your business grows, and you don’t want to manage a team, this is the best solution for you.

If an agency sounds like a fit for you, here’s how to pick one that fits your link building needs.

Step 1. Find the good agencies

This is the hard part.

Three things are playing a role in making this hard.

The first is agency development courses and programs.

With so many courses out there helping people build marketing agencies, such as Blueprint Training and Authority Hacker, SEO agencies run by noobs are popping up everywhere.

It’s not that the courses are bad. They’re amazing! In fact, I’ve taken both of these courses as part of building this company.

The problem, however, is that people who don’t really know SEO are taking these courses and building companies without really understanding what they’re selling.

Which brings me to my next point, which is the information out there about backlinks.

If you search for content about what makes a good backlink, you’ll find pieces that attempt to make link building quantifiable.

Like this page about backlink quality from Ahrefs.

 

Ahrefs-good-backlink

All of the information is correct. However, readers will come out with a sort of “link quality checklist” that looks something like this:

  • Links must be in-content with natural anchor text.
  • Links must have a DR/UR of a certain number.
  • Links must be dofollow (which isn’t even really a thing).

This leads into my final point, which is that the way B2B buyers typically buy things doesn’t align with how link building works.

If we look at how B2B buyers make purchasing decisions, we can see that most of the decision-making process comes down to providing clarity.

 

B2b-buyer-decisions

So, if I want to sell link building services to large companies, I face an uphill battle of convincing C-level executives with very little time on their hands to buy on trust when, instead, they want to buy on metrics that display a clear path to ROI for their SEO investment.

With these combined struggles facing agency owners, many link building agencies resort to predictable means of acquiring backlinks so they can hit the cost-per metrics set by executive buyers.

Which is why you’ll see link building agencies like The Hoth selling individual links at ridiculously low prices.

 

Hoth-pricing

Don’t let “Publisher Traffic” fool you. These metrics can be faked by ranking for useless keywords and using third-party metrics from tools like Ahrefs instead of real traffic data.

The problem is that nobody, executives and link building agencies included, can truly know the value of a backlink.

This is because, with Google changing their algorithm daily, we don’t even know for sure how Google uses backlinks as a ranking factor.

Instead, it’s best to treat link building like a sales funnel where you continue to find prospects, reach out, and measure performance over time.

This is the only true way to get editorial links.

Unfortunately, building a complicated outreach system makes link building hard to sell because it leaves lots of unknowns in the mix.

Unknown stuff + Busy executives = A tough sell.

This is why many link builders that create agencies go with cheap hacks, or even outright scams, to sell links at a fixed cost. It’s just easier to explain clearly, and executives don’t always care because they really just want backlinks to fulfill a deliverable that makes their boss happy.

If, instead, you like the idea of sales-driven link building outreach, you can hire us or one of these agencies that Brian Dean says are good.

Step 2. Vet your selected agency with these 3 questions

Vetting your agency is tough. While I do own this agency, I’ve hired others. Here are some questions I’ve asked to make sure they do real link building:

Question 1: “What’s your process for acquiring backlinks?”

Everyone in SEO knows the link building industry is scammy. An agency should have no problem opening up about their process if they’re legit.

Look for things like pre-outreach audience research, scalable prospecting techniques, value-driven email copywriting, and, if necessary, content creation.

If their process looks too shady or you’re unsure of something, be upfront with them about your skepticism and ask. Link builders know how hard their services are to buy, so they’ll understand if you want deep insight into things.

Question 2: “Do you have experience in our industry?”

Specific industry experience is a huge benefit…if you can find it.

Unfortunately, the job of link building is so niche that this may be tough to find.

If you can’t find a link building agency that has specific experience in your niche, check out some of the agency’s case studies that showcase creative thinking and analysis as part of their process.

When there’s no niche expertise, the next best thing is one that can adapt to your niche. We do this by hiring subject matter experts to work with us, but other agencies might have systems or processes that allow them to scale across niches.

Question 3: “What have you tried recently that hasn’t worked?”

As told by Buzzstream, the right candidate for this role should “grin, laugh a little, and begin recounting tales of failed experiments” in response to this question.

The reason is because all of marketing is mostly about failing. Nobody can accurately predict the future ROI of marketing work because we can’t know how external factors, like competitors, will respond or behave in our projected future.

Good agencies will share stories of failure, but not only that, they’ll also prepare you for the potential of failure of your outreach campaign and probably won’t offer any sort of guarantees when it comes to link building.

Step 3. Negotiate your terms

Very few agencies will budge on price because their business was built around a specific cost structure.

However, be on the lookout for prices that seem unrealistic. Remember, there are tons of scammy agencies in this niche trying to compete on cost-per-link because this is how people in the market want to buy.

Knowing this can help you during the negotiation process. Rather than trying to get the price lower, see how you can work with the agency to make better use of the dollars.

Maybe some of your money is better spent on content.

Maybe the cost per link is much higher than you expected, so you need to change URL targets to drive ROI from the work.

Whatever the case, speaking as an agency owner who has insane amounts of demand for this kind of work, you probably won’t have much leverage on price here, so it’s better to aim your investment.

If you’d like some actionable tips for the negotiation stage, check out this guide on contract negotiation from Ironclad.

How to test your link building vendor

As with most hires, before committing to a link building vendor long-term, it’s important to put them through a test project.

When I would hire link building vendors for any of my previous projects, I’d always have them work up to 3 link placements.

When they land these first 3 links, I send my own link building pitch to each of the linking websites, like this:

From there, I can interpret the responses to figure out how they may have gotten the backlink.

For example, if the site responds with an email like this, my vendor probably paid for the link:

 

Paid-link-response

However, this isn’t definitive. It’s possible that your link building vendor negotiated past this and got a legitimate placement.

This is why I go for 3 links. If all 3 websites respond with something like this, I usually seek out a new vendor.

You can approach them about this, but if the agency really is pulling something fishy, they’ll have an email thread to showcase evidence of a “legitimate” placement by asking the site to behave as if it’s real in their outreach emails.

Otherwise, it may have been an honest mistake and there may have been a miscommunication about your goals. If you communicate cost goals to a link builder, they may interpret this as it being okay to pay for links.

In any case, this framework can give you a way to check your provider’s link building work.

If you want to test us out, just fill out the contact form at the bottom of this page. 👇

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