Link-buying is a topic we discuss often at our offices.
On one side of the room, you’ll hear a team member mentioning that a blogger has asked for money or that we have lost the relationship with a publisher due to a new editor who now requests compensation.
On the opposite corner, you’ll hear me talking to a worried new client, who needs reassurance that we won’t exchange payment for features.
Dedicating part of our budget to buying links would certainly make a side of our work easier (i.e. getting those features up fairly quickly) but we’ve identified far too many reasons why it would be detrimental to our growth.
Today I will share why we refuse to exchange money for links, and hopefully this post will spark a constructive discussion about this practice.
Before we jump into it, I’d like to make clear that I do have strong opinions about buying links so I won’t dare pretend to be neutral about it.
Personally, I couldn’t think of anything more boring and obtuse than paying someone to get a bunch of words hyperlinked and then call that a job well done. When are you going to learn to produce content that real people want to share if all you do all day is to process invoices?
Personal opinions aside, here are the reasons why NeoMam doesn’t exchange money for content features and/or links to our clients’ websites:
Reason #1: We Don’t Want to Fuel the Link-Buying Practice
Two years ago we used to religiously update a spreadsheet called ‘Do Not Contact’ by adding any website who asked for money in exchange of sharing our content. We would then scan that sheet every time we were prospecting to make sure we weren’t wasting our time during promotion.
We had to stop doing that because the sheet became unmanageable due to the amount of blogs we had in it.
That was the day in which we decided to move away from working mainly with bloggers and started to focus on journalists and online media editors instead.
As dramatic as it sounds, every time someone somewhere pays a blogger for a link during a ‘content marketing campaign’, we have one less website we can target with our content.
It is very difficult to bring a blog back from the dark side so we don’t want to contribute in any way with a practice that undermines our content creation abilities.
We put a lot of effort, time and money in every piece we produce. We know there is inherent value in featuring our work for both blogs and tier-1 media sites alike.
We now laser-focus our prospecting just to make sure we’re only reaching out to people who will see that value.
Reason #2: We Would Rather Use Our Full Budget to Create Content People Will Want to Share
It can be quite expensive to produce content that will make people stop for a minute, read, comment and share.
Although Mark Schaefer is right when he says that the idea that “great content rises to the top is over,” creating a piece of content that makes an impact does require both time and money.
We certainly have the choice of using half of our budget to buy ‘sponsored features’ but the decision on where to invest our money is a no-brainer to us.
Not only we wouldn’t be able to afford great sites but also we couldn’t guarantee that the content would continue to get picked up organically after we closed the promotion campaign.
We believe that our clients would be wasting their money if we weren’t producing content that would become an asset to their site — and we would be wasting our time.
Reason #3: We Don’t Want Our Clients to Lose Their Website to a Penalty
Speaking of waste of time and money, let’s talk about Google penalties.
Imagine that you’ve spent years building a successful website that has become crucial to your business.
Let’s say your competitors are doing pretty great themselves, so you’ve decided to work with NeoMam to increase your site’s authority and its positioning within SERPs. You signed on a 12-campaign retainer with us and we get working: we produce 12 pieces of content and we pay for features all over the place.
Now imagine that one morning you receive an email from your SEO Manager saying that the site has been wiped from the search results, the team is waiting to hear from Google but it looks like a manual penalty so you need to halt all link building activities and start with link removals right away.
We refuse to put our clients at risk of having to go through such a situation.
Reason #4: We Want Our Digital PR Team to Learn Valuable Skills Instead of Spending Their Days Processing PayPal Payments
From illustrators to project managers, we want to build a team of specialists who want to be the best that they can be.
We thrive as an interdisciplinary team with members that learn from each other with every project.
The skills that we foster in our digital PR teams are research, copywriting, public relations, time management, online marketing, communication, leadership, persuasion and human behaviour.
Note how I didn’t mention invoicing, PayPal processing and budget management – yet I keep receiving resumes from candidates who list such ‘suitable’ skills on top after spending YEARS working as Earned Media, Outreach or Content Marketing Executives at leading SEO and media agencies.
I didn’t become the effective link builder that I am by handing over money to webmasters, so I wouldn’t dare ask my own team to do that to their own detriment.
Our team members think for a living and every campaign makes them into better professionals because they try new things, analyse their work critically and learn from their mistakes.
I feel bad for any digital PR/Outreach candidate who has the bad luck to have to compete for a job against someone who worked at NeoMam – they don’t stand a chance.
Reason #5: We Want to be Able to Learn From Our Failures
I always wonder how do you actually know whether a piece of content succeeded if you pay people to share it with their readers. When every single campaign gets you decent results, it becomes difficult to truly innovate and, more importantly, to learn from your mistakes.
Our pricing includes a guarantee that says that we will achieve a minimum number of features for each of our campaigns. Do you know what happens when we don’t hit a guarantee? We create a new piece of content and launch an entire new campaign for free.
This put things into perspective, as we don’t have the choice of simply failing; we can’t play the you-never-know-with-content game.
Understanding what audiences want and learning from our mess-ups is crucial to our success, we wouldn’t be in business for very long if it were otherwise.
Enough About Us: You Should Also Respect Yourself as a Content Marketer
Excuse my brutal honesty when talking about buying links but I have experienced its toxicity first hand myself.
I started working in SEO at the time when spinning articles, creating forum profiles and buying 1000 social bookmarks was the way to go – I’m no newbie handing over flyers that say that ‘content is king.’
I still remember my first serious link builder job for a fairly successful digital marketing agency. My training consisted in reading guidelines on how to process a payment correctly and when to charge VAT.
Every month they would assign a budget for you to get X number of links for your client, in the form of guest posts, giveaways and reviews. And then they came the surveys, the infographics, the quizzes, the interactives…
Whichever the format, the only one rule was that for others to share your content, money had to exchange hands.
Do you call that a creative job?
Do you actually believe you are following some sort of content strategy?
Is there any difference between you using the hashtag #bloggerswanted to get a bunch of product reviews and guest posting upon payment?
From SEO to inbound marketing to content marketing, there are skills to be learned and organising giveaways for links is not one of them.
If you call yourself a content marketer or an outreach executive, go create some amazing content and earn people’s attention by learning how to communicate effectively with other human beings.
Fly the content marketing flag high.
Do something you’re truly proud of and enjoy the feeling of launching a piece of content you worked hard on into the world. It’s a scary feeling, I won’t lie, but at the end of the day you will have learned skills that will stay with you forever.
There’s something quite stimulating about creating content that people want to share.
Every time you find your pieces being linked to, commented on and reshared, your heart jumps around with excitement – you realise that some other human out there enjoyed the product of all your hard work and that feeling changes you.
Don’t let the idea that you have to pay people to like what you do rob you from feeling that way.