Link Buying: Nine Ways To Get Them For Cheap

When I was in New Orleans for the Advanced Link Building Seminar, I was able to learn a TON of smart ideas from some very smart people. I absorbed everything from outside of the box link bait ideas to some very interesting ways to conduct outreach. One topic that was discussed was link buying. When the term was first “introduced” to the listeners, I could feel a collective cringe go around the room. It wasn’t a cringe of “oh my gosh, did XYZ just mention link buying? All of us in this room do nothing, but white hat SEO tactics.” Instead, it was a feeling of “Tell me more, but let me act like I’m not too interested, just in case Matthew Cutts is listening.”

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Let me set a few things straight. When I say link buying, I am not talking about something in the footer that looks like this. A lot of you shaking your head in discontent participate in link buying and you don't even know it. The problem with link buying is that when people hear it, it comes off as if I was scratching a chalk board with Gail Devers' nails. Let's break “link buying” into it's two main components: “Link” and “buying”

Link – A clickable reference from one site to another

Buying – Engaging in the voluntary exchange of goods, services, or both

So, by definition, link buying is the voluntary exchange of goods/services for a clickable reference to another site. Did you give that blogger a free sample of your product in exchange for a review and a link to your site? Yup, you just bought a link. Did you pay a site $250 to become a “sponsor” that happened to come with a link back to your site? That sounds like a link buy to me. Did you pay a content writer $25 so that you can shop a “guest post?” C'mon! Don't make me look in the Yahoo Directory ($299/year?) and start calling all of you out! Let's be realistic, we all do link buying, but some of us just do a better job of making it seem grayer than others. So, now that we have established that we all do it, let's be smart about it. Here are nine tips to help you stretch your marketing resources.

  1. Sponsor a youth athletic team. Check out this site. The registration for a child is $45. Do you think this site would turn you away if you said that you wanted to sponsor two kids for the year, every year, for a link in return. Be a good guy or girl, though. Show up to a game or two. Maybe take some pictures with the kids. Be a human being.
  2. Sponsor a meetup group. This was introduced in Adam's post recently. Meetup groups that don't have any sponsors yet are great targets. They are waiting for someone to notice them, and that lowball offer of $50 for the year may be enough for them to pay for some pizza for a meetup or two. Use this query to find meetup groups with no sponsors that are in your niche. also offers custom anchor text and dofollowed links.
    • [keyword] "We want Sponsors!"
  3. In case you have been under a rock for the last 15 years, you may know that it costs money to keep a site up and running. $10-12/year for a domain name and $5-10/month for hosting can be a burden for a site that has SEO value, but no visitors to balance everything out. Why not transfer some of that SEO value to your site and help a webmaster out at the same time? Check out this heartfelt letter that this webmaster has sent out to solicit people to donate money to the site. If I was in the restaurant or vegetarian food business, this would be a fantastic opportunity. This site owner is asking for anything from $20 to $1K. With the amount of effort that was put into this letter, I am sure a reasonable donation can get you a link somewhere on this site.
  4. Sponsor a local Codecamp/Barcamp/Wordcamp. Since I live in Philadelphia, I searched for some Barcamps around my area and I found one here. They will link to you if you provide just about anything. This particular Barcamp will even take lanyard donations. We once got a link from a Philadelphia camp by donating some old hats that a client had lying around. Be creative. Some of that old stuff you have lying around in the back office could be worth its weight in links. Looking for further “in-kind donation” opportunities? Try this query:
  5. Let's make this really easy. How much do you want to sponsor? This is 2011. Type it in Google and see what comes up. Let's say I feel comfortable sponsoring a site for $100. I tried this EASY query and I ended up here. For $100, I can get a link here. The page has minimal PageRank, but if my business is in North Jersey, I not only get a link, but I get all of this. It looks like my Benjamin just helped my site and I have something for the little ones to do all summer. Sounds like a good deal to me.
  6. Start a scholarship. I can't take all the credit for this one as this was born from Adam's idea. Remember that query where I showed you how to name a donation price to get a link? Why not try that with a scholarship? I found a page here that is linking to scholarships for as low as $50. How did I find that? I'm glad you asked.
  7. Offer a service. One of my recent successes came from a link that I got for a client that cost nothing. There is a site out there that mentions wacky holidays. I found out that the site was linking to sites that were mentioning the details of the holidays and the one that related to my client was blank. I reached out to gauge interest and I found out from the site owner that her site had been negatively impacted by the Panda update. After clicking around the site, I had some recommendations. It took maybe 15 minutes to make about 5-6 easy recommendations that should help out. I sent these over in a nice email along with a link to the client's blog post explaining the details of the national day. One day and two email exchanges later, the link was up on a topical PR4 URL. I do SEO all day and I love it. I almost felt like I owed more.
  8. Offer a student discount. I have to thank Jessica Hill for this one. Do you have an e-commerce client with a minimal linking budget? If they have a section on their site where you can input discount codes, create a special code that you can distribute to local colleges. A 5-10% discount really doesn't affect the bottom line much and it brings in business that you wouldn't have had otherwise. Schools have pages such as this one that will link out to sites that provide discounts for their students. Just don't get greedy with anchor text here. This is one of the reasons that Staples got penalized.
  9. My last tip is one that I LOVE. I like to target events that have recently ended. I have reached out to many sites only to hear that the annual event that I wanted to sponsor happened a week before my email was received. Some link builders would put that in their calendar and follow up next year. Not me. I'd tell the site owner that I have so much faith in their organization that I would be willing to make an early donation for the 2012 event. Think about this for a second. The event is over and it took the organizers six months to raise the money to put on a successful event. When a person like me comes along that is willing to put money in their pockets for next year today, they are all smiles. Not only do I get the discounted rate since I am late/early, but since I am paying for the 2012 event in 2011, I get the link until the next event comes up in 2013. I just paid $100 for a link for the next 2 years. That's about $4/month for a PR6 homepage link.

So, I hope that these tips make it easier to stretch that marketing budget. Do you have any other ideas that have worked well for you? Feel free to share those in the comments section or chat with me on Twitter.

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Wil Reynolds
Wil Reynolds
CEO & Vice President