16 Months of Buying Links: What I learned, and What to Avoid

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16 Months of buying links: What I Learned, and what to avoid. Alright guys, so I know that this group is (for the most part) white hat. Buying links is sometimes frowned upon, and I've seen many "no links built" case studies. This whole part of this business can be really overwhelming. If you build the wrong kind of links, you risk tanking your website at the next update. And there is tons of conflicting or misinformation out there, so it's hard to make a judgement call as to what's right for your site. So I'm going to give you guys some of my strategy, and talk about some of the things I've learned.

Why should I buy links?

You can absolutely start a successful affiliate site without building or buying any links at all. However, this is almost entirely luck. In most niches, you DO need links to rank. And if you build a high quality site, some of these might come in naturally. But with this strategy, ranking is basically all luck. You've got to hope that people just stumble upon your site, and you've gotta hope that some of those people own authoritative sites AND want to link to you. The chances aren't great.
The main reason you want to take control over your link building is because it gives you control over your site. Instead of writing 100 articles and hoping that 5 of them make you money, you can be pretty confident that most of your content is going to end up successful. You can see this strategy on sites like 10beasts – they spent very little time on content, but likely a great deal of time creating links. The result is that almost every page on their site makes a pretty significant income. In essence, focusing on links removes an element of risk from your business.

What kind of links should I buy?

Generally, link packages from online vendors are considered the sketchiest, followed by Private Blog Networks (PBN)s. Guest posts are thought to be more "white hat," but this isn't always true. You have to take these things on a case by case basis.
Personally, I tend to avoid any kind of link package. This type of product operates under the assumption that there is some secret formula to link building. But this isn't the case. What works for one keyword won't work for another one. To find out what kind of links you need, you have to look at the keyword you are trying to rank for and see what the top 10 sites are doing. I have bought link packages before, but only in the event that I find somebody selling something very closely aligned with what my competition is doing. But I think that you'll find this situation to be rare.
Private Blog Networks (PBN)s are my go-to, but you have to be careful about what vendor you choose. Building a Private Blog Network (PBN) these days is pretty difficult, and most people find that over half the domains that look fine on paper end up performing poorly. So you need somebody who is honest and only sells tested domains. You also want to find somebody who limits the number of spots on their sites. Even a fantastic PBN will end up performing poorly if they end up selling the same domain to hundreds of different sites, so you want somebody with limited spots. For this reason, I only go for vendors that offer link rentals (for a monthly fee) that provide home-page links.
Guest posts are easier to find, but there are many guest post sellers who offer something much more sketchy than a PBN. These are sites that are set up specifically to sell links. You can always pick these ones out because the site won't seem to have any common theme, and most of the articles are the generic SEO drivel that provides very little user experience. Another way to qualify a site is by looking at the types of sites they link to. If they tend to favor high quality sites, then it's a high quality link. But if they've got lots of irrelevant or sketchy outbound links (like payday loans), then you don't wan to be associated with them.
Another type of link that's becoming more popular is niche edits. This is like a guest post, except the vendor is editing your link into an existing article. This is nice because you'll get a link from a page that already has a little authority, so they 'kick in' a bit more quickly than other types.

How to analyze your keywords

When I'm looking at a keyword, the first thing I look for is to see if there are other affiliate or informational websites in the top 10. If the results are all ecommerce stores or shopping sites, there is very little chance you'll rank for this keyword no matter what kind of links you have.
When there are informational sites on the front page, the next thing you'll want to do is look at the domains overall link profile. You'll find one of two things: an authority site, or a niche site.
An authority site will be something like the sweet home, consumer reports, or the wire cutter. These sites have a huge backlink profile to the domain, but many of their individual articles will have a poor backlink profile. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started seeing this was assuming that because these articles had very few links pointed to them, I'd also be able to rank with very few links. But if all the ranking sites are old authoritative domains, then you'll also need an authoritative domain to rank.
Niche sites are smaller. If you are trying to sell blue widgets, then you'll see sites like "bluewidgetadvisor.com" who focus on a very narrow topic. With these kinds of sites, you'll want to look at the backlink profile of the page that ranks. Whereas with authority sites, you'll look at the domain as a whole.

The Three Backlink Metrics

A backlink can give you one of three things: link juice, trust, or relevance. You'll probably want all three to rank.
Trust is the easiest one to get. For example, social media profiles are an example of a very trustworthy link. Almost every online business has these links, so buying or building your social media profiles helps make your site look more natural and trustworthy. It doesn't really matter if you post on these platforms or not, just having a little content with a link back to your domain is enough. Nobody is going to rank just with social media profiles, but lacking these links when everybody else has them can make your site look untrustworthy and prevent you from ranking in spite of an otherwise good link profile. Trust also applies to the quality of the domain linking to you. Sites like Wikipedia or the huffington post don't provide any link juice, but they are all well known and trustworthy.
Relevance has to do with the topic of your site. If you have a health blog, you want links from other health sites. The same site linking to a blog post about finance is going to be much less effective, since there is no relevance between the two sites.
Lastly, we have link juice. This is a theoretical metric that sums up the value of all the other backlinks pointing to a site you get a link from. With a Private Blog Network (PBN), you generally have a site that has many great backlinks pointing do the homepage of a domain, which eventually links back to you. These sites are essentially backlink middle men. The same goes for guest posts, you want to publish your content on a site that has a large volume of high quality links.
You should consider all three of these metrics when you are looking at your competition. If you want to outrank pages that have extremely relevant links from trustworthy sites with very little link juice, then you'll want to focus your efforts on creating a similar backlink profile. If your competition has a fairly spammy backlink profile with low trust links, this doesn't mean that you should duplicate that. But it does mean that you have more wiggle room with regards to trust and relevancy.

What about Private Blog Networks (PBN)s?

95% of link buying is research. Finding them for sale is easy, but knowing what kind of links you need to buy is hard. When your competition is using PBNs, this can really screw up you research because most PBNs block backlink trackers like Ahrefs . If you can't see their backlinks, you can't copy their strategy.
There are two things I use to determine if a site is using PBNs. The first thing I do is try to use lesser known link analysis tools (like serplab or one of the free ones) and see if I can see links there that you won't find in Ahrefs . This only works occasionally, but it's worth a shot.
Usually I just guess. If you know what to look for, this is easy. Generally, a site that is ranking with PBNs will appear to have a very poor backlink profile compared to their competitors. You might see a site with hundreds of low quality backlinks outranking a site that has 10 or more high quality guest posts. These sites will also have very poorly optimized anchor text, since they will be using the PBNs for all of their target anchors. Based on my tests, the ratio of PBNs to guest posts is about 3 to one. This means that if I can rank for a keyword with 5 pbns, I'll need 15 guest posts to get the same amount of link juice. The discrepancy is mainly due to the fact that PBNs have lots of links pointed to the home page, whereas a guest post will be on a less-popular inner page.

Aren't you worried about Google updates?

Yes, I am. But I'd also be worried even if I was 100% white hat. People have this view that googles main job is to find out what SEO users are doing, and stop it from working. By this logic, the only way to have long term success is to refuse to do any SEO, and just focus on building your site. But this is not a very good way to look at it.
Googles main goal is user experience. They want people to find the best results at the top of the search results when they enter a query. And to improve their users experience, they are always updating the algorithm it uses to determine which sites are the best result. Whether you build links or not, Google is still analyzing your site. And if they change the rules, then your site will move.
If you do proper keyword research, you'll always know what it takes to rank for a given term. This doesn't mean that the same technique will work in the future, but this is true whether or not you planned your strategy or just got lucky. Taking control of your backlink profile allows you to reliably take responsibility for your short term success. And as long as you aren't blatantly manipulating a low quality site to the top of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), I think that you'll find that Google updates aren't nearly as scary.
Any time I see a keyword drop, I just take a step back and re-analyze the keyword. Who's ranking on top now? What's different about their site? If you can figure that out, you can make the necessary changes and bounce back.
Anyway, sorry for the giant ramble. I realize that I haven't given you guys a tangible blueprint that you can follow. But if there is one thing to take away from this, it's that blueprints won't work. You have to look at your niches and find out what other people are doing to rank, then make your own site-specific blueprint to follow. If you know what types of links are available for sale, then you've got the resources to put almost any strategy to work.

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