Tactical approach to link building: from chance to choice

Events, Link building, SEO

Hey guys. Here is a brief summary of my speech from SEO Mastery Summit 2024 in Saigon!

During my presentation, I advocated for a pragmatic and data-driven approach to link building. This method primarily involves reverse engineering as the foundation for link building tactics.

Of course, not everything can be planned or calculated, and not everything should be copied directly. I’ll explain that step by step. You can preview my slides in the end of the article.

But before we start…

Special offer

If you attended the SEO Mastery Summit and would like to take advantage of a special offer from Linkhouse (receive an additional $1,000 USD for the first top-up over $1,000 USD, or double the value for smaller amounts), please contact me directly:

This offer is valid until the end of April (2024).

My background

I have been running my agency since 2012, so it has been already 12 years.

I started as a freelancer, adopting the “fake it ’til you make it” approach, then worked on larger projects as an in-house SEO specialist. During this time, I also provided services outside regular working hours and built one or two teams. Finally I’ve build my agency in current shape. It was a long and bumpy road, but one thing remained consistent throughout my journey: I worked with clients who could not afford risky tactics. There were no “living on the edge” SEO strategies for brands that couldn’t risk heavy penalties on their websites.

On the other hand, agencies like mine are held accountable for results within specific timeframes.

Agency SEO, therefore, involves a significant amount of risk management and focuses on long-term effectiveness.

My experience has taught me that careful counting, planning, and execution are essential. Even if you’re unlucky and don’t achieve exactly what you planned in the short term, the journey will have its ups and downs, but ultimately, you will reach the top. Trust the process—more on this shortly.

Conversely, relying on tricks and frequently changing tactics without a long-term, numbers-based strategy poses a significant risk of failure.

You cannot replicate and scale luck. If you seem to be able to do so, it’s not luck; it’s good engineering.

Why are links important in SEO?

What’s crucial for SEO success? Certainly, it involves a combination of many factors. However, it’s hard to overlook the critical role that a strong link profile plays among these. Now, as SERPs become even more saturated with content due to the AI revolution, building and scaling authority through links is essential—it’s a race!

According to a Backlinko SEO study, the top result in Google typically has 3.8 times more backlinks (and 3.2 times more referring domains) than those in positions 2 through 10.

That’s why, when providing comprehensive SEO services, you must strategically plan your link building rather than relying on luck. The same applies when you are purchasing services from an agency. You have every right to ask, “What’s the plan, guys?”

Natural links and white hat tactics vs. the effectiveness of paid articles

Nowadays, outreach, digital PR, and guest blogging are often discussed and widely considered white hat SEO tactics. Speakers and influencers frequently mention HARO—a digital platform that connects experts with journalists and bloggers. It offers the opportunity to secure a link in exchange for expert tips, quotations, or professional statements on a topic. While HARO can significantly boost your efforts, its effectiveness is notably limited across many industries, languages, and niches, making it challenging to plan precisely and scale.

Similarly, digital PR can yield impressive results, but it is not scalable or easily replicable. If you focus on this approach, you need to either invest heavily or depend on luck. And like I said before – you shouldn’t rely on luck.

So, should you stick to natural links and white hat tactics?

According to a survey by Authority Hacker, nearly 75% of link builders admit they pay for links, and the actual number might be higher. I know this firsthand as I have been buying links for years and monitoring my competitors who also pay for their articles.

In 2023, at my core business, takaoto.pro SEO agency, we planned and purchased over 4,500 sponsored articles with links, spending $708,764 on the articles and an additional $143,562 on copywriting. This investment translates to nearly $190 per link, which may seem substantial, but the value becomes apparent when considering the quality of these links and the results they deliver.

Thanks to these efforts, we help our clients not only improve visibility and traffic but also rank for key money-making keywords. For example, we manage the SEO for one of the region’s largest furniture stores, achieving top rankings for keywords like “armchair,” “TV stand,” “desk,” “carpets,” “living room furniture,” and “kitchen furniture”. Just imagine any category name in furniture and interior design business. We’re there!

Our portfolio also includes a fashion store competing with major brands like Zalando, ranking on Google’s first page for terms such as “cargo pants,” “men’s pants,” “men’s jeans,” and “women’s spring jackets,” all of which have high transactional intent and convert to sales.

Another client, a jewelry store, ranks in top5 for “engagement rings” and “wedding rings,” along with their variations—highly profitable keywords.

Our e-commerce clients not only thrive in Poland but are expanding to other markets, allowing us to compare the efficiency of these tactics internationally. If you’re interested in cooperation and want to see real-life examples, please send me a message.

Few would argue that buying sponsored articles with links is thrilling or exciting. In fact, purchasing sponsored articles can even be seen as boring, and some might argue it’s unfair. Yet, it can be remarkably effective. It’s simply a matter of pragmatism, especially when you’re tasked with responsibly managing client funds.

On the other hand, some might worry about the safety of violating Google’s guidelines. Is it better to rely solely on natural links and hope that Google penalizes those unscrupulous competitors who buy links? In my view, the answer is a resounding “No!”

Google understands that penalizing all businesses that pay for links would not serve users well. Doing so could inadvertently promote scammers or inexperienced providers at the expense of established brands that offer safe, reliable choices with good customer service and quality products.

This is why Google is not overly strict with its policy. Google recognizes that practices like niche edits and guest posts are not entirely natural, a point they have made clear on several occasions.

In conclusion, opting out of buying links means losing the ability to compete with those who continue to do so. As previously mentioned, 75% of link builders employ this method—it’s clear to me what the sensible choice is.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that natural links do not make your site immune to updates—just as high-quality, human-written content doesn’t guarantee immunity. In most cases, Google does not specifically reward a white hat SEO approach just because it’s white hat 🙂

Therefore, be pragmatic. Buy links! But, of course, ensure they are quality links that truly benefit your site.

How to buy proper links?

Instead of bombarding media outlets, marketers and journalists with spammy emails, consider purchasing links from vendors who have already established connections with media, web portals, bloggers, niche sites, influencers, and even business websites. Marketplaces offer a practical shortcut for such transactions.

Several reputable solutions exist for link building, such as Linkhouse, Whitepress, Bazoom, and other smaller providers. These marketplaces facilitate the purchase of sponsored articles efficiently.

Opting to buy links through these channels allows you to take control of your link building and link profile, rather than leaving it to chance or risking an unsatisfactory purchase. You can dictate the quantity and type of links you acquire on a weekly or monthly basis, optimizing your time and resources.

I’ll provide more tips later, but before you start buying links, it’s crucial to develop a data-driven plan.

How to to build a plan for an effective link building campaign?

Here is a simplified outline of the process I use to establish an effective link profile:

  1. Choose the money keywords you want to rank for.
  2. Analyze your main competitors for these keywords.
  3. Estimate the cost of their links (see instructions below).
  4. Create a plan with a list of domains from which to obtain links.
  5. Execute the plan!

The fundamental assumption is that a similar link profile will provide similar ranking potential due to equivalent levels of authority. Ceteris paribus—assuming all other factors are equal.

To begin, download your competitors’ links. My preferred tool for this task is Ahrefs. For larger campaigns, I also recommend using a combination of data from additional tools such as SEMrush, SEO SpyGlass from SEO Power Suite, and Bing Webmaster Tools. The latter is free and allows you to look up any competitor’s link information.

What links should you replicate? Prioritize the following qualities:

  • Well-known, legitimate, and trustworthy media: Choose sources that are recognized for their credibility.
  • Domains with strong and healthy link profiles: This includes domains with what are often referred to as seed pages.
  • Indexation: Ensure that the links come from pages that are indexed by search engines.
  • Topical or contextual relevance: Opt for blogs, journals, and portals that are relevant to your niche.
  • Pages with traffic and visibility: These are more likely to contribute positively to your SEO efforts.

I would say that the link profile is still remains the number one factor. Topical relevance and traffic are safe and sensible choices, and it’s reasonable to focus on these aspects initially. However, do not rely solely on traffic and visibility, as these can be artificially inflated in the short term through AI and other tactics. Some domains built this way may not effectively pass link juice.

In this process, you should skip all the “natural garbage” such as:

  • Most low-quality directories and automatically published links, often found on pages like /website-list/.
  • Blogspots with no domain rating (DR) and zero traffic.
  • Image hijacking, typically indicated by links ending in -k.html.

Some of these undesirable links may disappear over time anyway.

Now, you need to build two lists of potentially referring domains:

  1. Domains from which you can buy links: This includes purchases through marketplaces, middlemen, or directly from the domain owners.
  2. Other qualified domains that aren’t available: Identify these to consider alternative strategies for engagement.

The scenario for the first list is straightforward: you will publish articles with links on these websites. Naturally, you’ll need to plan target URLs, anchors, etc. This involves different tactics and approaches, and while many are viable, the reverse engineering approach is highly recommended.

What should you do with links you cannot buy? Start by describing these links with specific parameters and use these to filter through marketplace offers for similar ones. Consolidate all this information into a single spreadsheet and estimate the total cost of the campaign.

This is the crucial moment to decide whether you can afford this project. If it’s beyond your budget, consider targeting less competitive keywords, or prepare for a tougher, longer campaign to achieve your desired results.

There’s also a shortcut for managing costs—look for similar, yet cheaper options. I’ll provide a hack for this strategy below.

When building a link cost calculator, remember to include:

  • Second-tier links: Analyze your competitors for these as well.
  • Link pillowing: This involves creating a natural link profile by using a variety of link types.
  • Content costs: Factor in the expense of creating content for the links.

I recommend adding an extra 20-30% to your budget if possible. Your competitors won’t simply pause their efforts and wait for you; maintaining a proper pace is crucial to outrank them. Also, utilize as many data sources as you can to inform your strategy.

Extra tip: You can use this approach to evaluate the worth of an expired domain’s link profile – if you’re building PBNs or flipping websites.

Estimation, automation, optimization

The reality is that this approach can be time-consuming.

This is why, when managing multiple projects in an agency setting like mine where significant funds are invested in links, it makes sense to build your own database to automate the calculations.

Consolidate data from various vendors. If you reach out to providers like Whitepress and Linkhouse, they can supply a comprehensive list of their offerings either as a spreadsheet or through an API. Take advantage of these resources to streamline your processes.

Using Google Sheets or Excel, with tools like the VLOOKUP function, you can easily estimate your costs by incorporating prices and SEO parameters.

Additionally, you can utilize a bulk checker on Linkhouse, although this limits you to their database, which might not always be sufficient. Bazoom offers a similar feature. Keep in mind that these marketplaces are continually evolving, providing new tools that can automate and expedite the process.

Now, it’s time to execute!

How to choose new placements to grow your link profile?

When searching for new domains to buy links from, consider a variety of factors such as domain rating, traffic, price, and the number of referring domains. Everyone has their preferred methods, but I’d like to highlight some qualities and parameters that might not be immediately obvious:

1. Focus on potential UR over DR:

Whitepress allows you to check the average UR of articles published on specific domains. You can also use SEO tools like Ahrefs or manually crawl websites to analyze where sponsored articles are placed within the site’s architecture.

2. Link in/out ratio:

Avoid domains that extensively sell links relative to their link profile. Retain that link juice for yourself. This is a critical advantage over popular niche edits, where sellers may boast about high DR, but ultimately, you receive a backlink from a very saturated site. On Linkhouse, use the filter to find domains with a high in/out ratio. Whitepress can report on referring and linked domains using Ahrefs data, allowing for manual checks.

3. Additional internal links

Never buy links from orphan pages. Being listed on a category page is the bare minimum. Opt for placements that provide additional internal links to your article, enhancing crawling and indexing, and delivering more link juice.

4. Social media promotion and traffic

Look for placements that include social media promotion to generate off-site signals and appear more natural. Some offers may guarantee traffic, ensuring delivery via ads, internal linking, or featuring your article in a popular category.

5. Ranking Key Phrases

If topical relevance and semantics are your focus, choose portals that already rank for your topic by using a filter in Whitepress, which indicates their topical ranking capability. You can also use other SEO tools or site: operator in Google.

6. “Hard” niches

Platforms like those mentioned allow you to find publishers specializing in difficult niches. This is particularly beneficial for affiliate marketers working in these areas.

7. Dofollow Attribution

When purchasing links, opt for dofollow links to reduce the risk that link juice won’t be passed. All major platforms allow you to specifically filter for these types of offers.

8. Lack of “Sponsored” or “Ad” designation

Select publishers that do not tag your article visibly as an advertisement. This goes beyond the rel=”sponsored” attribute; avoid any labels on the page that might indicate promotional content.

I mentioned earlier that Google generally does not penalize sponsored articles, but it’s wise to be a little bit paranoid and prepare for potential future changes. You never know. Additionally, be aware that there are many local regulations regarding these actions. For example, in Poland, publishers are required to mark sponsored articles as such. Do they always comply? Well, that depends. 😉

9. Home page links

Additionally, you can explore special offers such as links from home pages or link insertions in existing articles. Combining niche edits, banner links, and “PBN-ish” tactics with sponsored articles can be effective when using platforms, as they offer a multidimensional approach.

You can leverage this strategy for parasite SEO, aiming to dominate search results pages. This approach has proven highly effective in sectors such as heavy industry and manufacturing, particularly in low-competition niches.

For example, a few years ago, a client’s website achieved the top position on a results page, and the next six or seven listings were sponsored articles we managed. Here’s a screenshot from that time:

And here’s how the results look five years after that campaign!

Freedom of choosing target URL

In most cases, I’d recommend to focus on branded anchors and links to the main and resource pages (especially in the beginning). However, as you advance in the SEO game and are ready to manage the flow of link juice more precisely, selecting target URLs becomes strategic. For instance, directing a link to a category page on an e-commerce website can pass Page Rank directly to that page.

This is another advantage of using sponsored articles in e-commerce SEO. Typically, securing a strong backlink naturally or through outreach to a page other than a resource or the main page is challenging. By purchasing links, you have the freedom to choose target URLs, allowing you to direct some links to your category or product pages.

How to run more cost-effective link building campaigns

But there’s one problem—let’s be honest. The harsh truth is that keeping pace with industry leaders in link building can be prohibitively expensive and often unaffordable for smaller brands. Big players secured their links when costs were lower, and just like in other sectors, inflation impacts link building too.

However, as someone wise once said, marketing is a battle of ideas, not just budgets. While a substantial budget is necessary, I have some insights and tips to make your efforts more cost-effective:

  • If your website is in English, you’re in a unique position: content that’s linkable in English is potentially linkable worldwide. Your pages can attract links from any top-level domain (TLD), including those from more cost-effective markets.
  • If your website isn’t in English, consider creating an English version for your entire site or at least for your key resource pages. This broadens your potential for gaining international links.
  • To ensure a natural and direct link flow to your pages in various languages, utilize large language models like ChatGPT or translation tools like DeepL. These can help you provide a diversified and topically relevant link profile.

Remember, large, legitimate e-commerce brands already use these strategies naturally—so why shouldn’t you?

During the SEO Mastery Summit, I showcased examples from our portfolio alongside insights from our competitors. If you’re interested in discussing some of these examples, please drop me an email.

Backlinks are not enough

Of course, backlinks alone aren’t enough, and purchasing them doesn’t guarantee success. However, they should be an integral part of a comprehensive strategy. They aid in indexing, support keyword targeting through proper use of anchor texts, and importantly, they are a scalable ranking factor.

In an era of easy mass content production, where anyone can map out topics with a few simple steps, we need to find ways to build a competitive edge.

So, seize that advantage. Buy links.

Others are doing it successfully.

Why wouldn’t you?


Here are my slides:

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