How Much is a Link Worth (to YOUR Business)?

Oct 14th

Pricing a Link

When trying to understand the value of a link a variety of factors can be considered, including:

  • PageRank / link equity
  • anchor text (if you can influence it to align with your keywords that increases the value significantly)
  • link location (inline links are more likely to be trusted than links in the footer of a page near a bunch of other obvious paid links)
  • direct traffic the link sends
  • site quality & brand exposure
  • endorsement value (if any is given)

Risk Tolerance

Some links (bought links on SEO blogs, paid links near pharmacy/porn/gambling links) are almost certain to get your site noticed in the wrong way.

Large brands can get away with being far more aggressive than thin affiliate sites can.

Many people who heavily rent links still have not exhausted other cheap and easy link building strategies they could be using.

The Bottom Line

In some markets you need to own a billion dollar brand, have an old site, or rent links to compete. In other markets link renting may pose an unnecessary risk.

The most important aspect of link renting is the one people rarely talk about - the actual value to your business. To determine that you need to analyze not only the quality of the link, but also

  • where you are
  • where the competition is
  • what is needed to bridge that gap
  • any potential risks associated with the link buying

Along those lines, I thought it would be good to compare a couple sites to each other, to demonstrate how widely the value of links can spread.

Rich, Average, Poor

$17,000 Per Link

BankRate recently bought CreditCardGuide.com for $34M and it had about 2,000 inbound links on the day of purchase. BankRate may have overpaid for that site, but Rafael David made at least $17,000 per link to his website!

Think about all the crazy public relations stunts you could pull and make money if you got paid $17,000 per link! You could pay an entire town to tattoo your brand on their foreheads...or maybe do something a bit more tasteful than that. Where links are hard to get and lead value is high you can afford to pay a lot for links.

But BankRate was not just buying links, they were buying traffic and rankings...a set of links that fit the criteria needed to get a lot of organic Google search traffic. If Mr. David would have acquired half as many links he might only have 10% the traffic and his site may have sold at a much smaller multiple. When selling a site your base and your growth rate both feed into the multiple you can sell a site for.

In media stories about buying the site, Thomas R. Evans, BankRate CEO, said they bought the site largely because of its Google rankings:

"As an affiliate of Nationwide Card Services, which we acquired this past December, we have worked with CreditCardGuide and have been able to watch their growth and momentum firsthand," stated Thomas R. Evans, President and CEO of Bankrate. "CCG has done a great job of developing its organic traffic and ranks highly in a number of important credit card search terms. Adding more direct, high-quality traffic to our credit card business will grow our revenue and improve the margins in this important category," Mr. Evans added.

Affiliate Rankings: Strong Cashflow or Break Even

Some of my friends have affiliate sites that do anywhere from 0 to 10 leads a day at ~ $30/lead. They rank well enough to get good traffic, then their rankings slip. And they keep bouncing back and forth. Buying just a couple strong links could take a $150/day average earnings and boost it to $300...thus yielding a monthly return of $4,500.

If you are an affiliate selling the same crap that all the other affiliates sells, you will see that most the search traffic goes to the top couple ranked sites. As an example, one of my friends saw their Google ranking go from #3 to #2 for a huge phrase that is most of the site's traffic...and their overall site traffic (and profits) went up 50%. If a company is primarily search driven and is in a high value niche they can see huge returns from just a couple quality links.

When you think about the opportunity cost a site making $150 a day might not be worth running. But every dollar it makes over its baseline is profit that can either be used to reinvest into quicker growth or fund other projects.

$1 Per Link

Some SEO and technology blogs have hundreds of thousands or millions of inbound links. For such authoritative sites the average value of each link might be less than $1.

If the competition has 1 million links and you only have 50,000 you might not get enough traffic for the site to be worth maintaining, especially if it is in a saturated market with limited traffic value.

Example Charts

Across Industries

These values are a bit arbitrary, but this chart does a good job of helping conceptualize how the value of links can change based on your vertical, your business model, and the associated lifetime customer value.

Example Link Values for Various Verticals
  Tech Blogs Credit Cards
(high traffic value)
Porn
(few clean link sources)
PageRank 0 0.03 8 10
PageRank 1 .1 25 30
PageRank 2 .3 40 50
PageRank 3 .75 75 100
PageRank 4 3 125 200
PageRank 5 9 250 300
PageRank 6 12 400 risky?
PageRank 7 20 600 risky?
PageRank 8 50 risky? risky?
PageRank 9 100 risky? risky?
PageRank 10 300 risky? risky?

Within Industries

The value of links not only depends on what vertical you are in, but also on how you monetize your website. For instance, a ticket broker can earn more per link than a sports blog can.

Example Link Values for Various Business Models
  Sports Blogs Fantasy Sports
(high traffic value)
Ticket Broker
(few clean link sources)
PageRank 0 0.25 4 10
PageRank 1 .5 12 30
PageRank 2 1 20 50
PageRank 3 3 40 100
PageRank 4 6 75 200
PageRank 5 15 150 300
PageRank 6 25 200 500
PageRank 7 40 300 800
PageRank 8 100 500 1,200
PageRank 9 250 risky? risky?
PageRank 10 500 risky? risky?

Disclaimer: keep in mind that the above charts were more for showing examples of relative values than to offer a formula for specific link prices...every situation, every site, and every link is unique.

Link Marketing Strategy

Survey Your Position (and the Competitive Landscape)

If you don't have any organic links then it is going to be hard to buy your way to the top in competitive markets, especially if competing sites have strong advertising and brand budgets.

The key to understanding link buying is understanding the upside potential and how many links are needed to get there. If you are in a saturated market with limited cashflow and are ranking on page 37 at #362 then should you rent links? Probably not. You would be better off investing into awareness, branding, publicity, and developing organic links first.

If you are in the top couple pages and are in the game then renting a few links could help you achieve an explosive return on investment.

All Advertising Has Some Fat on It

Many links that you buy or rent will be filtered algorithmically and have little to no SEO value. But if they help you achieve a positive return on average within an acceptable risk profile then the purchase is worth it. That is how I always viewed directory links. Before Google whacked them I used to submit to about 100 of them. Maybe only 40 or 50 counted, but in aggregate the ROI was still there. Now I may only submit to a half dozen or dozen directories, but in aggregate the ROI is there.

Published: October 14, 2008

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Comments

October 14, 2008 - 2:27pm

Just sphunn...you're now the proud owner of my first ever submission to Sphinn! Congratulations Aaron!

October 14, 2008 - 3:30pm

Does it really matter, link position I mean. If I have backlink from PR8 site, nicely ancor-texted and not "nofollow". So, You mean that link juice passed depends on where this link is located on the donor page?

Jack, http://seoapplied.blogspot.com/

October 14, 2008 - 4:53pm

Jack, yes it does matter. Engines can easily determine what is a navigational portion of the page and what is a content section of the page. It's called shingling or block level analysis.

All things being equal, the inline content links will always have more power (that's not saying your PR8 sidebar link is bad...it just sits higher on the radar and may stop passing juice if detected)

Aaron C.
http://www.themadhat.com

October 14, 2008 - 5:06pm

Very interesting. When you look at a situation like that from 30,000 feet you can really see the value of having those few extra quality links coming into your site. It is always tough to pull the trigger on a big expense to rent or buy links though because you can never tell if it is really going to push you over the edge onto page one or not. . .thanks again for another great article!

Jon
http://www.LightEcho.com

October 14, 2008 - 7:16pm

Very eye opener, let me know something Aaron how much it´s worth a link to a PR4-PR5-PR6-PR7- blog? What directories are worth to submit to or only paid links are worth to get them?

Thank you very much for the very valuable information.

Daniel Cajiga
http://danielcajiga.com

October 15, 2008 - 1:00am

Hi Daniel
We discuss link strategy in depth in our forums
http://community.seobook.com/link-building/
and our training program
http://training.seobook.com/link-building

October 15, 2008 - 6:21am

Hi Aaron,

I don't think I understand the example charts. Do the somewhat arbitrary values denote the value of a backlink from one of these sites; i.e. a link from a tech blog to my site would be worth 0.03 units and a link from a credit card company would be worth about 8 units?

Thanks,

October 15, 2008 - 6:49am

No...they were saying that if you owned a ___ site, this might be a fair price for a link.

A link from a popular tech blog to a credit card site could be worth thousands of dollars.

October 15, 2008 - 7:03am

Hey Aaron, readers posters one n all ... I for one thought linking was just one of those tasks you did now and then but since Ive been visiting this blog for the past few months I now realize how important it is to understand where and when you tag your URL to ... finding information such as this on this page has done wonders for my strategies and of course my time saved even time wasting by doing my linking correctly it really can't be just one of those tasks you do now and then I can see clearly now the importance of linking with an outcome in mind a game plan if you like! ... thanks for all this good information on this site its a great place to start your day...

all my best to you and your stratergies
Phillip Skinner

October 15, 2008 - 8:04pm

I handled all link building for BankRate back in the 90's when they were BankRateMonitor.com. I cannot fully convey the "DOH"-ness of the moment when, after my campaign concluded, and a couple years had passed, they killed the original URL. It must be nice to have so much money you can do that and then buy them back via 34m aquisitions. Last time I checked, there were STILL over 100 .edu financial library related links pointing at the original.

October 16, 2008 - 7:51am

Nice links Eric! Hopefully they don't read your comment ;)

October 19, 2008 - 4:45am

I clicked on your link that shows the 2,000 links to CreditCardGuide.com.

It is here: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=linkdomain:creditcardguide.com+-site:cr...)

Usually I use Yahoo's Site Explorer to check backlinks, so I did a comparison and found that Site Explorer shows approximately 5000 links as you can see here: https://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/search?p=http://www.creditcardguid...

Which is more accurate?

October 19, 2008 - 6:23am

It looks like site explorer is providing a bit more data at the moment. Over time that may change though...depending on how they decide to run each of those query types.

October 31, 2008 - 9:58pm

I hope Bankrate kept their receipt.

creditcardguide.com seems to have been slapped silly on Google today.

It goes to show you, buying a ton of links or otherwise getting poor quality ones makes your rank subject to any kicks they want to give you.

November 1, 2008 - 2:56am

Thanks for the update Scott. I did a follow up post about it here
http://www.seobook.com/seo-related-publicity-kills-google-search-rankings

Let me know if you would like a credit/thank you link. :)

November 2, 2008 - 9:19pm

links to my site or blog are *always* appreciated of course. I try to send PR6 juice your way regularly too. :-)

November 2, 2008 - 11:59pm

Hi Scott
short term I de-published the associated post I made because it seemed a bit speculative considering the current Google update going on, but if the site is whacked for good I will republish it with a link to sitecreations.com

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