It's been so great seeing so many talented SEO and digital PRs go freelance over the past year. It seems like a really supportive community, with more work out there than ever before thanks to increased demand for support amongst both in-house teams and agencies.
What pricing model do you use for most clients?
We wanted to find out what pricing models agencies and freelancers used when it came to charging for link building services. Multiple answers were allowed here to account for different pricing models for different projects.
As was the case in 2021, the most popular answer was a retainer fee, with 45% of respondents saying that they used this pricing model. The least popular pricing model was price per link, with 8% of agencies and freelancers saying that they used it.
Using a ‘price per link’ model portrays the message that the goal of the project is purely link volume - regardless of the surrounding organic or brand metrics that can be positively measured and reported on through activity like this. It also builds a culture within teams that links are the only way to deem a campaign a success.
So, it’s refreshing to see that ‘price per link’ is the lowest used pricing model as this means that, hopefully, as an industry we are slowly shifting towards other valuable ways to measure digital PR activity. Whether this is relevancy, link gaps, audience building, purchases or organic uplift.
The more widespread this attitude towards strict link targets becomes, together we can build a stronger rapport in the industry to prove ROI and true value to our clients.
Links will always be important. But there is so much more to measure outside of just link numbers.
Link building can require a number of dependencies around timing, quality of content, contacts and more. That agencies and freelancers are using 'Retainer' or ''Project' base billing is the best way to account for the resources required.
No surprise here. Agencies go with retainer fees because that gives a lot of flexibility. This is more suitable and profitable because link building is a combination of research, content, pitching, and followups.
The quality of the backlinks plays such a big role in SEO that I wouldn't agree to a retainer fee, I think that's why the trend is going back from hiring agencies/freelancers moving more to do it in-house.
I believe we'll continue to see this trend downward year over year due to Google frowning upon paid links. This method seems to work best for agencies with freelancers, as the client is paying a higher premium to the agency who then pays a fraction of the price per link to the freelancer.
Do you provide any services on a performance-based model?
Following on from the theme of pricing models, we asked agencies and freelancers whether they used performance or bonus models for link building. As with previous years, the vast majority (84%) of respondents said no.
In an industry where you can't control everything, it would be unfair if the pricing model is dependent on a performance-based model. It is positive that the majority does not use this model. The success of linkbuilding campaign can be subjective on some occasions in my opinion. For example, one company might prefer high-quality links from media publications, whereas another would prefer to have something more niche than general publications, and another wants to have both.
But in some way, they are positive results in their own unique ways.
I would be interested to know what falls under "performance" in link building. Does everyone have the same definition? Or do some people think it's deliverables like the amount of links, while others think it's rankings & traffic, and some only look at actual conversions?
I think 16% is still high considering that no one can guarantee a live link. This can create a trust issue between the agency/freelancer and the client.
This is very interesting because it shows how hard it is to get quality backlinks.
Do you set a target in terms of the number of links for each client or campaign?
Here, we wanted to learn about setting targets for link building either at the campaign level or client level. Answers were fairly evenly distributed but tilted toward yes, with 57% of agencies and freelancers saying that they did set link targets.
Digital PRs tend to specialize because setting targets is much easier when you have direct experience and contacts within a specific vertical. For new or emerging markets this can be more challenging.
I agree that a specific number of links isn't the best possible goal of a campaign, and the devil is in the details. But I hope some targets — or group of targets — is set so campaigns and cooperation can be improved the next time.
It is common for any outsourced campaign or service to have KPIs and targets, typically these are per contract or year as it is difficult to judge or gauge the potential of each campaign individually. I would question why over 40% said this was not something they did? How do they measure performance? Are they using other metrics like traffic and revenue instead and, if so, it would be interesting to hear how they attribute this back to the link building.
Do you offer your clients any kind of guarantee for link volumes or metrics?
The majority of agencies and freelancers (70%) said that they do not offer any kind of guarantee when it comes to the volume of links they build, or metrics associated with links.
Of those nearly 30% of respondents guaranteeing a certain quantity of links to their clients, I can't help but be skeptical of the quality of those links. Are their practices completely ethical? Do they rely on a master database of the same links to get for each client? Do natural link placements count toward this guaranteed volume?
I’m surprised by this result, I feel like a lot of agencies I know of set link targets. It’s amazing to see that we are moving away from creating a ‘link guarantee’ for clients as it can create a lot of stress for those working on the account and it means the industry is moving more into a strategic approach for link building rather than building links for the sake of it. From my experience, it’s not about the number of links you build, but the quality and relevance of the links so it’s encouraging to hear that the industry is moving to this way of thinking.
When working with clients as a Link Building Services Provider or Agency, it's easier to set a target of links to be built, and then be transparent about how many of these links will be live at the end of the month. It's standard to expect 60%-70% of the links will be published by the end of the sprint.
I was very surprised by this number, as most of my link builder friends all have contracts with clients based on a specific number of links.
In your experience, how has the demand for link building services changed over the last 12 months?
Whilst it’s been a difficult couple of years for many businesses, it’s good to see that demand for link building services has mostly increased (59%) or stayed the same (32%) over the last year.
Only 9% of agencies and freelancers said that demand for link building services has decreased over the last 12 months.
Link building is a great business to be in for sure! I started my agency 5 years ago and the demand has never stopped. I can recommend it to any SEO to specialize in link building, especially as it's something in-house SEO teams don't want to do.
Over the years, I have seen a huge increase in the demand for link building, not just your classic core link building tactics but mainly through creative campaigns. 'Creative' link building is definitely increasing and becoming ever more valued in the industry. Journalists are far savvier now to people building links so it’s important to create campaigns that add value to a journalist and tell stories that make sense for your client's niche.
Businesses are realising the importance of having digital visibility, thus the demand for digital PR activities are high. It's pretty much evident that most of the new prospects in agencies certainly look out for this in the pitches.
Which of the following industries do you think are the hardest to build links in?
Here, we were aiming to get some insights into which industries are the hardest for agencies to build links for. The top answer is the same as it was in 2021, with healthcare or pharmaceuticals taking 31% of the votes from agencies and freelancers. Respondents could select up to three industries.
As a freelance journalist, who recently worked as an Editor, I’m astounded to see that healthcare and pharmaceuticals were the areas deemed to be the hardest industries to build links in.
The news desk I worked on, as well as the main news desks, are always looking for health news, studies and eye-catching headlines. Mid- to large-scale campaigns aside, I often found myself needing healthcare experts to share commentary on the stories I was covering e.g. developments with Covid, gut health, the dangers of certain vitamin deficiencies etc.
While agencies may need to focus on larger campaigns for their clients, I believe they should be regularly monitoring #journorequests for expert comment requests – I was always happy to link back to the client’s homepage or other pages in return.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the easiest industries to build links in are those which are considered to be "fun", "creative" and "entertaining". I use quotation marks because there are always opportunities to make any industry more creative and fun. But it's not that straightforward for various reasons, and in the age of social media and video content, being entertaining within a pharmaceutical company is much more challenging than in a fashion retail company.
It's more challenging, but not impossible.
I'm surprised that gaming (if that means gambling) isn't higher up in this. Accounting and law have so many angles that are relevant to other niches - lots of different prospects lists you can target.
This is really surprising! Our team delivers digital PR services for a pharmaceutical company, and link building results for that brand have been fantastic this year - above those in other industries.
There are always going to be industries that are harder than others to build links in (e.g. due to linking policies of particular industry publications, the limited number of topics which can be utilised for stories to remain relevant, and more). It should encourage thinking outside of the box, beyond content marketing (which has still been picked as a key link building technique this year), to other tactics that could help to get cut-through and drive valuable links in the right spaces.
Although unfortunately we won't be able to change publications' minds on external linking policies.
It’s interesting to see ‘accounting, banking or finance’ voted as the second hardest sector for link building as there is plenty of potential in this space for quick win, reactive tactics.
I think there’s a big lesson here around identifying the blockers with finance clients early on in the relationship. Common issues include the extra layer of consideration that’s required from internal legal and compliance teams and the red tape associated with that.
My advice is to establish ways of working from the get go, understand the internal review process and help make sign-off as easy as possible for stakeholders.
Interesting how the topics people find the hardest are the ones that are requiring more 'EAT' consideration and factual information. These also tend to be some of the more challenging to get "creative" with. I wonder what part of this is due to struggles for sign off of ideas rather than difficulty to actually build the links, though?
In many areas like health care, it makes sense to build backlinks naturally. Via Article Cooperation with medical platforms, medical practices, laboratories, clinics, etc.
No surprise here. In my experience, most sites discussing health-related topics are hesitant to link to external sources. Unless your client is a .gov, .org, or .edu, you're going to have a difficult time getting placements on medical sites or pages.
Every single industry is harder as link building is nothing but relationship building. I am surprised to see healthcare tops the list. Often the high visibility publications look out for an expert opinion as the journalists will not have a healthcare background in most cases.
I think the context of the world we're living with in 2022 has massively affected which industries are hardest to build links in. For example, since the pandemic, it's been much harder to get cut through and offer genuinely valuable or expert advice in the health and pharmaceutical industries.
In a similar vein, the cost of living crisis has also completely shifted the landscape in terms of building relevant, news-worthy stories for the finance industry. For this reason, when coming up with ideas for link building content aimed at these industries, we have to be particularly sensitive to what audiences may be experiencing right now, and always aim to offer genuinely helpful insights or advice where possible.
Which of the following industries do you think are the easiest to build links in?
On the flip side, we also wanted to know which industries are the easiest to build links in. The clear winner with 35% was beauty and personal care. A somewhat meta answer in second place was marketing, advertising and PR with 26%. Respondents could select up to three industries.