DevelopmentWhy Is Link Dev So Expensive?

Why Is Link Dev So Expensive?

A lot goes into getting a good link, and a ton goes into getting a great link.

I get a lot of emails from potential clients that say this, in some form or fashion: “I don’t have much money.” I almost immediately tell them that I can’t help them and you know why? Because good link work can’t be done for cheap.


There’s a lot that goes into generating just one link:

  • Research
  • Content Creation
  • Discovery
  • Due Diligence
  • Outreach
  • Negotiation
  • Social Love

All of that takes time and time costs money. Simple right? So why do clients keep complaining about paying for good link-building?


Image source.

The way we build links is very straightforward (we email and ask for them), but there are lots of successful tactics being used by link teams, all of which have their own specific labor tasks and costs. When we did an in-house labor cost analysis last year, we found that the average time it took a link builder to land one link was 4.14 hours, which sounded amazing until I started to really break down that figure and here’s what I found:

1. One link builder was sometimes twice as productive as the next most productive link builder.

2. Three clients are well-known big brands with fantastic offerings and a great reputation, so they were a piece of cake compared to some other clients.

That 4.14 is thus pretty skewed and not a true representation of the time it took to get one link is it?

Personally speaking, I’ve had some links go live in just a couple of emails, within an hour. Those are few and far between, though, and it’s happening much less often these days. I’ve also had some links take weeks to go live, involving countless back and forth emails where all sorts of crazy things happen, namely the following:

The webmaster puts the link up incorrectly and it doesn’t work/hits the wrong page/is not where we wanted it.

My last problematic link took three weeks to negotiate and that involved 27 emails. It was a good one and well worth pursuing, but still, three weeks is a lot of labor.

Here’s a good example: We do test runs for all new clients to make sure we’re the right fit for each other, and we’ll call this one Client ABC. Client ABC had a very unique and narrow niche and most of our discovery for potential linking partners brought out either their own competitors or .edus and .govs, none of which we were supposed to be handling. In the end we generated 4 links for Client ABC after 60 hours of labor, averaging at 15 hours of labor per link. I had quoted a cost per link, so in the end we lost a decent amount of cash.

What could I have done? Altered the offering and asked for a cost per contact, a much higher cost per link, or a flat fee that took into account all the time we’d spend trying to get links for the client. I’ll take the blame for not pursuing a change that reflected the labor charge that we needed, as it was a lesson learned. Instead of just giving up, I should have said, “Yes I can do this but only if we agree on a price that reflects the effort we’ll have to put into doing a good job for you” and maybe I’d still have that client.

Also, while I can’t speak to anyone else’s methods, I’ll tell you what goes into generating one link for us and I’ll share some information that I gathered from my link builders a few months ago:


Discovery: Seventy-five percent said they spend more than four hours a day just on discovery. Just to give you an idea of what this means, it’s when we look all over the Web trying to find good sites to reach out to for our clients.

Due Diligence: I didn’t ask about how long they spend on this because I do a lot of it myself before they do outreach, as I like to vet the sites we’re approaching, but generally speaking this takes a decent amount of time for each site. I do it myself partially because I’ve been sizing up sites for ages and it’s easy for me. I check various metrics, see if the site ranks for what I think it should rank for, make sure it’s not full of duplicate or scraped content, etc.

Outreach: Fifty percent said they spend around an hour a day doing outreach. The other 50 percent said they spend more than an hour (obviously!), but as you can see how long our discovery takes, this all makes sense. Discovery is by far our most time-consuming task.

Negotiation: One-hundred percent said they spend between one and two hours a day on negotiation.

Now remember, those are averages and they are based on what my link builders told me, but they do seem accurate based on my communications with my team. The rest of their day is spent doing various other tasks: reading my nonstop boring emails, giving me updates on where we are with certain clients or sites, reading link-building articles that I send them, talking to me or other link builders are any current issues they’re facing, trying out new tools for discovery, and brainstorming.

I’ll also share with you that our overall outreach response rate (where a webmaster simply responds and wants to keep talking) is currently sitting at 25 percent and our conversion rate (where we land a link) is 15 percent. Those numbers vary quite a bit amongst our clients of course. Taking that 15 percent conversion rate into account, this means that we send out 100 emails to get 15 links, almost meaning that to get one link, we have to send six to seven emails to get one link. We don’t use any automated email systems, so our link builders are personalizing six to seven emails to get one link, and this is done ONLY after they’ve done the due diligence required on each site, and that’s ONLY done after they’ve spent all that time on discovery.

That’s a lot of labor just to get one link.

When we create content and try to get it placed somewhere, that’s even more time-consuming of course, and we don’t do content on the same scale or level as many firms that specialize in content marketing. Still, what we do to get content created and live somewhere takes about the same amount of time in terms of discovery, due diligence, outreach, and negotiation. Creating the content adds an obvious extra amount of labor of course, and that all depends upon what’s being created.

What if you’re a huge brand? Your content creation costs may be totally off the charts because you have to involve many different teams. Just creating a new landing page could take months of work and planning.

And social? I think that there’s still a lot to learn about how to effectively leverage social tools and I fear that many people think that simply tweeting out links to content is enough. It’s not. Social is there for your engagement and building a relationship there takes time just like it does via emailed outreach or in real life. If you’re using social media to help generate links, your labor is probably going to be crazy if it’s done right.

I’ve asked a few link-building friends about how long it might take them to land one link and their answers were too varied to even go into, but by and large one thing is clear:it takes a long, long time to get a link, no matter how you go about getting it, whether you believe strictly in “link earning” or you’re depending on social promotions or you’re even buying a link. I know there’s the assumption that buying a link is taking the easy way out, but anyone who thinks that way should try actually buying a good link for traffic purposes, even one that’s nofollowed.

You know what’s a cheap and easy way to generate links? Get some of those spammy free ones, comment spam, drop links all over forums, do poor social bookmarking, and take any link that comes your way.

You know what that gets you? Manual and/or algorithmic penalties.


Image source.

You know how much labor is involved in fixing a problem like that and recovering your rankings and traffic? Some sites take over a year to recover with cleanups, disavowing, and loads of audit work. In the end, I imagine they spend way more than they would if they’d invested in something better earlier on.

So next time someone complains about the cost, point all this out. A lot goes into getting a good link.

A ton goes into getting a great link.


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