Intervention & Rehab Time: How To Break The Paid Link Habit

So you have finally made the decision to get off of the paid links crack and go straight. Do you go cold turkey? Do you take this in stages? There are great questions and the ones I will take on in today’s post.

There are two major reasons why you should make this switch, one of which is more obvious than the other:

1. The search engines are gunning for you. The paid link does not add value to their algorithm. Links are not useful as a ranking factor if they aren’t freely given as true endorsements. They just aren’t. So they want to discount them. The impact of this is that once your paid links are discovered, your investment becomes a waste of time and $$$.

2. You don’t get ahead. Regardless of what you spend per month for the links you have now, you have to keep spending it just to stay in the same spot. Even that is not a given if your competitor gets more aggressive than you and passes you. Organic links are the gift that keeps on giving. No monthly spend and constant value without risk. Does it cost money to build organic links? Of course it does, you need to do the right things (create content & promote the site) for that to happen, but the money you spend each month grows your link profile, instead of just maintaining it.

First Stage: Assessing Your Situation

Start by getting a handle on your particular situation.

For example, if you have 1,000 backlinks and 900 of them are paid for, you are in a tough spot. Weaning off the links can still be done but you need to go more slowly. These are the main things I would look at:

  1. Total volume of paid links. More links means more work to do, but you do need to know what the task is before you start!
  2. % of total links which are paid. The larger the percentage the more careful you need to be in making the transition. However, the larger the percentage, the more urgent it is to get started!
  3. Total monthly spent on paid links. This is the money you can save by unloading those paid links. It is also the money you can invest in developing organic links going forward.
  4. Determining which ones are providing the most value. You won’t know for sure, but you can probably come pretty close to figuring this out.
  5. Determine which ones are adding the least value. These are the easiest one to dump, so they will go first!

Getting Link Data

Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools both offer ways to get a view to seeing what the search engines have for links for your site. This is great data. To get at this in Google’s Webmaster Tools, just click on the links as shown in this screen shot in order from top to bottom:

When you have gotten to that screen, scroll to the bottom and then click on Download all Links as shown in this screen shot:

Bing also allows you to download all your links. To get to the report, follow the click path from top to bottom shown in this screenshot:

When you get there, click on “Export All” which is over on the right side of the screen as shown here:

Sadly, Yahoo! will soon no longer be an option as Yahoo! Site Explorer will be closed down before year’s end. Fortunately, we do have two other great tools we can use. These are Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO. Both of these require cash to use, but give you a great deal of visibility on links to your site. You can also use them to review links to other people’s sites, and with Yahoo! Site Explorer going away, they will be the best two options for doing that.

With all of these options, you will get a representative list of links to your site. Unforunately, no tool will show you all your links, for various reasons. For Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO, the process of crawling the Web is a very expensive proposition, and each does the best they can. For the search engines, which obviously have much larger budgets to pay for their crawls, they have their own reasons for not showing you more data.

In the end, you need to pick the tool that is most comfortable for you. I like Open Site Explorer because it gives me the cleanest metrics for valuing the inbound links, as you can see in this screen shot:

Open Site Explorer Link Data


With this, you can analyze the value of the inbound links you have received. I tend to weight Domain Authority more than I do Page Authority. So I start by sorting the output by Domain Authority in descending order and then by Page Authority in descending order.

Once I have done that, I filter out the organic links in the list, since I am analyzing paid links. After that, there are still a couple of key things to watch for:

  • Filter out NoFollowed links, as these will not be perceived as link manipulation. If you want to keep those links, go for it!
  • For some domains, the Domain Authority is irrelvant. For example, a link in the Yahoo! Directory is not likely to be valued based on the Domain Authority of Yahoo! overall. Similarly, a link from is based on a decision made by an individual blogger, not the management team of the company.
  • While I to lean towards Domain Authority, take into account Page Authority as well. So I might weight a Domain/Page Authority of 75/55 over a Domain/Page Authority of 85/25.
  • Consider the relevance. Simply put, relevant links are worth more.

Second Stage: Making The Plan

Now that you have your raw data you need to make your plan. This is the fun part! I help clients with this process often, and it is exciting to transition your marketing efforts to a more solid and secure plan to build your business. Here are some things to do when thinking about this:

  1. Plan on losing the low value links first. The reasons for this are simple: lower risk and it frees up money to invest in the rest of the plan. This is a great step which is designed to help you build momentum.
  2. Build your plan for organic links. This could really be its own book, so I will just touch on this briefly here. Focus on very high value links. You can get some ideas on how to do it from the Link Building Presentation I did at SMX Advanced.
  3. Develop a timeline for the addition of organic links. Decide what you are willing to commit resource wise to get this done, and make an estimate for how quickly you think you will be able to obtain these links.
  4. Decide on a rough timeline for losing the paid links. You need to decide on this part of the plan based on your plan for adding new organic links and your growth goals during the transition process.

Finally, Commit!

The most important reason for making a plan is that it puts you in a better spot to respond to change. In this plan, be prepared to adapt based on your experiences. If you are adding organic links at a faster than expected rate, you may want to speed up the deletion of the paid ones. Of course, if you are having trouble getting the high value organic links, it may take longer to dump the paid ones than planned to.

Whatever happens though, don’t lose your commitment to see this through. It is definitely worth it. The process of building organic links is a different one, and it will force you to sit back and think about your website differently. After all, why would someone give you that link?

You will need to solve this problem, if you haven’t already, in the very near future. Search engines are actively reassessing the role of links in their algorithms. Links are not going to go away as a ranking factor, but their importance will be adjusted. We know that social factors are already a component, and their role will probably increase. The same is true for factors like content quality and user engagement.

These other factors are going to place a lot more demand on the quality of experience you provide on your site. The sooner you get focused on that, the better!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Building: Paid Links | Link Week Column


About The Author: is the president of Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy outside of Boston. Eric publishes a highly respected interview series and can be followed on Twitter at @stonetemple.

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