Hiring a link building agency? Here's your 6-point checklist
Links lie at the heart of your organic search rankings. Building backlinks isn’t rocket-science and you can DIY, but earning high-quality links from authoritative websites takes a ton of strategic effort.
That’s where a link-building agency helps. With established link-building processes, expertise, and publisher relationships in place, a good agency takes care of everything and gets you timely results, so you and your team are free to focus on other high-impact business activities.
But when hiring a link-building agency, you need to tread carefully. Keep reading to learn how to hire a good link-building agency.
What does a link building agency do?
As the name suggests, a link-building agency serves as your agent in acquiring quality backlinks from other websites to your website, thus helping you rank higher.
A good link-building agency doesn’t just get you backlinks but focuses on building your website’s network with other high-authority websites in and around your niche. They may create high-quality content on your behalf and get you contextual brand mentions on reputable and well-known publications.
How link building works
The biggest search engines like Google — which boasts an impressive 92.04% market share — use backlinks (amongst hundreds of other ranking signals like content quality, usability, etc.) to determine how well a website should rank for a relevant search query.
As per the ranking algorithm, if a popular high-ranking website links to your site, it is essentially extending its vote of confidence in your brand. This, in turn, will considerably boost your site’s organic search visibility.
A key thing to note here is that Google’s algorithm has evolved a lot since its inception, and today the quality and relevance of your backlinks matter way more than the number of links.
So, the challenge is to earn backlinks from high-quality, well-established websites while playing fair with Google’s rules. And you guessed it: bad link-building agencies either don’t play fair (and land you in trouble!), focus only on the number of links (not relevance, which is key), or both — among other red flags.
Cost of link building via an agency
The costs associated with outsourcing link-building to an agency can vary greatly. Many agencies charge more because they have a large office and overheads in an expensive city like San Francisco. That’s not necessarily bad, provided you see an ROI you expect.
On the other hand, there are many agencies from smaller cities overseas that do equivalent (or better) work without sacrificing quality — but you need to vet them to ensure they know their stuff.
To dive deeper into link-building costs and see some actual numbers, check out our post on pricing. For now, let’s get our focus back on vetting an agency to find the right one.
6-point checklist to hiring a link building agency
Link building agencies are a dime a dozen. It’s not difficult to find one, but it is difficult to find a reliable one that suits your needs and goals.
Here are six signs that distinguish good link-building agencies from bad ones.
As with hiring an employee, one of the first things to look at is experience. How many team members does the agency have? What’s their combined years of experience in link building? What are their skill sets (content creation, editing, on-page SEO, etc.)?
It’s not difficult to buy junk links from link farms and whatnot to fabricate results.
To get real, sustainable results from link-building, you need to partner with an agency that has demonstrable success in terms of client testimonials, coupled with years of relevant experience. Yes, you will end up paying more, but that investment in experience does pay dividends.
Talking about relevant experience, the type of agency and its specialities matter, too. For instance, a PR agency would be a better fit than a link-building agency if your brand wishes to gain traction through publicity and mentions in renowned, niche-relevant business magazines.
At Mediaberry, we have built over 4k links for over 200 websites on publications with domain authority (DA) scores ranging from the mid-30s to mid-90s.
Personal or professional, the foundation of any successful relationship is transparency. If at any point during prospecting potential partners or in the initial weeks of a partnership you feel that the agency is hiding information, it can be an indication that the agency is breaching its terms.
Frequent communication and timely responses to your queries suggest that an agency is all about transparency. Mediaberry takes transparency to the next level providing a clear tracker for all clients so they can easily keep up to date with their link-building process and progress.
Going through the agency’s client testimonials and references is an obvious step. But be sure to check if the agency specializes in your industry vertical and has achieved great results for brands in your niche.
For example, while Mediaberry has built links for a variety of clients, we specialize in SaaS and eCommerce link building, in particular.
Check if the agency shares client case studies with real numbers to showcase their process and month-on-month progress. At Mediaberry, we have a relationship-based approach to link-building, and connections with over 142 SaaS brands (such as Zapier and HubSpot) to build our clients the highest-quality SEO and PR links.
Speaking of processes…
4. Link building strategy
The way your links would be built is pivotal. Don’t hesitate to ask the agency exactly how they work to get you your links.
On the flip side, some of the questions that the agency should ask you include:
- What are the top ten keywords you wish to rank for?
- Who are your top five competitors?
- What are your preferences? (with regards to link type, domain approval, anchor text, target pages you want to build links to, link distribution for the target pages, payment mode, etc.)
The right agency may also recommend some on-site improvements — in terms of speed, navigation, URL structure, SSL certificate, etc. — before launching your link-building campaign.
Building high-quality backlinks takes time. The best agencies wouldn’t dare promise you instant success.
Agencies that promise top spots within weeks or months are just trying to get you to sign up. Conversely, if an agency is being upfront about how you can’t expect instant or guaranteed results, rest assured they’re genuine.
Put simply, there’s no link-building specialist on the planet that can assure specific rankings on the first page. But if they have a good track record and a proven strategy, that’s a good sign.
6. Domain Authority score
Finally, what’s the agency’s domain authority (DA) score?
DA is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank in search engine result pages (SERPs). Domain Authority scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater likelihood of ranking. This score can be used when comparing websites for their “ranking strength”.
DA is similar to Ahrefs’ Domain Rating (DR), which shows the strength of a website's backlink profile compared to the others in Ahrefs’ database on a 100-point scale.
If the agency does not have a DA of 20+, it’s a sign that you shouldn’t hire them for link-building. After all, if they know how to do link building correctly, wouldn’t they have a good DA score for their own website?
Red flags when hiring a link building agency
Partly due to the low barrier to entry — and sadly — the world of online marketing is rife with agencies that exist just to rake in money with little interest in offering real value to their clients.
This is especially true in the link-building department. So, watch out for these red flags when hiring a link building agency:
- Sporadic communication
- High client churn
- “Guaranteed” results
- Pre-packaged solution
- Unclear roadmap
We expanded on this even more in the below infographic. Feel free to share or save it for yourself as a reference.
Joining forces with the right link-building agency is one of the most powerful ways to gain organic traffic and brand visibility for your website. But to hire an agency you can rely on for the long run, you do need to spend some time and effort.
From the strategy they use and promises they make to red flags, now you know what to look for in a link-building agency.