#308 – Don’t Buy Links… Do This Instead!

Authority Hacker Pro Is back!

That’s right! We’re reopening the doors to Authority Hacker Pro this week!

🗒️ Overview

  • Learn why we changed our mind about paying for links
  • Find out what we’re doing instead
  • Learn how to build high authority links at scale…without paying!

We went on the record a year or so ago with a pretty bold statement (for us, anyway): we’re now paying for links.

Our messaging had been pretty anti-paid links up until that point, so it was a big departure for us.

So fast forward one year; how did that pan out for us?

What Happened?

Well, you can probably guess from the title…we’ve backtracked a little.

Originally, we felt that we were getting left behind. All of our competitors were clearly paying for links, and the way we saw it, we had a choice: join them or fall behind.

And so we opened the doors.

And believe it or not, times were pretty good. We were getting more links than ever, and the quality wasn’t half bad.

But then, the honeymoon period ended.

After an initial round of fairly good links, we started to notice the cracks starting to form.

There was a clear downward trend in link quality. We suspect that the initial links we acquired were the “low-hanging fruit”, and after we got all those good ones, all that remained were crappy link farms and low-quality links.

The thing is, the decline was so gradual we almost didn’t even notice it.

Take Soup.io, for example. On the surface, it’s a high DR site. In a spreadsheet nestled in between a bunch of other links, that’s unlikely to give us cause to question it.

But when we started looking into these links properly, it was like one of those memes where the more you look, the worse it gets…

The thing is, we were lulled into a sense of security with our initial round of paid links, and we got complacent.

This was driven by a few factors:

  • We were setting bold monthly link targets that favored quantity over quality
  • Sites are getting creative at hiding the fact they’re link farms
  • Our initial success gave us rose-tinted glasses

Now, luckily, we spotted this before things got out of hand.

But that didn’t solve the fact that even with all this scrutiny and vetting, the links available to buy were still crap.

We want to pay for links, don’t get us wrong. But the types of links that are worth buying? Well, they barely exist…

So, What next?

We tightened our criteria. But that didn’t really help.

Our monthly link count dropped once again, although we weren’t that bothered this time. We’d rather have no links than crappy links.

So to ensure we kept up, we experimented with a few things.

First up, we toyed around with “PR Link Building” – creating stories that get picked up by news outlets and net links.

We gave it our best shot, learning from PR Guru Stacy McNaught. Her ideas were amazing. They showed a lot of promise. But the results were slow.

The problem is that for a site like ours, and probably most of you guys reading this, this required an entirely new skill set we didn’t have. And all for results that even those in the know would describe as inconsistent at best.

Sure, PR Links are great for some businesses, but we just struggled to see how this would fit into our business model at the pace we were going.

The Survey

But we did see glimpses of potential in the PR approach. It clearly was possible to get links by providing something of value that high authority sites would actually link to.

And that’s where we began to fixate on “Linkable Assets“.

While we knew we couldn’t consistently churn out newsworthy stories, we knew we could create something else instead.

Using a failed attempt at surveying people on their attitudes towards Golfing during Coronavirus, we figured what if we created an ultimate resource for people looking for information on a specific topic.

And so, our Link Building Survey was born.

We leveraged a mixture of our own email list, paid ads and social shares to get a modest 750 or so people to participate. More than enough to become an authority on the topic.

The survey was definitely rough around the edges – we didn’t have that clear of a vision and it was mostly a mismatch of ideas that just about came together cohesively in the end.

We adapted our existing knowledge around sending out super personalized outreach, and because we had something worth sharing, people linked to us without batting an eyelid.

It was like 2018 all over again. No pushbacks, no $$$ signs, just honest links. For free.

And the more links we got, the higher our article ranked.

And the higher we ranked, the more organic links we got. Despite a somewhat messy approach, it was the best type of snowball we could hope for.

The Outreach Approach

Of course, we didn’t just send people a templated email and hope for the best.

Instead, we took a highly targeted approach.

First, we identified articles that were genuinely missing information that our survey provided.

Then, we created perfectly crafted emails that really spoke to prospects.

Mark recalls one example of latching on to the idea that the prospect was a huge fan of Yo-Yo. As a result, he went down the rabbit hole, researching Yo-Yo moves and tricks to come up with the perfect subject line.

The approach was to collect as much relevant personal information on the prospect as possible and weave together these facts with traditional outreach.

The aim is to get a foot in the door so they can see your asset is worth adding.

And with ChatGPT 4 around to help, this process is extremely efficient yet personalized. Here’s an example of a prompt Mark used:

I am trying to write an engaging email to [Prospect] a writer who writes for [site]. My goal is to offer him my expertise and write a piece of content for their website.

Here’s what I know about [prospect]

- He’s a soccer fan and supports Liverpool
- He likes Yo-Yo
- He was born in Austin, Texas
- He says this in his bio [bio]
- He’s a dad of 3 girls

Here’s what I know about [the site]
[Bio of the site]

Can you help me brainstorm a few unique and witty outreach angles for my email?

ChatGPT will likely give you a few angles which you can then build upon with something like

I like the Yo-Yo angle

I haven't played with a Yo-Yo since I was 15 but I used to be a pro at "walking the dog" (A Yo-Yo trick)

Create the first paragraph of the email grabbing his attention with my amazement at his Yo-Yo skilss and my lack of. 

The rest of the promps will depend on what kind of response you get. Remember, if things aren’t right – perhaps too long or factually incorrect, ask it to correct them.

Build upon the email one paragraph at a time using personalized prompts throughout. You can ask it things like

I like [This part], but rephrase it so it's split up into smaller paragraphs and doesn't sound too business-like. I want to be casual. Remember to call back to my love of Yo-Yos
Rewrite the above but make it about 50% shorter
Keep in mind that he works for [website] which is about [topic]

From there, remember to add a human touch to tweak the template so that it reads naturally.

What Next?

So with our relatively successful first survey out the door, we moved straight on to the next one.

This time, we hired a Data Analyst from day 1 to help us build out the survey and get even better results.

She helped us with things like

  • Getting better, more polarizing opinions from participants
  • Having a better understanding of what the end result will look like
  • Avoiding boring or useless data

With this more structured approach, we once again promoted our survey to the masses with a few other differences.

This time we offered a Lead Magnet, which no doubt lured in more responses.

And it worked. So well, in fact, this survey gathered almost 4,000 participants.

This article is due to launch this week.

Make no mistake, it wasn’t cheap. We Invested a lot of money into this upfront, but it’s important to remember that by the time we calculate our actual cost per link, the results aren’t that much more expensive.

AND the quality of the links is far higher.


Of course, we’re not about to leave all our eggs in one basket.

Alongside this survey strategy, we also dabbled with creating tools in the hope that by creating something useful that performs a basic function, people will link to it.

We spent a few thousand bucks creating an Email Name Finder tool – a tool that will extract the prospects name from their email address.

Our first attempt wasn’t quite the success we were hoping for. We failed to do our research and fully understand which type of tools people actually want.

So once again, it was back to the drawing board.

I’ll have to leave you on a cliffhanger there though, as the next tool is still a Work in Progress, but Gael believes he’s cracked the code this time.

We’ll be sure to share the results.

The Results

So let’s recap. In a Nutshell:

  1. We started paying for links.
  2. The quality was shit.
  3. We stopped paying for links.
  4. We moved on to creating linkable assets instead.
  5. The links were amazing.

Don’t get us wrong. If the opportunity for a great paid link comes up, we’re not against it, despite it being against Google’s ToS.

But finding these types of paid opportunities has been impossible to scale.

So instead, we’re focusing on creating assets that people want to link to, without needing to be bribed.

But to get our foot in the door, we need to first take the time and effort to create an outreach message they actually want to read.