Alternatives to Paying Cash for Links and Strengthening Editorial Barriers

Notice in the title of this post that I mention ‘cash’, ultimately if you’re looking to generate links to your site you’re going to pay for it, whether it is time, expertise, giveaways or cash.

There is a ton of information floating around the industry about innovative ways to drive links to your site; however, I have conversations weekly via email/phone/instant chat etc… asking the same question over and over; “How do I get bloggers to write about my site without giving them cash”?

Now there are a few reasons people struggle to get links without handing over cash, let’s address these first:-

Identifying the Audience

All too often people come up with creative ideas, spend time and money putting them together, and even invest in heavy promotional activity. They do all this and forget a vital step; identifying an audience that will link to it.

It doesn’t matter what your idea is, how crazy, how expensive, how unique.. If your aim is to acquire links, you need to first identify an audience willing to link to it, the linkerati, as it has been referred to in the past.

You Can’t Just Build It

Again, it doesn’t matter how good your idea or execution is, you have to outreach, identify your audience and reach out, this needs to happen way in advance of the executional stage. Very rarely will a “build something brilliant” work without reaching out and getting buy in from relevant communities.

If you attend conferences you will sit through presentations showing off  fantastic ‘link bait’ examples but the truth is 9 times out of ten link bait fails, and usually this comes down to a flawed outreach strategy.

Sometimes all Bloggers Want is Cash

You’re going to have to face it, no matter how fantastic you think your idea is, sometimes bloggers just want cash. Genuine bloggers put a lot of thought and effort into their publishing, and a large proportion of them want compensating for their hard work, you won’t get around this no matter how smooth you think you are, you just have to accept it or remove them from your target list.

So outside of cash, how do we go about generating buzz in the form of links?


If you’re lucky enough to have a product and/or service that you can giveaway, or offer some sort of free trial, this is a great way of getting links back to your site without cash. Yes, it is still a way of paying for links, but as I stated at the beginning of this post, you pay for all links one way or another. However, using giveaways isn’t a blatant ‘paid link’ per se, you’re giving the blogger a product, they can review it in any way they wish, you’re not controlling the text/anchor text, ultimately you are strengthening the ‘editorial barrier’ between the incentive and the link. Matt Cutts touches on this with regards to paid directories. In my opinion this is why infographics are coming under severe scrutiny, due to the fact there is a serious lack of editorial barriers.


Maybe a little overused, but still works extremely well. Identifying the top bloggers in your industry and running a competition to find the ‘best blog’ is a great way of getting new links and social shares.

However, I have a few words of warning:

1) Don’t select hundreds of blogs thinking you’re going to land 100 new links. Instead use a considered approach and pick the blogs which you generally believe to be the best.

2) Write a summary on each blog, fully explaining why you think it is worthy of a mention.

3) Ensure that the page is easily shareable and bloggers can grab badges/banners etc…

Goes without saying really, but ensure all outreach is ‘genuine’ and personable. This can turn into PR disaster if you start using mail merge to fire out hundreds of emails.

Networking & Commentating

Yes, putting yourself out there will get you links. Having an opinion online or offline will eventually translate into some form of links, the bigger your circle of influence the more links you will get, it’s never going to bring huge quantities in, but the quality will be there.

Content & Commentary

I know, very boring “content is king” blah blah… You know what though? It’s truer today than ever before, your content offering has to be right, whether it is the content on your site, or the content you push out to your community.

For too long, link building has involved low quality unimaginative content, it won’t cut it anymore:

1) Interviews

Publish an interview, the bigger the profile the more links you will get. You could even offer parts of the interview to other bloggers in return for a shout out.

2) Images

Do you have any unique imagery that the blogging community would like to use?

3) Translation

I get approached multiple times every month for my permission to translate one of my articles, however you don’t have to wait, reach out and offer your content for translation.

4) Commentary

If you’re lucky enough to have a voice in your industry already then offer your opinion in the form of a quote. Very often bloggers will write about a particular subject, you may have some insight to add, reach out to the blogger and offer the quote.

5) Allow Guest Posting

I guess I should practice what I preach 🙂 but the fact is (if you have a well-read website) publishers will not only want to write for you but will also be willing to link to and share the content throughout their own communities.

We have to think about more ways to produce and promote quality content, not just churn out boring articles that no one is really interested in.


If you are producing quality content, and acquiring links from trustworthy, genuine blogs and websites, then you should not have an issue sharing it through your own social circles, this also gives us something else to leverage.

All genuine bloggers want more traffic and more recognition, offering to share the content through your own social channels and your networks is often a great way of compensating bloggers for publishing your content.

Obviously this works better if you have solid online social circles, but what better reason to start building them?

If you’re unwilling to share the content where your links are coming from, then you have your link building strategy all wrong. In order for your links to stand the test of time, you need to be thinking about increasing the quality of editorial opportunities. This will strengthen the editorial barrier between the incentive and the link, making your link profile natural and will decrease the chances of you tripping any filters or link penalties.


is the CEO of Branded3 a Search Marketing Agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in Search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

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