Hiring Link Building Agencies: For Medium & Large Businesses

Table of Contents

How to do Link Building Effectively

A guide to hiring, measuring, and holding link building agencies accountable for medium to large enterprise-level businesses

Link Campaign Measurement KPIs

Lever Type
Agency Target/KPI
Minimum # of New Unique Linking Domains Per Campaign (3, 6, or 12 months)
Depends on budget and how many links you need to support your overall ranking goals
Ensure the agency is spending their time well and acquiring the number of quality links you need for your campaign
Agency Target/KPI
Cost Per Link
Average of ~$750 per link at the end of the campaign (updated to reflect 2022 costs)
Ensure you aren’t over-paying for links and there’s a good mix of very authoritative ($$$$) and mid-tier site ($$) backlinks being acquired
Quality KPI
Domain Authority
Score >25
Weeds out many low-quality link prospects without excluding good sites
Quality KPI
Monthly Organic Traffic
>500 monthly Organic visitors
Weeds out many low-quality link prospects whose links will not send value or very little value
Quality KPI
Custom Link Value Metric
Link Value Score >50
Weeds out many low-quality link prospects whose links will not send value or very little value while providing a clearer idea of what a link would be worth and how much to pay for that first link
Lagging Campaign Success KPI
Increase in YoY Organic Traffic to Target Concept/Pages
No default threshold for success - measure vs a control group
When measured vs a proper control group, this can prove the value of the campaign and in some cases, even the value of individual links garnered during that campaign
Lagging Campaign Success KPI
Increase in YoY Organic Revenue to Campaign Target Concept/Pages
No default threshold for success - measure vs a control group
When measured vs a proper control group, this can prove the value of the campaign and in some cases, even the value of individual links garnered during that campaign
Lagging Campaign Success KPI
Improved Rankings for Keywords Associated With Campaign Target Concept/Pages
No default threshold for success - measure vs previous average rank against a control group
When measured vs a proper control group, this can prove the value of the campaign and in some cases, even the value of individual links garnered during that campaign

Agency Target/KPIs

Ultimately, cost per link and a minimum target number of links over the life of a campaign are the high-level KPIs.

The links should all meet a common threshold for quality.

Quality KPIs

Domain Authority

Set a minimum domain authority that eliminates any prospective websites with a Domain Authority (DA) score <25

  • For example in the tire or automotive industry, I would suggest a DA of 25 minimum

SEMRush Monthly Organic Traffic

Set a minimum threshold that looks at a prospective website’s most recent month’s estimated Organic traffic in SEMRush

  • For tires or automotive industry websites, for instance, I would suggest a minimum of 500 estimated monthly Organic traffic visits

Note: When looking up sites in SEMRush, if the prospective site would be hosting this content on a subdomain, be sure to look up the subdomain’s estimated monthly organic traffic and not the main domain as Google treats subdomains essentially as a completely different website for SEO purposes

Custom Link Value Metric

One method that has proven highly effective is if you have all of your target domains in a spreadsheet with the most recent month’s Organic traffic to the domain from SEMRush, total number of unique linking domains (ideally from Ahrefs but SEMRush’s database will suffice), and age of the domain from when it started to receive traffic in SEMRush, is to run the following formula:

  • domain age times most recent month’s estimated Organic traffic divided by total number of unique linking domains.

This will give you a “quality score” for the site which is a rough way of determining how much value a followed link from a particular site may drive if acquired, and thus how much you should be willing to pay that site to acquire a link.


Prospect Domains
Monthly SEMRush Organic Traffic (SEMRush)
Domain Age (years - SEMRush)
Unique Linking Domains (SEMRush)
Link Value Score

Looking at those link value scores, you can make the safe assumption that anything scoring >50 is a safe site to acquire a link from. Anything under 50 would need to be manually inspected.

What to Pay to Acquire a Link via The Link Value Scoring Method
Link Value Score
Price to Pay Per New Domain Link (not including labor to acquire – this is paid to the writer/editor/webmaster in cash or product)
Inspect manually, If sketchy, do not acquire

Note: An experienced link builder should review every opportunity presented by the link building agency once the agency has established contact and has a link deal proposal on the table, but the following tiers give a good range on what you should typically want to pay for a followed backlink from a new unique linking domain.

Measuring Campaign Outcomes

Lagging Campaign Success KPIs

This is how you measure the success of a link-building campaign after it’s complete, or during for longer– 6-month + –campaigns.

These metrics should be measured for the target campaign concept (Ex. winter tires, run-flat tires, __ brand, electric car tires, etc.) before, during, and after the campaign vs. a comparable control group.

Increase in YoY Organic Traffic & Revenue to Campaign Target Concept/Pages

The most straightforward way of doing this is to identify all of the URLs that fit within your Campaign and measure YoY landing page Organic traffic and revenue derived from those pages before and after running the campaign.

  • You will need a comparable control group to compare to over the same time periods
    • For example if your campaign was about ranking better for winter tire product lines and content pages, measure them against summer tire product lines and content pages YoY. If your campaign is to rank better for Pirelli tires, measure YoY growth in Organic for your Pirelli tire pages vs a brand with similar positioning and count of product lines
  • You will also want to measure your Target Campaign URLs performance YoY vs all other pages in that group to see if your Target URLs outperformed all other similar pages at the end of the campaign
    • For example, if Pirelli is your target campaign, measure the growth of Pirelli pages vs all other brands (brand pages, brand category/subcategory, and brand product lines)
      • Pirelli should be out-performing the rest of the brands at the end of the campaign

Improved Rankings for Keywords Associated With Campaign Target Concept/Pages

Once you have a target concept for the link-building campaign, you can track Organic. rankings progress of those keywords over time vs. control groups the same way you would track pages to report on traffic and revenue increases.

Botify makes this easy by setting up keyword groups.

When the campaign begins, set up a keyword group that encompasses your target keywords (Ex. any keyword that contains “Pirelli” “winter” “run-flat” etc.) and build out control groups in the same fashion.

At the end of the campaign measure the total number of keywords and average rank of those keywords before and after the campaign, and vs the control groups before and after.

Bonus: Botify and other SEO website tracking tools have pagetype segments that allow you to further hone keyword groups to only include the pagetypes you want to compare that rank for the keywords you are tracking, allowing you to get more specific with your target campaign group and control groups for a better 1-1 comparison. 

Why These Measurement Tactics Work

Google looks at a website’s content and backlink profile in terms of topical authority. A website with many links–and more links than competitors–that point to pages about Pirelli for example, say to Google that that particular website must be an authority and great shopping location for people searching for Pirelli tires, and thus will rank that site better for Pirelli tires than it would, say, Michelin tires. 

Over time, a well-executed and well-targeted link-building campaign can build topical authority on key revenue drivers for the business (such as brands of tires, types/categories of tires, tires for specific vehicles, etc.), something very few competitors could match and even fewer would be able to diagnose and shift resources to combatting. 

Agency Provided Assets

SOW With Campaign Duration & Cost, Expected Min. Links Acquired, and Target Cost Per Link

The link building agency should have in their SOW a campaign duration (typically 3*, 6, 9 or 12 months), a minimum number of new unique linking domains they plan to acquire in that time, and an average cost per link that they acquired.

*note that with three-month campaigns, it’s unreasonable to expect to measure campaign success at the duration. Month 5 would be when to start measuring overall success as some of the links acquired in month 3 won’t start sending value to the website until month 5. 

Links Acquired & Cost Per Link Tracking Document

The agency should provide a document that tracks the number of links they’ve acquired, along with the average cost per link as the campaign progresses.

This is a great way to keep track of progress and for everyone to be on the same page in terms of campaign success at any given point. 

You can also ask for a forecast of links acquired so you can see the build-up over time of when they believe they will get links and how they will hit their minimum links acquired target. Note that with any link campaign, outreach takes time and the first 3-4 weeks will be sparse in terms of links acquired. 

List of Target Prospects/Websites With Quality KPIs Provided

Reviewing and approving the list of sites the link-building group plans on pitching is important to ensure you’re getting the right links from the right sites. 

This also builds a list that will be valuable to the company’s internal PR/Link Building Team.

Having a list of target sites so the project manager can help the link-building team hone in on the types of sites and links that are ideal is a great way to quickly align on expectations and produce the best possible backlinks. 

It’s also a great way to build a website database for future use by any internal PR/link building team as the agency will do the hard work in vetting sites. 

Once a prospective site is contacted by the link building agency and the website agrees to work with the agency to place a link, the agency should provide the possible deal(s) for approval by to the person managing the campaign. 

This includes reviewing and approving “placement costs” for the sites that come back and say we’ll work with you at ___ cost”

  • The reviewer will need to balance overall cost with site quality, placement quality, and how well it fits with the overall campaign goals

Bi-weekly Touch Base

Weekly calls can prove a bit excessive, but monthly calls don’t leave enough time to help steer the ship if it’s needed. Bi-weekly intervals have proven to be the best solution unless the project manager would like to be more hands-on in the beginning by starting with weekly calls and then moving to bi-weekly. 

Assets to Provide The Agency

A Campaign Target

The business should know what area it wants to grow in and inform the link building agency what it wants to rank for some examples:

  • Winter tires
  • Run-flat tires
  • Electric car tires
  • Light truck tires

Knowing what area to focus and aligning the agency’s link-building proposal with this focus area is key to successfully measuring the campaign and driving meaningful results.

It’s imperative that a concept is targeted with the campaign (think “rank better for __ brand overall”, “rank better for electric car tire lines and content pages”, “rank better for winter tires and tire lines” “rank better for run-flat tire lines and content pages” etc.). Choose something that aligns with the overall business focus and you will see compounding results.

Desired Average Cost Per Link And Minimum Link Count For The Campaign

It’s important is to be upfront about your desired minimum link count for the campaign and, as an average per link, how much you are willing to pay for the links. 

Let the agency present where they hope to be and see if those numbers align with your budget and goals. 

Email Addresses

One huge aspect in getting sites to respond to a cold email is having that email come from the site requesting the link, while it’s not absolutely necessary, response and link conversion rates are going to be much lower if it’s coming from the agency’s email address instead of an @[your-website-here].com email address. 

Existing Infrastructure

Create a Target Site Lists & Outreach Workflow/Processes

You may want to first create an extensive list of target sites that are prime for outreach, along with quality metrics for each and website categories/subcategories.

This is the perfect place to start and could be a great asset to any link-building agency.

Recommended Link Building Agencies

Highley seasoned link builders with decades of experience building links the right way by forging relationships with editors, writers, and webmasters. They are truly masters at the art of finding a winning solution for the host website and the client where everyone ends up better off after Mention Makers acquires a backlink. 

Automotive is a particular specialty of this group, but they have experience building links in a wide variety of industries. 

One of the best link-building agencies out there. Price per link is more expensive than a lot of options, but they know how to deliver result-driving links, and their overall process from book-end to book-end is looked to as leading the industry in effectiveness and innovation. 

They do all kinds of campaigns and campaign types – best to let them do an audit and recommend strategy, then agree on a target cost per link/min. a number of links per campaign.

Very well priced and have the ability to hit aggressive cost-per-link targets. Won’t always get the “flashy” links from huge sites, but goes a great job of getting the mid-tier links that drive value and are highly relevant. Good at scaling to meet minimum links acquired goals.

Ask to work with Colby

The Ferrari of SEO PR campaigns. I have not worked with them personally, but I have reviewed a number of case studies they’ve done and talked with a handful of SEOs over the years who have and were very happy with the results. Single campaigns can easily exceed $100,000 and target the biggest publishers in any particular niche. 

Kristin Tynski shares a ton of research and case studies in Traffic Think Tank and has a very outstanding reputation there.

A guide to hiring, measuring, and holding link building agencies accountable for medium to large enterprise-level businesses

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