Freelancers on popular online platforms are claiming to be able to secure links on some of the world’s largest websites for fees of up to $1,600.
Freelancers on PeoplePerHour.com are advertising links or guest posts for sale on websites including:
- USAToday.com for $660 (103 sales);
- AdWeek.com for $1,600 (1 sale);
- Benzinga.com for $160 (16 sales);
- Stanford.edu for $440 (19 sales);
- Harvard.edu for £585 (37 sales);
- Forbes.com for £995 (52 sales);
- Today.com for £350 (241 sales);
- Entrepreneur.com for £615 (74 sales).
The services mainly take on two forms:
- Some freelancers offer services geared towards securing a guest post slot but don’t guarantee results;
- Some freelancers explicitly mention they have guest posting access to the aforementioned websites or that they can “100% guarantee approval”.
Buying or selling links is strictly against Google’s webmaster guidelines and some of the brands above also explicitly forbid contributors from selling links from their posts.
Entrepreneur.com’s guest posting guidelines state “It is…against our policy for contributors to sell links in their articles to people or companies. Contributors found to be violating these policies will be barred from publishing in our network”.
A number of freelancers mention they “reserve the right” to include links to the websites of other buyers in the published post. This means freelancers could make upwards of thousands of pounds from each post.
According to PeoplePerHour’s sales stats, one freelancer has made over £84,000 from offering services to acquire links on Today.com while another freelancer has made over £86,000 from offering the same service but for IBTimes.com.au.
The reviews given to the freelancers claiming to be able to secure links on these websites are routinely positive. For example, the user reviews of a freelancer who claims to be able to secure links on IB Times are 96 percent positive.
In some cases, there are multiple freelancers on PeoplePerHour.com claiming to be able to secure links on the same website.
For example, there are currently 19 freelancers offering services relating to securing links on Forbes.com, with prices ranging from £620 to £995 per link. One freelancer claiming to be able to place links on Forbes.com has earned over £36,000.
Another freelancer is claiming to be able to secure links on more than 100 highly popular websites in the US and the UK. Based on reviews of the seller, the service being sold appears to have met the expectations of buyers.
Moreover, other freelancers have taken to offering to 301 redirect pages on their websites that have been linked to by brands including The BBC, CNN and Fox News for hundreds of pounds.
Links are one of the most important factors behind a website’s visibility in search engine results pages. Links from authoritative websites are particularly prized as it is believed they pass more value onto the linked to website than smaller websites.
Guest posting is also a very common practice and is engaged in, often unwittingly, by many website owners looking to increase awareness of their websites.
In many cases it provides valuable information for users and typically comes with editorial approval i.e. an editor has approved the content for publication. Contributors also often link to external sources as a matter of course e.g. to provide evidence for their arguments.
However, in prioritizing financial gain ahead of editorial judgement, any contributor who sells links is undermining the editorial integrity of their content.
A report by The Verge from 2016 alluded to the practice and attributed it to a hack, however our analysis has uncovered hundreds of advertisements on freelance websites claiming to offer links on large publications, including one of the websites profiled by The Verge (Stanford.edu).
Collegepuzzle.stanford.edu is one such site on which freelancers claim to be able to sell links and it links out to websites selling pool guards, travel adapters, car insurance and e-cigarettes.
Google has a long history of trying to prevent webmasters manipulating guest posting for search engine gains. Back in 2014, Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s anti-spam team, wrote a post on his personal blog referring to it as a “spammy practice”.
Back then, Matt Cutts was likely referring to the creation of content on low-quality websites that were often designed solely for facilitating links to other websites.
In recent times some websites like Forbes and Entrepreneur have taken to adding a “no follow” attribute to all outbound links, and considering the size and scale of these practices it would be difficult to blame other websites for following their lead.