The World’s Most Expensive Backlink?

In recent posts I have written about the rising costs of SEO and the lack of understanding of this by most small businesses. Today, I thought I would write about something bordering on the ridiculous that happened to me in 2009.

If there ever happens to be a competition for the world’s most expensive backlink, I would like this story to be entered…

At the time I was working for an online media firm based in Brussels, Belgium. The company runs an online news and policy portal that follows the movements of the European Commission. I was running both their brand new multi-user, multi-language blog platform and their job website.

The founder of the firm had been lobbying the European Commission for years to try and have them link back to his website more often. “We do so much for you, but what will you do for us?”

At the time, the civil servants had been loathe to give any ground. His was a commercial enterprise and they had no plans to favour one company over any others, even if it did report on them and sometimes even work for them. Despite this, there were instances where links had been placed from the official europa website back to the company site, without his asking. He wanted more and those few links were the proof that it was possible. A few months before I joined the firm he had been told that moves were underway to make it possible for outbound links to be built.

Bear in mind for a moment that this is a powerhouse website. It is as trusted a backlink as you can get online. The site has millions of pages, has inbound links from sites around the world and is the government of Europe. From an SEO perspective, this is the bomb. It is not an authority site. It is the authority. Literally.

In it’s defence, the firm I worked for had ten full-time journalists, a sub-editor, two editors, a graphic designer, a tech team, about 60,000 pages and was a genuine authority itself. It was worthy of the links.

A few weeks after I joined the firm, he sent me a pdf which contained details of the procedure to ask various parts of the EU for a link and, as the company’s web marketing guy, charged me with making it happen. The information was helpfully hidden about 190 pages into a 400 page pdf of procedures for civil servants.

The boss asked me to spend two mornings each week working on this. I did.

Needless to say, nobody I contacted within the EU knew of this document. Many refused to believe it existed. Several people named as contacts had already moved position, meaning that the contact list was out of date before it was published. I emailed people. I called and left messages.

Over the space of a few months I managed to meet with eight different people in differing parts of the EU machinery. None wanted to place any links. A few people sent their secretary’s trainee. A couple failed to show up, even though I went to meet them. One department was willing to place a single link if we traded them with 10,000 euros worth of banner advertising. Our journalists already wrote about their department roughly twice per week…

In the end, four months later I was given new priorities. Considering the efforts I put in, the years of occasional lobbying that my boss had made to people high up the food chain, the conversations that must have taken place inside the EU to agree to put his clause in a procedures document and the meetings I had with various people, the total cost of this exercise must have been in the tens of thousands of euros. The total number of links built?

Zero.

White hat SEO ain’t easy.

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