Thanks for the comment, I would not say it is impossible to create high quality backlinks from scratch without content, you just need to do a review on competitor backlinks and see if their are any easy targets. We have had some good luck in the education space acquiring links on the same pages as competitor from PR5+ edu sites. It all revolves around the outreach strategy in which you put in place.
Use social media. Build a presence on social media networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. All of these activities help to get your name out and website address out on the internet. Read about how we doubled our social media audience in a week. Add share buttons to your site to make it easy for people to share your content. And write content worthy of sharing.
Often the line between pay per click advertising and paid inclusion is debatable. Some have lobbied for any paid listings to be labeled as an advertisement, while defenders insist they are not actually ads since the webmasters do not control the content of the listing, its ranking, or even whether it is shown to any users. Another advantage of paid inclusion is that it allows site owners to specify particular schedules for crawling pages. In the general case, one has no control as to when their page will be crawled or added to a search engine index. Paid inclusion proves to be particularly useful for cases where pages are dynamically generated and frequently modified.
Sometimes considered to be a part of SEM, social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Delicious have search fields and also pass authority to sites through links. Making sure your content and links are placed (where necessary) on these social media sites can increase your influence in user search engine queries. SMM is a rapidly growing area of Internet marketing but to discuss it further is beyond the scope of this Guide.
Another tip you can use is just reach out to the prior agency and say something like the following: “We realise you were using link networks for our website which has resulted in a Google penalty and loss in business. Can you please remove my website from any link network you have built?”. If the prior agency is decent, they will remove the links from the network.

In February 2011, Google announced the Panda update, which penalizes websites containing content duplicated from other websites and sources. Historically websites have copied content from one another and benefited in search engine rankings by engaging in this practice. However Google implemented a new system which punishes sites whose content is not unique.[35] The 2012 Google Penguin attempted to penalize websites that used manipulative techniques to improve their rankings on the search engine.[36] Although Google Penguin has been presented as an algorithm aimed at fighting web spam, it really focuses on spammy links[37] by gauging the quality of the sites the links are coming from. The 2013 Google Hummingbird update featured an algorithm change designed to improve Google's natural language processing and semantic understanding of web pages. Hummingbird's language processing system falls under the newly recognised term of 'Conversational Search' where the system pays more attention to each word in the query in order to better match the pages to the meaning of the query rather than a few words [38]. With regards to the changes made to search engine optimization, for content publishers and writers, Hummingbird is intended to resolve issues by getting rid of irrelevant content and spam, allowing Google to produce high-quality content and rely on them to be 'trusted' authors.
Well, yes and no. Sure, you can get hit with an algorithm change or penalty that destroys all your traffic. However, if you have good people who know what they are doing, this is not likely to happen, and if it does, it is easy (in most cases) to get your visits back. Panda and Penguin are another story, but if you get hit by those it is typically not accidental.
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