Link building has been one of the most consistent and reliable strategies for improving search rankings since the beginning of the SEO industry. Correlation studies have consistently shown strong correlations between the quantity and quality of inbound links and search rankings.
Of course, years ago there were far fewer rules and far fewer Google penalties to worry about; you could build links pretty much any way you wanted to, and as long as you built a lot of them, you’d see your site move up in the ranks as a result. Today, thanks to multiple iterations of Google’s Penguin update, comments from Google engineers, and a perpetuating attitude about link building that disparages it as a worthwhile strategy (such as the movement to change its name to “link earning”) link building is falling out of popularity, and is being targeted by Google even harder.
I still believe in link building as a viable long-term strategy, but it needs to be adapted into a more modern format. If people continue to buy into the old-school beliefs about link building, three things are going to happen:
• Google will crack down harder. As people continue engaging in link building activities the wrong way, Google will take notice and will downplay the significance of links as a ranking factor even further. This will reduce the value of all links, including good links built by the people who know what they’re doing.
• The Internet will become a worse place. Bad links, built by people who don’t understand what link building should be, are bad for the Internet. They clog up forums and comment sections, and make all links seem bad.
• Link building will earn a worse reputation. Gradually, link building’s reputation will decline further, and fewer people will want to associate with it. In a way, this could be favorable, since it eliminates some of the competition, but also means fewer people will be actively trying to add value to their communities.
In order to mitigate these effects, I’d like to address a few common misconceptions I see about link building, and set the record straight:
1. Quantity matters as much as quality. The era of quantity-based ranking signals from links has long passed. Quality has always mattered more than quantity, but today, the gap is wider than ever. Google doesn’t care about how many links you have – it only cares about how many different sources those links come from and how authoritative and relevant those sources are. For example, if you have 20 links split between 5 different sources, you’ll end up getting more total authority than if you have 100 links split between 2 different sources. In essence, 1 great link can outweigh 100 low-quality ones.
2. Every link must be manually built. This was true back in the old days of SEO. You could log onto almost any Web 2.0 site, article directory, forum, or comment section and post your own link (or request a webmaster to build one for you), and repeat that ad infinitum until you hit the numbers you wanted. Today, this process is obsolete and ineffective. Instead, it’s far better to let the links come to you naturally. If you can develop one breakout piece of content, one that people will want to re-publish, reference, cite, quote, and attribute to you, that’s all you need to immediately earn dozens – if not hundreds – of inbound links. Creating that content might cost you a lot of money upfront, but you should never have to build a link manually.
3. All link building will get you penalized. This is the central fear that has so many webmasters concerned about the viability of link building in general. It is true that if Google discovers you’ve built a number of manipulative or spammy links, it might ignore those links altogether. But unless you’ve done something terribly egregious, you aren’t likely to receive a penalty. All you have to do is attract quality links from quality sources, and make sure not to use any spammy practices.
4. Link building is an independent strategy. Content marketing can be considered a strategy both independent from and related to SEO. Link building, on the other hand, can’t be considered an independent strategy. If you build links independently, with the sole emphasis on building your rankings, you will undoubtedly fail. Link building can, and should, be integrated with your other strategies. You should focus on publishing awesome content, then rely on the power of your content and the reach of your social channels to attract inbound links. It’s all interrelated, as part of the “3 Pillars of SEO.”
5. Link building is all about links. It may seem counterintuitive, but building links should no longer be the focus of link building. Google’s search ranking algorithm is so sophisticated at this point that it can detect the mention of a given brand or author name. These mentions, which I call brand mentions, are thought by some to carry as much (or almost as much, depending on who you ask) authoritative value as a link would in a similar position-and it carries none of the penalty risks. You earn these brand mentions by doing things that real brands do, such as publishing great content, great products, giving great customer service, being active in your community (both local and online), and providing real value to people. So if you’re relying exclusively on links for your “link building strategy,” it’s time to get with the times and start building your brand instead. Building your brand will cause inbound links to be built in the most natural, organic way possible – and that’s what real link building is.
Link building is a critical component of any SEO and online marketing strategy, and it plays a major role from a branding perspective. If done properly, link building can add value to the online world rather than flooding it with spam. Help me in correcting the rampant misconceptions that are giving link building a bad name, and let’s work together to restore it to the respectable, valuable long-term strategy it is at its core.