“Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.” — George S. Patton Jr.
Link building remains one of the key elements of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Its core purpose is to get websites with good standing and authority to point back to yours. This, in turn, can improve your rankings on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
However, this practice gained a bit of a negative reputation that might put many people off exploring it as a key part of their SEO strategy.
So, what caused this and how can we fix it?
Old-school black-hat tactics
A large part of what gave link building a bad name was the way it was implemented. In the early days of SEO, the goal was to get as many links as possible, and it didn’t matter how those links got placed, or where. Black hat practitioners used tactics like link farms and paid schemes to build backlinks. These strategies became akin to keyword stuffing and were deemed sneaky and unethical.
Another contributor to link building not getting much love was the way it was used to spam bloggers. Spam backlinks were inserted into blog post comments or in replies to threads on forums, and this was often done without the knowledge or permission of the site owner or admin.
These spam links damaged a sites’ credibility and could make them incredibly resource-heavy and slow to load. This resulted in webmasters spending hours on maintenance and clean ups to remove them.
This all changed after Google rolled out their Penguin update in 2012. Dubbed the ‘webspam algorithm’ update, it heavily penalized sites that utilized black hat tactics and were filled with spam links. These sites were then the target of manual actions and in some cases, entirely deindexed.
Penguin also put an end to some of the most obvious methods of manipulative link building, including reciprocal linking, which saw similar businesses link back to one another to boost rankings. This practice in particular was heavily abused and huge numbers of small, rather useless sites were built for the sole purpose of linking back to the main domain.
Digital marketers are sometimes accused of “ruining everything” by scaling and automatizing their strategies. And link building outreach is no exception. For the sake of efficiency and, perhaps, a shared dislike of “having to deal with people”, many SEO’s opted for mass emailing bloggers and companies with generic outreach emails. So here the “hate around link building” shows in two ways: outreachers not wanting to spend time and effort on their link prospects, and content editors getting flooded with the same low-quality, generic outreach emails.
Writing for users, not bots
It was around about this same time that a shift began to happen in the way content was created for SEO and websites. The focus became more about the reader and less about the search engine bot that would crawl the page for keywords and relevancy.
The idea behind this was that good content that added value to the reader was far more important than making sure the right keywords were used enough times. SEO writers now focused on creating high-quality content that was genuinely useful and people wanted to read, instead of working out how to fit awkward, long-tail keywords into a blog post verbatim.
These two shifts – Google penalizing websites for black hat tactics and the focus on the human visitor – changed the face of SEO. Unfortunately, some people didn’t recognize that good links could still add value to content, and link building’s bad press lingered due to past transgressions.
Quality versus quantity
Today, link building is not just about the number of backlinks that you get. Rather, it’s about the quality of each one that you attain.
Stefan Debois, Founder at Survey Anyplace is just one of many industry experts who has conducted extensive research into the topic. He advocates the idea that instead of trying to get as many backlinks as possible, you should focus on building great relationships with relevant high quality websites that can boost your rankings through one backlink.
There are many ways to get relevant, high-quality backlinks. You can write guest posts for websites that improve your brand’s reputation and authority with readers and with bots through association.
Since Google’s bots detect newly added links when crawling the web and add them to their index, they include contextual cues when registering the new links. They can identify the site authority of the backlink source, and how popular the site is. This gives you credibility if you’re linking to highly ranked sources that are relevant to your brand.
You must, however, monitor what backlinks direct to your website. Bad links, including those from websites that are of low quality, obviously unnatural in nature (e.g comment spam) or broken links that no longer work can harm your standings on the SERPs.
A backlink tracker can help you assess the quality of the backlinks you already have. You can also use this tool to analyze websites you’re considering obtaining backlinks from in the future. This will help you to pick the right places to build a relationship and get your content posted on their websites.
In the process of building links to your website, don’t forget about the power of social media. If you circulate your content in the right groups and it’s shared by members on platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Reddit you can win highly targeted referral traffic.
Despite Social Media not being acknowledged as a direct ranking factor or the ever ending back and forth that social links may or may not boost your search rank. The fact of the matter is that referral traffic can convert and at the end of the day, we’re after quality.
Affiliate marketing and link building
Another method for building links is to start an affiliate program. If you team up with the right partners, authoritative, relevant websites will all point back to your site. However, referral traffic is the major benefit of an affiliate program, and you’re likely to see that clicks from those sites do convert.
An affiliate marketing program is much the same as having online salespeople who work on a commission-only basis. These programs tend to attract bloggers who have monetized their sites by linking to businesses with affiliate programs that allow them to earn commission. Commission is earned when an affiliate link is clicked on a blog and it leads to a successful sale.
For example, you may have a chef that runs a successful food blog. They’ll team up with a business that sells kitchenware online, and then link to individual products in each blog post. The kitchenware business gets backlinks from a popular blog that covers the same or similar topics, and they get visitors clicking through who are interested in buying the products. The blogger then receives commission for each sale that they’ve facilitated.
Changing the mindset
It’s essential to remember that SEO is an ever-changing landscape and the hate around link building depends on the tactics used. The need to earn high quality backlinks is crucial to maintain a strategy that is competitive in today’s marketplace.
SEO and search engines have evolved and so has link building. When used correctly it’s an incredibly valuable tool that can do wonders for your brand.
Guest Author: Bibi Raven
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- How to Mask URLs in Affiliate Tracking Links
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This blog post is about:
- Link building
- Why the hate around link building
- Why link building’s bad reputation needs a rethink
- Affiliate marketing