Here’s a question that comes up a lot in my circles – “Is link building dead?” It’s a valid question and one that can’t be explained with a simple yes or no.
First, for those of you not in the know, link building is one of many tactics online marketers use to search engine optimize (SEO) a website. Specifically, according to the search marketing Company Wordstream.com, “link building (alternate spellings include linkbuilding and link-building) refers to the process of getting external pages to link to a page on your website.”
The original Google Penguin algorithm update in April of 2012 changed the world of SEO and link building forever. Google implemented severe penalties on websites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines regarding link schemes. This resulted in many sites being “sand boxed” or “banned” from the organic search engine result pages (SERPs) on Google.
Some of the link building techniques that Google frowns upon are (taken directly from Google’s support page on ‘Link schemes‘):
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.
- Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank.
- Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.
- Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links.
- Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.
- Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites.
- Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature.
Prior to 2012, the above link building techniques were widely used. Use these techniques today and you run the risk of being penalized by Google. Does this mean link building is dead? Sort of. The old “black hat” techniques of link building are now huge no-no’s and will cost you dearly if (more like when) Google catches on.
All is not lost. The following list outlines some of the most popular white-hat techniques for link building––ones that can go a long way to helping, not harming, your SEO efforts.
Directory Link Building
The link directories from the days of old are dead, and we should all say a hardy ‘good riddance.’ You know the ones I’m talking about–– the link directories where, as soon as you hit the submit button, your link was added willy-nilly to whatever category whether it was relevant or not. In directories like these, the link to your site could end up right next to a natural male enhancement, gambling, or porn site link…or worse (yes, on the internet, things can always be worse). Strangely, these types of link directories still exist––and if you’re working with an SEO group, you want to make sure this tactic is 100% off limits.
That said, there are some fantastic direct link building options out there. Suppose you have an oil and gas exploration company. Well, the energy-specific industry site Rigzone.com has a nice oil and gas company directory that is relevant to your industry. It is also highly curated, which makes it a great asset if you happen to be in that niche.
The thing is with directory link building, only use credible sources that are relevant to your niche or industry. A little online research can help you identify opportunities. Then, a quick check on a directory’s Alexa rank would be a good idea to gage a site’s popularity.
Guest Post Link Building & Author Bios
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines say to avoid “Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links”. Does that mean that guest posting is a no-no? Not necessarily. Guest posting on sites that have no relevance to the article is not a good idea or posting the same article across dozens of sites is also not a good idea.
On the other hand, guest posting is a great way to gain inbound links if it is done properly. Link to a source for verification purposes when stating facts. You can also link to a source to elaborate on the topic or point of discussion. Just don’t over-do it.
If you know your industry and happen to write very well, submitting an opinion piece to Forbes or the New York Times is not out of the question. A link from such a prestigious outlet would go a long way in anyone’s link building campaign and could potentially drive substantial referral traffic to your site as well.
Many sites that have guest contributors often allow a link back to your site from the author bio page. Author bios are also a great way to build your credibility and show off your industry knowledge.
In 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts declared guest blogging dead and an unreliable technique in a link building strategy. I wholeheartedly disagree, but with stipulations. Just be sure to NOT do the things Cutts rails against in his post.
- Don’t pay for links in a guest post that pass PageRank – a violation of Google’s quality guidelines.
- Don’t write spammy, low quality articles.
- Don’t engage in “article spinning” – multiple versions of the same article but with very few differences and submitted to multiple websites.
- Don’t use guest posting as your only means of link building.
The key to guest blogging is this: don’t take shortcuts. Take your time and produce a top quality article in your area of expertise and don’t overload it with self-serving links back to your own website. Link sparingly, and only when appropriate. Provide unique content. Give readers information that is worth sharing.
Yes, I know––guest blogging is time consuming and a lot of work, especially if the piece is around 1500 words. Recent studies have shown that posts of 1500 words or more are more likely to rank at the top of organic SERPs and also have higher “shareability” on social media than shorter posts. So, if you are going to use guest blogging as part of your “web presence” strategy, remember that quality and size matters.
Infographic Link Building
Designing a great infographic is another white-hat method of building inbound links to your site.
The key here is to develop an awesome infographic that people will want to share. Then when you post it, also provide instructions on how to share the infographic that includes a link back to your page. A “share bar” that includes social media, email, and embed code is an excellent tool to help promote your work, because the easier it is to share, the more shares you are likely to gain.
Be sure to optimize your infographic. Use a good image file name, title, and alt attribute to include in your embed code.
Infographics work great on social sites and a little paid advertising would help get the ball rolling.
You’ll also want to reach out to those whose readers and followers would benefit from posting your infographic. Use your existing contacts, but don’t be afraid to reach out to new people and work on developing relationships. Just remember, a relationship should be a two-way street.
Press releases that are not newsworthy and contain links solely as a means of link building won’t amount to anything in your SEO strategy. However, if you have newsworthy information, by all means issue a press release.
A good press release should entice journalists and bloggers to write about your news and to link to you for verification. You shouldn’t have to fill your press release with links.
The problem with filling a press release with links is that many “news sites” simply reprint a press release which means that the links are the same everywhere the release is published. Google’s considers “links with optimized anchor text in press releases distributed on other sites” a link scheme and “unnatural link building”.
The preferred use of a press release is to prompt writers to write original stories with their own unique links––which is, in the eyes of Google, natural link building.
Internal Link Building
My favorite form of link building and one that has not been declared dead by Google is internal link building, which is link building on your very own website. Why is it my favorite? Because you control everything about it. You control the anchor text, the page position, and how many links point to a page.
Your menu system is a form of internal link building, but what I’m talking about here is internal linking in the body text of your pages.
Some pages have more authority than others and internal links can pass some of that authority, or “link juice”, from one page to another. One great tool to use to help determine how many internal links are pointing to a page is Google’s Internal Links Report. According to Google:
The number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page. If an important page does not appear in this list, or if a less important page has a relatively large number of internal links, you should consider reviewing your internal link structure.
What I suggest is that you add internal links to the pages starting at the top of the Internal Links Report pointing to pages that you want to rank higher, but make sure the pages are somewhat related or can be used to further illustrate a point.
The key to internal link building is moderation. You don’t want to add a ton of links to one of your popular pages, thus watering down its popularity in the eyes of the search engines. However, a few links from popular pages to a relevant page that you are trying to boost can be a big help to increasing the page’s organic search engine position.
Like I said earlier, these are only a few of the multitude of white-hat techniques available for link building, but are among the most popular. For the do-it-yourselfers out there looking for an exhaustive list of strategies, Jon Cooper of pointblankseo.com has put together the most comprehensive list of link building tactics I know of on the internet and one that I highly recommend (and use myself from time to time). It is also a great example of how link building works the best––by providing an asset that is top-quality, useful, and unique. If you can, then the link building process becomes a lot easier and will occur more naturally. I don’t know Jon Cooper or pointblankseo.com from Adam, but they just got a free link from me because they published an excellent tool that I can use, and so can my readers.
So…back to our question, is link building dead? Yes, the days of adding “any old link will do” are long dead and gone forever. But no, link building is not dead. It is an essential component for any long-term SEO strategy, BUT it must be done in adherence to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to avoid penalties. And Google––love ‘em or hate ‘em, is king of the search engines. So for long-term success, follow the rules.