Link Building Requires a Targeted, Manual Promotion

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Link Building Requires a Targeted, Manual Promotion

Despite what some in the SEO community will say, link building really hasn’t changed. Not that much anyway.

Link building is, and always has been, the manual promotion of your website to another site. This version of link building has existed since Eric Ward practically invented the trade in 1994.

My definition of link building isn’t the only one out there, though. There are others who think of link building as algorithmic manipulation and spam, devoid of any real marketing purposes.

As far as I’m concerned, these tactics completely misrepresent real link building.

Skewed by Spam

I won’t deny that link building has an unfortunate past. There was an arms race of spammy links to manipulate Google’s algorithm, which confuses link building today with spam links of the past. For years and years, many people spammed in the name of link building.

Before Google introduced the Penguin algorithm in April 2012, spam links threatened their business model. A search engine’s business (i.e. Google) is only as good as the amount of trust people put into their results. For many years, spammers were threatening the trust Google had established. Manipulating Google’s algorithm meant less than ideal sites in their search results.

These tactics included everything from hiding links behind html to submitting links to article directories that no human would ever use as an actual resource.

There’s an argument to be made that these practices wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for Google’s algorithm. At the very least, they wouldn’t have been as prominent. The algorithm has always put a great emphasis on links, but it wasn’t until Penguin that the algorithm could effectively discriminate a natural link from a manipulative one.

As aggressive as Penguin was, it didn’t fully erase the perception of link building as spam. Not immediately anyway.

But now that we’re three years removed from the first Penguin update, it’s become increasingly clear that link building is still valid.

Links continue to be critical to not only organic search visibility, but the entirety of digital marketing campaigns as well. It’s important to realize that link building is promotion.

Link Building is Promotion

Spammers spend their time employing manipulative tactics to game the algorithm, tactics that do nothing to better the online experience for people.

The link building I know and do is far different from this. Link builders conduct industry research, contact other webmasters within the industry, and effectively explain the value our sites provide.

When you boil it down, link building is simply online promotion.

When you build links, you have to engage with the authorities and influencers in your niche. If you want these people to link to you, you have to convince them why it’s worth their while.

There are only two reasons why a site isn’t linking to you:

  1. They are unaware of your existence
  2. They’re not convinced a link to your site is necessary to their audience

Both of these reasons can be remedied through link building.

In case A, the website may have never heard of you because you haven’t engaged with them yet. That’s okay – this is why you’re building links in the first place!

If it’s case B, that’s okay too. Some webmasters need convincing. It’s not their job to inherently see the value in your site, pages, content, etc.

It’s your job as a link builder to explain why they should want to link to you.

If there’s a website known as a valuable platform within your industry, you should attempt to engage the people who operate it. Email them, explain the unique value proposition of your site, and why it benefits the reader of their sites. Be explicit.

Either way, you’re promoting your brand. It’s not large-scale promotion, like a 30-second ad on television is. It’s much more personal than that – it’s direct, one-on-one contact with another important person in your industry. It’s real engagement with a real human who cares about your industry much as you. This sort of relationship can lead to plenty of other marketing opportunities beyond link building as well. It’s one of the reasons I love link building.

Link Building Complements All Marketing

Apart from building organic search visibility, link building supercharges your other marketing efforts.

Link building may not have changed, but the online landscape surrounding it is incredibly different.

For example, when link building was in its nascent stages, no online marketers knew what content marketing was. Today, content marketing is all anybody wants to talk about. Take a look at this chart from Google Trends:

contentmarketingtrendsScreenshot taken from Google Trends on May 16, 2015

The noise surrounding content marketing has resulted in a lot of confusion. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we’ve had potential clients ask us if content marketing is what we do to secure links.

Let me make this clear: link building and content marketing are NOT the same. They require different skill sets, and they have differing end goals.

Although they may not be the same, the fact is that they can coincide well with each other.

Really, link building can add to any of your online marketing campaigns.

Maybe people don’t click on your PPC ads because your brand hasn’t established much visibility yet. Link building can help. Ranking in organic search will help to cultivate brand recognition.

Maybe people aren’t sharing your amazing content on social media. Link building can help here as well. Remember that the majority of traffic online is directed by search engines. The more visible your content is, the more likely people will find it and share it.

A lack of content visibility will plague a content marketing campaign as well. Once again, link building can help with that. The goal of content marketing isn’t necessarily to build links. People may be reading your content, but not linking to it. A trained link builder will take the time to effectively persuade these people to link to it, creating more opportunities for others to find you in the future.

The point is, that no matter what online marketing strategy you’re using, link building can help. You may be earning links with the other strategies, and more power to you if that’s true. But for every link you earn, there are five more worth building.


Link building hasn’t really changed. Legitimate link building is the same as it ever was. It’s still a promotional tactic that increases your visibility in organic search. It’s a practice that requires you to engage with your relevant community, and to persuade them why your site is valuable.

Real link building isn’t sitting at your computer and exhausting a series of instant submit directories. Penguin eradicated this and other spammy practices, and we should be grateful for it.

Because of Penguin, link building doesn’t have to be a dirty word. We can keep building the natural links your site deserves; the kind of links that will benefit your site and all of your other marketing efforts.

Jon Ball
Jon Ball is CEO and co-founder of Page One Power. He is a research expert that specializes in the implementation of highly effective link building... Read Full Bio
Jon Ball
Jon Ball
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  • R.Rogerson

    I’m honestly stuck.
    I really, Really want to say “good job” and “great article” … and it was – well written, concise, informative. I actually enjoyed it.
    But – there are some large holes in it.

    You say “link building” and then associate it with “natural links”.
    Natural links automatically exclude those that are arranged – which is what you are writing about (no matter the quality, relevancy or trust).

    You declare certain forms of link building as spammy with the intention of manipulating algorithms … only later to say that your method is a promotional tactic to make you more visible in Search. Does that not mean your method is also manipulating rankings?

    I’m sorry to say – but it sounds like you are drawing a line between link building that is carefully researched and personally orchestrated with quality sites,
    and the other forms (which would include mass submissions, automated submissions, blanket emails, comment dropping, forum dropping, guest posting, link purchasing for PR gain etc. etc. etc.).
    I agree – there is a divide, and it’s a big one!
    But, at the end of the day – it’s still link building … nothing “natural” in it.

    It wouldn’t have been to bad if you’d covered things like targeting relevant and related sites with high traffic that could increase lead generation, or further brand promotion, or increase audience reach, or gain from association with influencers or market leaders.
    But you didn’t really mention any of that as features or benefits of your approach.
    All you really did is say that you don’t like automated and low-value target link building.


    • Jon Ball

      Thanks for the comment R. Rogerson. I’m glad you appreciated the writing at least.

      It appears to me that our biggest difference here is our respective definitions of the phrase “natural links.” Your definition seems to be that a natural link is a link that was published completely organically – no outside influence from other webmasters. I’m sure many would agree with that definition.

      However in my opinion, it’s the characteristics of the link that matter more than the process through which it was obtained. I’m more concerned with whether or not the link is a natural fit. Does the link make sense on the page? Would a regular visitor of that site actually find the link useful? If the answer to both of those questions is “yes,” then in my estimation that link is natural.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment!

      • R.Rogerson

        You can dress it however you like – at the end of the day, everyone knows it’s not natural.

        There’s not even anything wrong with a bit of un-natural link building.
        So long as the link is from a worthy site, going to a worthy page, and benefits the end-user … and it’s done to scale with “natural” link acquisition rates – it’s perfectly safe and fine.

        The problems start to occur when the scale of unnatural links exceeds those of natural, or the value relationship is of.
        So long as the client is made aware of the potential risks – even any “ethical” problems are covered.

        Personally, I don’t understand the pretence or dressing up – but if that is what gets the clients paying, and you’re happy with the legerdemain, then all’s-well.

    • Mike Humphreys

      ‘Link building’ has become a dirty term in our office and something we’re now very cautious about. My site was hit with a Manual Action, not because of directory links, but because of placed links. These were arranged in 2011 and were integrated in genuine blog posts that we had written. The problem was that these links, for all their value all had the same targeted keywords as anchor text, all appeared around the same time and all linked to the same pages.

      I’m now clearing up the dirty work (a very time consuming process!) But I’m convinced that had these same links varied more, with anchor text pointing simply to our brand, we wouldn’t be reaching for the Disavow Tool. My advice would be to create genuinely good, shareable content that people have reason to link to, and let your partners know it’s there for them to share.

  • Subodh Kumar

    Thank’s Jon a nice view on link building. Give some idea on page rank update.

    • Jon Ball

      Glad you enjoyed the post Subodh! Thanks for reading.

  • Sweta Mishra

    Great post Jon you have written it very well. Can you suggest me some tools to check out all of the back links of a website free?

    • Jon Ball

      Glad you enjoyed the post Sweta! As to your question, unfortunately there are no particularly amazing free options, outside of your webmaster tools. Open Site Explorer, Majestic, and Raven will only allow a few searches before you have to subscribe.

    • R.Rogerson

      Have you kept your server access logs?
      Any inbound links that provide any traffic will appear in those. More than worth keeping track of them.

      Googles webmaster tools (now Search Console) has a bit of info.
      So does their Analytics.

      Sites like ahrefs, openlinkprofiler and backlinkwatch will also give you a sample of links.
      Put all of those together, and you should see a fair % of links (though as Jon says, you will have to subscribe (and/or pay) for better link information).

  • Ahad Anwar

    Thank you Jon Ball.
    Nice tips and tricks and a very informative post on Link Building Requires a Targeted, Manual Promotion.
    I have bookmarked this and will share with my clients. Thanks.
    Backlinks will always be a part of the algorithms and although page rank has less of a factor today than it did say 3 years ago, it is still important. Quality over quantity is key today. We also shouldn’t put all our trust to the search engines either. Utilising the traffic and customers we already have is where the money is. Collect and manage those customers more effectively and you will see better results.
    DoFollow is great but never underestimate the importance of the NoFollow. Your links are still live and will get you traffic but without the link juice and NoFollow sites should still be used but in a slightly different way. Get your links in appropriately and reap the benefits by having an opt-in form and a freebie on your site and gather emails.
    It is also important to say that the effort we all put into getting good quality backlinks is rewarded and not simply wasted. Ensuring that you are only going for backlinks from sites that are relevant to your own niche, product or service is key. No point in getting a backlink from a PR8 Medical website if your own site is selling ladies pink handbags. Google will catch on and you will alienate your visitors. Also very important that the traffic that a backlink generates to your own site is of course captured, funnelled and managed correctly once it arrives to maximise your profit potential. Your list is your profit and your pension, as they say.
    Can you also possibly add an updated post for dofollow forum sites lists as I think that may also help your readers. Best method for posting on a forums for backlinks or general links is often misunderstood or largely misinterpreted. We already know not to go in all guns blazing and start firing your links everywhere but as important is not to place any links in the signature until you have contributed to that forum and built up a bit of authority.
    I know that it is in many marketers nature to want to just throw links in and want instant gratification but you need to hold back from doing that and you will be rewarded ten-fold for doing so. You need to think in reverse. Imagine amassing 300 or more posts and in doing so gaining some credibility and probably likes and thumbs up etc for being so helpful and giving away all your knowledge for free. Only then do you add your signature. You already have all the kudos and now you have 300 + links being placed at the same time into the signature of every post you have made and each one of those helpful posts has already received kudos. Any idea what that does for your credibility and how that increases your CT and CR? It works far better than posting links after just the first 10 posts so have some patience and do it correctly. Just ensure that you have a decent email autoresponder to catch all those names and email addresses when they start landing on your site or blog.
    Thanks again.

    • Jon Ball

      Thank you for the kind words Ahad, I’m very glad you enjoyed the post enough to show to your clients!

      We couldn’t agree more about the value of nofollow links. Even if they don’t necessarily pass any link juice, some nofollow links can be incredibly powerful. For example, a Wikipedia link is nofollowed, and does very little for an organic search campaign. Yet I assure you that the list of clients who would reject a link on Wikipedia is tiny.

      We also agree that forum link building can be done naturally. However, I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would advise a client to pursue it aggressively. The links you acquire are of relatively little power, and serve as a time distraction from other, more powerful link building tactics.

      Thanks again for reading!

  • Mandeep Singh

    Yes, truly said. Link building is also a part of manual promotion of once website.

    • Jon Ball

      Absolutely Mandeep. Thanks for reading!

      • Mandeep Singh

        Yes, Sure Jon. Thanks You too for bring such a great post on that topic.

  • Tan

    Link building will always need manual efforts. However these manual efforts are also “unnatural links”, you just make it seems “natural” to search engine. A really natural and organic link is actually obtained without any effort because for some reason people really want to include the link without being asked.

  • Jeff Pederson

    Great post! I am and always have been a believer in link building for success. I agree with you and I am happy the way things have and continue to go because link building can be a good and fun thing. With all if us trying to improve I see it being a benefit actually for SEO people and I see long term efforts being utilized and the quick-trick-seo going bye-bye.

  • Sunny

    Hi Jon

    I totally agreed with you.Link building is the most important part of our website and increase visibility in search engine.

  • Mirza Sharz

    Hi Jon Ball, I have a question for you: what is the big different between link building and link farming? Sorry for my stupid question and I hope you would give me a smart funny answer ; )