This post is aimed squarely at people who are not SEO practitioners yet but want to learn a little about Search Engine Optimization, as well as to those who feel a bit mystified over how to “do” link building and, (more to the point) what you are and aren’t “allowed” to do.
Lately, link building has become an increasingly volatile mine field, so the first step is to make sure you are know what constitutes “bad” when it comes to link building. And then we can talk about how to do it “the right way”.
Bad Link Building Methods
If you’re talking about link building you are probably talking about SEO and building links in order to improve your rankings on Google (and other search engines of course!). Over the years the practice of link building has included several different strategies which Google has ruled to be spammy and has killed off one way or another.
You do of course have the right to build links to your website in whatever way you want. But if you want to rank well in Google, then you’re going to have to play by their rules. So here’s a quick run-down of the less favorable options.
Submitting to things like directories, article sites, and anywhere where it’s more about volume than quality is pretty much a no-no. There are arguably some directories (maybe three out of several thousand) which still have a little value, but in my opinion these aren’t worth worrying about.
If you want to submit to directories and similar sorts of sites, ensure they have a very strict editorial criteria. DMOZ is arguably the only directory that matters, and here is a post on Slamdot explaining why.
Paid / Compensated Links
Regardless of what you call it, paying for links is advertising, and when used for advertising purposes that’s great. But if you are paying someone to link to your site for the purposes of improving search engine results you are in a bad territory.
If you want to pay for advertising, that’s fine, but links should be nofollowed if you want to keep Google happy (and like it or not, you do). Furthermore, depending on where you live you may be legally required to declare to visitors that a link is paid for.
And also remember that payment might not be monetary. If you are giving free samples in return for reviews you could be getting into “paid link” territory. This video from Matt Cutts explains how Google look at this sort of thing.
Blog commenting used to be a great way to build links, and you could argue that links from blog comments are editorial because the blogger must approve a comment (and link) before it gets published.
The reality though is that blog commenting is not a good way to build links for the purposes of SEO. This is because 99% of blog comments are nofollow and even the dofollow ones are likely discounted by Google.
Fortunately, because most comments are nofollow, you are unlikely to get your site penalized by overdoing it. You will just be wasting your time!
With that said of course, blog commenting in the right way is a powerful way to generate traffic, build your brand, and “earn links”.
There is a crucial difference though between link building “for the links” and doing it for more sensible reasons, but we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Guest posting is a popular topic right now and there is no shortage of blog posts discussing whether or not guest blogging is dead. The simple answer is as a way to directly build links, guest blogging it is definitely not a good idea any more.
But, building links was never the main reason for guest posting anyway. The reason that I wrote this guest post for SEJ was certainly not for an extra back link (at least, not for the SEO benefits).
It’s All About Mentality
The key difference between “good” link building and “bad” is in the mentality with which you approach it. The main similarity of the bad tactics I have mentioned above (and any that I may have forgotten) is they are tactics which build links purely to game the search engine.
So if you’re ever in doubt, ask yourself this:
If this link had zero value for SEO, would I still want it?
You wonder how exactly Google can tell what your intent is, and the answer is that they can’t, at least not directly. But if you only build links for the sake of links, it will quickly reflect in the types of links you build.
The value in “good” link building is generally for the increase in brand recognition, traffic generation, and gained credibility. The actual link may or may not be directly beneficial to your SEO, but if that is the only benefit your link building gets you then you are in trouble.
The Two Ingredients Of Link Earning
The term you may have heard lately is “link earning”, because the only effective way to gain the sorts of links which help you to rank is to earn them. Unfortunately, earning links is really hard, which is why for so long people have been building them instead.
To earn links you need two things:
- Content that people actually want to link to (ie, it must be good, helpful, worthwhile)
- Attention from the right people, people who actually have the ability to link to you
The first step is not easy, but there’s no reason why anyone can’t develop a solid content strategy and learn to write good, linkable content.
For popular, established sites, this second step is easy. But if you have a small website with little traffic, the biggest challenge is getting the right people to actually find your content and want to share it.
As it happens, my previous post for SEJ was about just that: read how to generate traffic and kickstart your content marketing to learn how to find that vital second ingredient.
Focus on Building Other Traffic
I’m not going say you need to build a successful business without Google traffic, because traffic from Google can be very lucrative. But in terms of off page factors (links, brand mentions, etc…) Google has now got to the point where artificially increasing your rankings is very difficult.
However, all of the activities which are acceptable and effective at improving your rankings just so happen to also be solid marketing strategies in their own rights.
So if you focus your efforts squarely on generating, keeping, and converting traffic from other sources, you will probably see your organic search engine traffic increasing over time too. These activities include:
- Getting links from websites which can send you traffic
- Making friends with the people who run those sites
- Building up an engaged social media following
- Understanding which activities produce the most traffic
- Improving your website with a focus on user experience
Featured Image: Evil Duck via Wikimedia Commons
Image #1: Screenshot taken May 2014
Image #2: Screenshot taken May 2014
Image #3: Screenshot taken May 2014
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