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Is Link Building Still Relevant?

Recently, Google’s webmaster trends analyst John Mueller said in a Google+ live hangout that link building was something to be avoided for SEO professionals. His statement was in answer to what could be considered a common question,

“Is link building in any way good?”

Mueller replied:

“In general, I’d try to avoid that.”

Instead, he said, the goal of the SEO professional should be to ensure that standout content is created and made simple for users to share on social, and on their own blogs and sites. He also implied that link building could harm your site and that the ranking algorithm takes a lot of factors into consideration, including of course backlinks.

Low Quality Links Can Harm Your Site

To most SEOs this will come as something of a surprise as link building has long been considered one of the most (if not the most) important activities that we can do. Of course, much like every other factor that can affect ranking, links have also been abused for quite some time now. It’s no surprise then that Google are essentially advising against it. Link building, when done incorrectly, can of course be detrimental to your site, but if you know what you’re doing and if you don’t cut corners, it can also be hugely valuable.

By creating high quality content and getting it shared around your community, it’s likely that you’ll attract links from other sites that want to reference or even publish your information. We’re not just talking about written content; great infographics are a means for attracting backlinks, so are videos and images. However, it’s still necessary to create this content and that is where many SEOs find that their hands are tied.

This is especially true for those who deal with small businesses. These often don’t have the budget to invest in a daily blog, along with downloadable content such as ebooks and white papers and imagery.

So what’s an SEO to do?

According to Eric Ward, it’s simple. He says,

“Stop all your linking and publicity related activities. You now have one single solitary content mission:

Be awesome.”

So there we have it, we simply have to be awesome. Eric does have a point though, his suggestion that we all be awesome is concerned with the “social version of 1994’s “build it and they will come” approach, or the 2010 version of “just make it an app and they will download it.”

Of course, we all know that this simply isn’t true. Any independent app developer will tell you that just building an app was never enough. You have to market it, you have to make it show up in crowded app stores and you have to support it.

So what does Eric mean?

He was being sarcastic and goes on to give many reasons why link building (despite the 5,300 articles proclaiming it to be) is not yet dead.

Link Building is Not Dead

Google has to be very careful about what it and its representatives say on a public forum. All too easily comments can be taken out of context and before you know it a link-building-is-dead debate is upon us. Google don’t like SEOs building unnatural links and would much prefer it if we just let our content do the work for us. But whilst it’s a good tactic and should be a part of your strategy, content needs eyes on it to be useful.

Social media has helped to overcome a lack of traffic for those sites that don’t put too much work into SEO and on its own it can work to good effect. But you still want to show up in search engine results and whilst Twitter has now been added to Google search results, what about Facebook, and Pinterest?

So yes, you will still need to participate in link building if you really want to get found.

Tips for Expert Link Building

When Matt Cutts banned guest posting for SEO, it was due to the huge volume of fluff posts that we were seeing appear online. Clearly these were intended for no other purpose than to gain a backlink. 300 word posts with very little in the way of valuable content did nothing for the overall quality of the web, so Google put a (kind of) stop to it.

You should still guest post as a part of your SEO, but rather than create a quickly put together post on nothing, put some meat on its bones. Guest posting can be very valuable to your site, especially if you’re posted on one of the larger sites. You may only get a nofollow link, but these are not useless, despite the rather rabid race for getting a dofollow.

You should also look at the following:

  • Creating infographics – you can offer them around as well as place them on your site with an embed code so that they can be easily posted on another site with a backlink in the code.
  • Directories – whilst these should be approached with caution and low-quality sites disregarded, good industry directories will do no harm.
  • Comments – again you really should be careful with these and don’t spam other sites. However, getting involved in useful discussion with people on blogs in your niche will give you a nice backlink (depending on the site, some don’t allow any URLs) and allow you to show off your expertise. If you leave thoughtful and insightful comments, then it’s likely that others will notice and click through to your site.

Link building is what you make it. If you carry it out poorly, always looking for shortcuts to earn you a link, then yes you could quite easily get a penalty. But if you follow the rules and don’t participate in black hat tactics, then it’s really unlikely to do your site any harm at all.

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