Link building is one of the most talked about components in search engine optimization and it is also the most complicated part of an SEO’s job. Search engines, including Google, use links to crawl the web and add web pages to their index for relevant queries. These links, when pointed to a website or a webpage, hurl the link juice and lend domain authority to the linked website.
However, given the dynamic nature of search engine algorithms, the landscape of backlinks is always changing. As a result, search engine optimizers, web owners, and bloggers struggle for links the same. To make the situation more difficult, Google openly discourages all sorts of link building activities and penalizes websites that are found to be involved in explicit link building activities.
I am kind of a veteran in link building. I have been building links for a long, long time and I am well aware of the unnerving truths and ugly PR tactics that go into building links. So, I thought maybe it is time I write an article on the topic to help all the newbies in the link building turf and give them an unblemished perspective of all the things link building is about (or not).
1. Don’t Fall For Fairy-Tale Link Building Techniques.
If you have been on the internet long enough, you must have read this adage at least once, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
Well, this bit ‘alone’ is the most legit thing on the internet.
There are tons of articles on the web that talk about hundreds of techniques that can deliver thousands of backlinks to your website in a matter of minutes (or hours or days or weeks?!?). Those too-good-to-be-true articles are f*cking fairy tales.
Bloggers who fantasize link building and emphasize that it is possible to build a glorious backlink profile without investing oodles of dollars, in a matter of days or weeks, are a bundle of lies.
It is okay to implement tactics and follow the footsteps of existing bloggers but don’t take your expectations too high. It is not going to happen in days. Don’t set the bar too high. Take one step at a time, learn, unlearn and work out strategies that make sense and deliver results for you and your website.
2. The Three P’s of Link Building.
Do you know the P’s of link building? PR? Price? Placement? No.
It is true that relationship building helps build links. But PR is time-consuming, it builds over time. Similarly, paid links can be done but paid links are high-risk (read number 6), and prove to be little help in the perpetual development of link profile.
Placement, on the other hand, can be determined later in the process.
Let me introduce the three P’s of link building that are actually helpful and might get you backlinks in the long run:
Though practice, in the context of link building, does not make you anywhere near perfect, it does help alleviate the rigors of the process. The more link building you do the better you get at skimming through blogs, knowing who to contact and how to contact, and composing a pitch that initiates a response.
The second most important element of building links is the ‘pitch’ i.e. what’s in it for the target blog. No one wants to link a blog that has nothing valuable such as link juice, link exchange, great content, dollar, etc. to offer. So, make sure you pitch the right thing. If you do not wish to invest dollars, you might want to offer something else that matters for the target blog.
Link building is not for the weak of heart. It takes persistence to go through tons of websites, find and contact website editors and follow up on conversations, over and over again, to get a few links. If you are not determined, you cannot survive. Your career, as a link builder, is doomed. Not happening. Find another job.
3. Links are earned, not bought.
Google webmaster guidelines discourage link schemes and state pretty clear that buying or selling do-follow links can negatively impact a website’s ranking in search engine results. This includes link exchange, sponsored links, exchanging goods or services for links, or offering free service in exchange for a review (link).
- Links are supposed to be a byproduct of great content.
- Great content ensues great response. It is consumed and linked.
- People link and share content that inspires, connects or adds value.
- When people share content, it gets viral.
- Therefore, if you wish to create links, focus on writing great content.
4. There are no cheat-sheets. No magic words. And certainly, no shortcuts.
Honestly, there are no magic words or tricks.
Link building takes time. Not hours. Not days. Neither weeks.
It takes MONTHS and YEARS to build a natural link profile that prompts attention and boosts domain authority (DA). Google does not want websites to manipulate and misuse links to get ranked. Therefore, the Google algorithm is designed to apprehend unnatural link schemes and patterns.
Link building, as per Google guidelines, is not simple. It is HARD WORK, consistent and concentrated hard work.
5. The indirect approach to natural link building.
Link building, for sure, is one of the most important components in search engine optimization. But it is not the ONLY component. There are other components too that help Google algorithm decide how to rank a webpage.
Google uses over 200 ranking factors to decide the fate of a web page. From domain name/age to user experience and page load speed, there are tons of factors that contribute to the search engine rankings. If you wish your website to rank higher and faster, first focus on factors that are within your control, such as:
Links are great but if your content is unique or your website provides an exceptional user experience people will want to link your website.
6. Paid is the fastest route to link building but it is not the best one.
There are tons of link building techniques out there but none of them guarantees link, except paid, of course. Unless it is a sponsored article or a paid promotion, getting a relevant link, on a niche keyword, is a challenge.
Paid link building makes everything easier, faster and better.
But hold on, here is what Google says about paid links:
So, paid link building is a big no, no. Don’t get tempted by the ease it offers. Paid links are no match to the natural, content-driven, links. Avoid them at all costs.
7. Nobody wants to link to a new website.
If you are a new startup or your website’s DA is less than 20, tighten up your seatbelt because you have a long, bumpy road to go.
A little mechanics first…
When a website links you, that website’s authority is passed on to your website. That is, linked websites share the link juice. Link juice is a metaphor for the website authority. More link juice means more expertise or authority in the subject. (Because a lot of websites are linking you) But there’s a misconception amongst webmasters and bloggers that linking to a low DA (or PR) website will have a negative impact on their website and it might put their search engine rankings at risk.
That misdirected information hinders link building for startups.
The truth is, Google call tell apart new and spam websites. It is smart enough to identify junk websites and put them in their right place.
So, don’t get disheartened if you do not get a link or response from the website right away. Write great content and continue to work hard to get links. Nothing worth having comes easy, people will start recognizing your content in time.
8. Blog editor is the king.
You might have heard ‘content is the king’ over and over again. But ask a link builder and they’ll tell you, blog editor reigns supreme in the Amazons of link-sphere.
Here’s the drill:
- Find a website.
- Connect with the editor.
- Then, pitch content + link.
The blog editor can influence the fate of your link. Follow the drill. It helps.
It is important to connect with the editor because:
- Editor, familiar with you/your work, will be more inclined to post your link/content.
- It is easier to negotiate the placement of keyword or link when you are at ease with the editor.
So, if you are hunting links, get to know the editor first!
9. Links are not permanent.
Everything these days is a little less permanent, links too. Even if your link is posted on a website, there is no guarantee that it will stay there for a long time.
Some bloggers/websites regularly update their content and hence, get rid of links that are old or offer little value at present.
Sometimes, some websites change link priorities and remove those links that do not conform to the new standards.
Sometimes, Google throws a curveball and forces webmasters to disavow or unlink links that were once the lifeblood of their website.
Do track all your links and update, add and edit new links, fresh juice, as needed.
10. Beware of link patterns.
The link in author profiles is a big no, no in link building. Do you know why? Because Google can detect link patterns and algorithms are smart enough to know when a business, author or blogger follows a pattern to build links.
It is no secret that Google discourages link building. Google even derides link building and if you are caught doing something shady, you are sure to get into trouble with Google. And mind you, since Penguin update, link penalties have become more severe and harder to fight.
Not just author profiles, Google algorithms can detect and make out patterns in terms of content and link placements too. So, here is some advice for all you lazy SEOs:
- Don’t stick to one keyword. Use variations or multiple keywords.
- Never link the same link. Diversify links.
- Avoid irrelevant links.
- Be as natural as possible.
- Focus on quality, not quantity.
- Investigate the spam score before publishing your link on a website.
11. Look out for the link farms.
Link farms exist. No news.
Just in case you’re not familiar with link farms, here’s a layman definition for you:
A link farm is any group of websites that all hyperlink to every other site in the group. A link farm is a form of spamming the index of a web search engine. – Wikipedia.
Here’s what a link farm looks like:
People are willing to go to these extents to build links. But hey, don’t be that fool. Not worth it!
Link farms are on Google radars. Sooner or later, Google will find a way to detect those hidden farms. Once out of the shadows, it’ll be a matter of minutes (or perhaps seconds) for Google to pull down everything connected to those farms.
So, don’t get tempted and avoid link farms at all costs.
12. No-Follow links are not completely useless.
It is true that links that have ‘no-follow’ attribute associated to them might not be as helpful as ‘do-follow’ links. But no-follow links are not downright useless.
Here are some ways no-follow links can help:
- Links build awareness.
- Links can bring conversions.
- Links lead to more links.
A typical web user will not notice whether a link is followed or not, so a no-follow link is still great to navigate users to your website. They might click through and visit your website, nonetheless.
Done. Not Done.
Link building is so vast that it is hard to summarize it in a single blog post. I am sure there are still lots of areas that are untapped or I skipped due to time and readability constraints. But don’t worry, this blog has just started off and I will continue to add fresh content here. Meanwhile, if there’s something you really want to know more or think I can help with, I’ll be happy to read your thoughts in the comment section or tweet me at @AyeshaAmbreen.