Link building has it’s ups and downs in terms of the attitude towards it. Customers often believe it is equal to content in it’s importance and should therefore be the focus of all SEO work because SEOs don’t know content (yea, right). While some SEOs see it as a necessary evil and an even bigger pain in the rear than keyword research.
Last year saw a lot of changes with the updates Search Plus Your World (SPYW, nice acronym Google…), Penguin, and EMD. As a result, the link landscape changed dramatically. Throughout the year many sites were made aware of issues with “unnatural” links being detected by Google, accusations and penalties for buying links, and even the annihilation of entire business models because of algorithm changes.
2012 in review:
- Above The Fold update was released to reduce the value of sites with too many ads or non topic links above the fold as determined by the display area of the page in a browser window.
- During the year, Google updates the change known as Panda, frequently. The updates are meant to ‘clean up’ the SERPs. The focus of the updates are to reduce the number of spammy, useless listings showing organically. It is also believed that the algo change “leveled the playing field” per a comment made by Matt Cutts during a SMX conference. From research it is believed that Panda leveled the field by devaluing site’s that were considered to be ‘over optimized.’ In April, Google releases Penguin which devalued all sites using clear ‘black hat’ tactics. Black hat tactics as defined by Google’s Quality & Webmaster Guidelines.
- JC Penney is ‘outed’ by the New York Times in the article, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, for buying links which violates Google’s Quality Guidelines. Subsequently, JC Penney falls of the SERPs for a few keywords.
- During a season of outing and focus on paid links, the interactive marketing agency iAquire was allegedly banned by Google for buying links for its clients. According to an article in Search Engine Journal, this was one of the first times that an agency’s website was penalized for it’s work on other websites.
- BuildMyRank.com (BMR) is devastated when Google devalues blog networks and link wheels in March. They close their doors with a very sad, “It’s been a good run” blog post. (Note* The service and name has been changed/linked to a new service call HP Backlinks)
With all of the turmoil of 2012, it can be kind of scary facing the world of 2013 with a feeling of hope and expectancy when it comes to links. The biggest thing to remember is that links should come naturally and the term link building doesn’t necessarily mean physically building links. What?! But Chris, then what is link building!? I can hear you say.
What Is Link Building (in 2013 Terms)?
The consensus of what the term ‘link building‘ means is: a method for garnering the attention of users with web assets, Internet locations and properties that results in the placement of an embedded link from said property to the desired property. It is probably best to define what it is not (at least, what it shouldn’t be) in 2013.
Link building is not spam. And this means email spam, forum spam, spam-spam, and social spam. Link building is not some dark secret niche of SEO that takes years to master. It is a means to an end; in which users ultimately find what they’re looking for, clients obtain valuable recognition for quality content, and the search engines obtain more data that can help them give users the best answers to their questions.
I have always defined it in a timeless, simple way: link building is like sharing a book about a given topic, let’s say cars. You find others interested in that type of car or the components of the car and give them a copy of the book. As time goes on, you will find more people interested in the book and they will share the book naturally with others they think will be interested. This is natural link building. You are actively sharing content, not as a method of gaming the system (the libraries of the world), but as a method of helping people find something they’re looking for.
Social indicators are more important than they have ever been. Some would agree with Duane Forrester when he stated in a webinar, social will be more important than design, link building, and “SEO.” Some, including myself, see social as a way of link building but in a different way. Social indicators provide a way for search engines and users to confirm the importance provided via links, in defining a link as being authentic. If a site has thousands of links but no one is ‘talking’ about it, are those links natural and really valuable to the online community? Maybe, maybe not. Social helps shine more light on the value others see in a given site; it takes some of the ambiguity out of web credibility.
Key Steps in Adding and Building Links
- Cover the basics – focus first on the content you want to publicize and build for. Bad press isn’t good press with links, unlike Hollywood. Having a great link profile is for naught if the site the links point to is spam/ad/malware filled or just a mess. If the spiders see a problem with your site, they aren’t gonna worry about links. Check your homepage!
- Determine your links purpose – aside from keyword research, link research is more important. What are the reasons you are building the links?
- Increase traffic
- Expand influence
- Increase notoriety
- Publicize a particular focus
- Improve credibility
- Mix it up! In her post for newbies at link building, Maggie Walsh offers some strategies for building a worthwhile link profile. One key way is to vary the anchor text used and another is to vary the placement of link(s) in the content.
- Follow up and follow through – use a service or system to monitor your links; ones you’ve built, ones your building, and ones your planning to build. I use Raven primarily, but also maintain a spreadsheet (redundancy is your friend).
Okay, I did that. Now What?!
Well then, next up, step your game up playa! Some SEOs augment all link building strategies with some ‘advanced’ techniques outside of link outreach. That’s what that whole first part is talking about. It’s reaching out to like minded blogs, websites, directories, and services. Authentic link building as it were. Here are some ‘Scalable’ link building strategies, like those Matthew Green offers.
- Broken links – Identifying sites attempting to link to a resource that is no longer working (404), not where they thought it was (302, 301), or deprecated. This is important in the new year, as credibility becomes ever more important. Content is only as verifiable as the sources and resources supporting it.
- Blog posts and commenting – Aside from guest posting, in which the payment (honestly) for the link on another site, is the content; commenting is not a bad thing. No matter what you’ve heard. It isn’t a game changer but it shows there is a human behind the website—for the most part…
- Expanding established links – in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), you can identify pages that are already linking to you. Often these sites are owned by individuals of a ‘like minded nature’ or even in control of a network of sites. By first looking at GWT then using Whois.Domaintools.Com or another investigative service, you can find business owners interest in 1) your topic 2) your insight 3) adding links and/or content.
- Share the limelight – Leverage social by tagging others in your social postings. Once a post or page is created, webmasters will typically share the post on a social network. The article may contain references or links to other postings, tagging the authors of those post will make them aware of your content. If they like what you said they just might link to your article or at least share it with their audience.
— AChrisTurner (@AChrisTurner) January 3, 2013
Environments change, climates are altered, and strategies are developed. What never changes is human nature. Always remember that fact, and start there when investigating marketing avenues. Link building is what you make of it, really. It begins by remembering that users and search engines want authentic information, links are references. Building new links should represent the value a site offers to the world, justification for the site’s existence.
The examples at the beginning of this post prove that when a link building strategy deviates from being authentic, the result is the same; bad press, bad results, and unsuccessful link sculpting. There is no master strategy. There is no golden ticket. There is only time, effort and quality. In the past it was believed that quantity trumpeted quality. However, quality has been and will be the focus of the search engines’ updates and should be the focus of any white hat SEOs.
Quality link building starts with a focus on users and end with users; like Tron said (being a user protection application) “I fight, for the user!” When that is the moto behind what you’re doing, strategy is second nature−because you will find ways to promote your client, product, and website in places that make sense for the mission.