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I was recently interviewed about SEO tactics that might be considered risky in today’s optimization atmosphere. One of the things I like about people asking me questions like that is that it gives me the chance to really think about it. You go to answer the question and then think, “Well, now, what a minute. Is that what we do now?” or “Is that how we really do things?”
In this case, it really got me thinking about link building.
Link Building, The SEO Scapegoat
Ever since the Google Penguin update, link building has had a pretty shifty reputation. After the update, there was this sort of mass “take my site link down or I’ll disavow you” craze. It was insane. I’d bet we received well over 100 requests to take links to other sites off our pages.
I understand; I mean, Google Penguin is targeting inbound links, so you do the panicked thing and try to get rid of as many as possible.
But here’s the thing. The links from our pages were exactly the kind of links Google was looking for as a positive signal:
- You didn’t pay for them.
- You didn’t ask for them.
- We used them in relevant pages.
- We didn’t use any exact match anchor text.
- We used them because we felt they’d be helpful to our readers.
In other words, they were absolutely natural backlinks. The kind SEOs work their butts off for.
The other knee-jerk reaction was to turn all links nofollow. As if that looks natural.
Now here we are, in a post-Penguin, post-Panda world of optimized marketing and what do we have?
We’re Afraid of Building Links
Link building has turned into a four-letter word, hasn’t it. Many business owners and optimizers alike look at it like it has four heads, and all four heads have big, business-like teeth. We’re afraid to even broach the subject; it’s turned into a bad thing. It doesn’t help when people like Google’s John Mueller say they’d “avoid practices like that”.
Truth is, though, link building still works.
Post-Penguin Link Building
What I’m sure Mueller meant, and what some optimizers know, is that it’s not the link; it’s the quality of the link. The reason so many sites were hit is simply because the link quality was poor.
Think about all the things you may have done in the past while trying to get your site seen. Article directories, anyone? How about the spun articles that were so popular by grey and black hatters a few years back? Never mind the clients who have come to us because they had a whole bunch of links on non-relevant, spammy directories from some shyster who said it’d do them good.
There is a right way and a wrong way to do link building, and it hasn’t changed much from when people were placing ads in the corners of store windows before the advent of the Internet. Here are a few, in no particular order:
Guest Blogging: An Investment in Public Relations
Now, I know Matt Cutts said guest blogging is dead:
“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.”
Later on, he updated the post:
“I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. “
The two paragraphs are very important. In the first, you find that the complaint about guest posting is because it’s too spammy. In the second, you get an acknowledgement that it’s still a worthwhile endeavor… for the right reasons and done the right way.
Rather than looking at guest posting as a way to gain links, think of it as a PR investment with a backlink as a bonus.
Quality Content: Naturally Attractive
I know, I know. If you hear “quality content” one more time you’re going to scream. So start screaming, because I’m going to keep talking about it.
Quality content is SO vital to the success of your site. You need people talking about your company, your website, your services and so on. You don’t want people talking about you as an example of the worst fails on the Internet.
So what is quality content? Among other things, quality content:
- Is original – Although there’s “nothing new under the sun”, that doesn’t mean you can’t write something and put in your two cents worth. Don’t article spin and don’t offer duplicate content with just a few words changed. If originality is hard to come by and inspiration has gone by the wayside:
- Follow the trending topics on Twitter from your industry. Write a blog post about one of them with your thoughts on the matter.
- Keep a notepad close by. Whenever you have an idea for a post, write it down. When inspiration runs dry, pull the notepad out and pick one to write about.
- Answers a question – Think about some questions your clients or customers have asked. If one person wants to know, there are others who also want to know. If you keep a running list of questions, you have an immediate list of ideas when you want to write another post.
- Is actionable – Provide your readers with something to do when they finish the post, such as advice they can apply, or step-by-step instructions for product use, and so on.
- Is free of fluff – Don’t push more words into a post just to add to a word count. Make every word count. A long post isn’t necessarily a good post any more than a short post is a bad one.
- Is entertaining – If it isn’t informative, make it entertainment. For that matter, make it entertaining information. One or the other, or both. The Onion has the entertainment part down to an art.
Test, test, test the types of content that do well. Check your data. Did your last post bring in traffic? Did you get an increase in backlinks (even two or three is more than you had the day before)? Did people share it? If the answer is yes to any of those, pay attention and write more of that type.
Audience and Human Engagement: The Focus of All Marketing Effort
This is the part that Matt Cutts was talking about, and what I really want to get across to you today. If you don’t get anything else from this article, get this.
It’s hard to think of “link building” in terms of “engagement”, but that’s what brings the natural links search engines are looking for. We’re not talking about websites linking to websites. Websites, on their own, don’t link to anything. It’s the human behind the website that does the linking. In other words, relationship links to relationship.
Yes, it takes time. No, this is not a quick fix for ranking. Yes, you could potentially spend months building a relationship, only to have it fall through. However, strong relationships are the biggest and best commodity available, whether you’re creating friendships or strengthening B2C or B2B relationships.
Strong, positive relationships can:
- Create brand advocates
- Create backlinks
- Build authority
- Increase traffic
- More, more, more
Link Building Still Has Its Uses
I know this stand might be a little controversial, especially considering how many I’ve read that say link building has gone the way of the Dodo. However, backlinks are still a major signal for how important a site is. You can’t ignore them, and you can’t get rid of them. You might as well keep building. Just do it the right way!
Do you need help building your link profile in a natural way? Call us at (415) 308-7375 to discuss your marketing strategy.