With Google’s implementation of Penguin 2.0 earlier this year, the SEO-sphere was predictably filled with renewed declarations that link-building is dead. While it makes for a catchy headline, this assertion simply isn’t true.
Spammy link-building is dead; that certainly is true. But how many links are pointing to a site is still one of the most important factors Google uses to determine how a site ranks. Link building can still be a valuable exercise provided you avoid spam and focus on quality links that will benefit actual people.
The reason links count as a ranking factor is because they represent an endorsement by visitors who found that content useful or entertaining and want to refer others to it.
This principle was perverted by the spammy tactic of accruing links from irrelevant, low-quality sites solely for the sake of manipulating the search engine rankings. All Google’s recent reforms have done is take us back to first principles.
For both users and webmasters of quality sites, this is a development worth celebrating because it makes for a better user experience. It does, however, mean that some adjustments have to be made in terms of how we go about getting links.
Content Is King, Even When It Comes to Link Building
It used to be that link building was its own province, more or less divorced from the rest of SEO. Link building could be performed independently of content creation.
Not anymore. Fresh, quality content is the lifeblood of link building because it gives you something to link to. It’s not very difficult to get people to link to content they find useful or entertaining. In fact, the better and more frequent the content, the more links a site will require organically, without even having to ask for them.
The omnipresent need for content also means that there are plenty of small, under-staffed sites that are desperate for quality content from experts. Guest posting is one of the tried and true methods of link building that still works, provided you do so on quality sites that are relevant to your own. Guest post should be secondary, though, to building the content on your own site.
Quality and Relevance Count More Than Quantity
The cardinal rule of link building in 2013 (and beyond) is relevancy. The reason Google punishes paid links and other link spam so severely is because the two sites they connect aren’t relevant to one another. In other words, the content of those spammy sites had nothing to do with the content of the websites they were linking to.
In the old days it was the quantity of links that mattered most. The sites with the most links, even from spammy, low-quality, and irrelevant sites managed to rise to the top of the search engine rankings based largely on their massive link profiles.
Now quality counts for much more than quantity. One link from a high-quality site with relevant content and lots of authority counts for much more than dozens of links from spammy sites – which might even end up hurting.
This leaves lots of webmaster wondering which links are bad and which are good. The best rule of thumb for every link is to provide utility to the user: to direct them to content they will likely find useful or entertaining.
Don’t think of link building as something abstract and separate from other digital marketing efforts. Think of link-building as a way not just of getting links but of driving referral traffic to your site. If there’s no potential for an actual customer to come through that link, it’s probably not worth having.
Links Are Social
Besides the Penguin update, another factor that has changed link building in the last few years is social media. It makes organic link building around quality content much easier.
It used to be that even the sites that were creating great content had a hard time disseminating it, depending on clunky emails and newsletters. Now social media giants like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, etc. makes it easy to reach thousands of people in a second.
Not only that but you can build an audience of relevant visitors who will always be interested in your content. These people will read your content and link to it from their own sites. It’s organic link building at its best.
Plus social media also carries some SEO weight in itself. Google keeps track of how many people on social media endorse a site and its content by liking, sharing, following, retweeting, etc. These social signals carry ‘link juice’ of their own. They represent an endorsement from a real person – just like links are supposed to.
Thus link building is not dead, but it has changed, incorporating social media and placing a heavy emphasis on quality. For 2013 and the foreseeable future successful link building, and SEO as a whole, is all about creating and sharing great content. Do this and the links will take care of themselves.