Is link building still the number one measure to upgrade your Google ranking in 2014? It has been called both dead and not dead. It has been deemed to become less and less relevant in SEO and yet constitutes the key element to improve (or worsen) your Google rankings. Obviously, link building remains a contested matter.
A lot has changed within the field of SEO, content marketing and Google algorithms in the recent past and this article will have a look at the adjustments you should consider if you want your link building strategies to remain successful in 2014. It is designed to be both a survey and a how-to approach which will help optimize your own link building campaign.
Link building and Google – A love/hate relationship
In essence, link building constitutes the conscious attempt to “receive” links to one’s own page in order to boost rankings in Google SERPs. Yet, there is a problematic aspect attached: link building usually relies on other sites/authors/users to provide you with links. Even if you can pay for links – which can have negative consequences – at the end of the day, backlinks are out of your jurisdiction.
What is more, it is not too farfetched to speak of a love/hate relationship between Google and link building. Google (and other search engines) naturally rely on links, and they do not condemn link building campaigns per se. However, with the introduction of Google‘s Panda and Penguin algorithm-updates in 2011 and 2012, it has become quite clear that
- links belong either in a good category (i.e. natural, editorial, coming from an authoritative site)
- or a bad category (i.e. paid for, often reciprocal, coming from low quality sites or sites that are solely designed to host links to other pages).
Google will not hesitate to punish link building campaigns that cross certain lines and that actively attempt to manipulate Google results by means of spam, undisclosed payment or other dishonest arrangements.
A new approach to linkbuilding?!
Kaila Strong at Vertical Measures notably said: “Reciprocal links, exact-match anchor text, guest blogging, blogroll links, blog post comment links, links in forums – they aren’t sustainable and can get you into trouble.”
Even if search engine algorithms may at times miss well-hidden manipulations, leading experts in SEO still warn of questionable methods and rather propose an honest, complex approach to link building which focuses on producing quality content, seeks communication with other webmasters and generally avoids actual backlink requests not providing the user with any added value. If Panda and Penguin have conveyed a clear message, it is that Google values natural, helpful and high-quality links above anything.
And since Google undisputedly holds a monopoly in the search engine universe, being natural and providing excellent content is the new mantra for link building campaigns. The changed approach actually helps improve both the image of SEO in general, and the experience for the end users and Google alike. After all, it is great content that the former are looking for and equally great content that the latter wants to provide, i.e. link to.
What are the benefits of link building beyond Google?
“Everywhere you go online building your brand and reputation should be the goal.” Eric Enge, president of Stone Temple Consulting
By focusing less on backlinks and Google results, and more on the creation of a good website and meaningful content, your company, e-commerce business or blog will benefit in several ways that exceed SERPs, or at least come very close to their influence. But how to start?
Before you think about links and rankings, invest a generous amount of time in pimping your website. You would want to focus on aspects such as quality, expertise, longevity, relevance, non-pushy behaviour, in short: typical characteristics of inbound marketing.
- is appealing to your audience (good layout, up-to-dateness, mixture of on/off topic articles)
- is useful and informative, so that people will voluntarily link to it
- contains valuable content which was not written for the sheer cause of attracting more visitors and creating links
- focuses on your target audience and their needs and interests
- stands out, i.e. offers something unique which other websites do not
As a website creator, constantly ask yourself: are you proud of your content, your articles, interviews, etc.? Would you share them through your social media? Would you want your friends to read them? Would you (truly) recommend them to other sites?
On the plus side: if you do link building for other reasons than just to improve your PR, you might automatically avoid the mistakes and trespasses that Google has been on the lookout for. As I have previously stated, Google Panda and Google Penguin favour high-quality pages and organic links. Consequently, you can kill two birds with one stone (pun intended). If you focus on valuable content:
a) your traffic will increase and your brand will obtain a better reputation
b) Google is very likely to reward your well-structured, content-filled site
- expansion of your audience/readership
- expansion of your brand
- trustworthiness of your site (both regarding your audience/customers and Google)
What really matters in 2014
If we trust a website because we have visited it in the past and have not been disappointed, it is very likely that we will continue to visit it and probably share its content. Better still, if we feel like the person behind the website cares about the readers, is an expert in his/her field and is well established within the community, we are even more prone to trust the site and link to it.
There is a change of thinking towards a more “social” and durable behaviour/strategy in link building. Namely that of helping others for the benefit of (possibly) receiving a similarly good treatment. It might be a no-brainer, but cooperativeness goes a long way.
If you produce great, informative content, interact with your online colleagues and like-minded fellow-campaigners and promote the (quality-)work of others, people will remember you and will be much more likely to e.g. host an article of yours on their blog, comment on your content or share your work.
Shaun Anderson expresses this thought in his advice to: “Help others achieve their goals today and some will help you in the future.” Matt Cutts also supports the approach and states in a 2013 interview:
We can extract two cornerstones of successful link building from these statements:
The message could not be simpler: be considerate, helpful and involved. Do not spam, annoy or bore people. Instead, provide useful(!) comments and articles and help others out by maybe publishing their content on your site. If content is king in content marketing, interaction and quality (leading up to trust) are king in link building.
Are we there yet?
As with many other SEO-related practices, natural link building takes time and man power. A successful link building strategy needs a well-conceived structure and should pay attention to some basic facts. Since Shaun Anderson has already worked out an excellent overview of important key points to bear in mind, I see no reason to conjure up something new here. Instead, here is what Mr. Anderson suggests as strategies for a successful link building campaign:
By adhering to those points you will automatically perform great within content seeding, link building, interaction and inbound marketing etiquette, and also avoid most SEO rookie mistakes. Now you can get started and plan your very own link building campaign beyond all Google-matters.