“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” -Mark Twain

Link and link building have had a rather interesting history when studied in terms of site rank.

In the beginning, when SEO was easily manipulated, webmasters created link exchanges, link farms, Twitter feeds, etc. and generated multitudes of backlinks through them. Then, Google smartened up to these tactics and penalized sites for their involvement in link schemes. Sites lost rank or were de-indexed altogether.

As a result, many SEOs grew to fear linking in any form. Others claimed that link building was dead and content marketing was the new link building.

Neither of these situations was truly the case.

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What really happened with backlinks

Because many SEOs were manipulating backlinks, Google started investigating those backlinks and if they truly added value to the content or if they were placed there simply to manipulate Page Rank. A backlink was viewed as fake if it exhibited one or more of these characteristics:

It was derived from a link exchange.

In the past (and even now), two or more webmasters would link to each other on the condition of reciprocity. Such agreements, no matter how seemingly “random,” created a link footprint that could be picked up by Google. The result was a penalty.

It was part of a link network.

Blog and other link networks can be discovered via their identical IP addresses, Google Analytics ID, WhoIs owner information or even similar format/design. Blog networks are created for the purpose of generating traffic to participating sites, each of which is a member of the network or pays to obtain those backlinks.

It used overly optimized anchor text.

Many articles on the internet contain anchor text pointing to keywords they wish to be indexed for, but these articles and their associated websites don’t contain the backup content to justify that selected anchor text. Such a tactic is also sought out by Google and penalized.

It contained a low value blog or forum link.

Another common backlink tactic was to post quick and essentially useless comments to high-ranking blogs, forums, etc. and insert one’s site link within those comments. Unless the comment came from a webmaster who regularly participated in those blog or forum discussions, this tactic was viewed as yet another link-gathering tactic and penalized.

The state of link building today

After Google’s crackdown on black hat link building, many webmasters and even SEOs became very hesitant to find and add links. Some individuals have even assumed that Google said no to link building, in any form.

However, link building is still alive and well: at a recent SMX Advanced, Matt Cutts even noted the following:

“No, link building is not dead. And a very small percentage of links on the web are nofollowed. There‚Äôs a lot of mileage left in links.”

Having said that, link building going forward is not going to be as easy as it was in the past. In actuality, link building today will require, according to Matt, “sweat plus creativity.” But it’s not an impossible goal.

So, how do you start adding quality backlinks that don’t arouse the ire of Google?

Use trusted sites.

Links that are trustworthy and derived from respected and well-known sites are almost always a safe bet for insertion. One example is Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a service that reporters and bloggers use when looking for quotes from subject matter experts. Using this resource for building backlinks of high quality is a great way to earn Google’s trust.

Invest in some UGC.

Many companies, bloggers and webmasters are putting content creation and linking into their users hands via user generated content or UGC. By asking users to submit photos, articles, etc., these entities are placing a more real-life and less sales-y spin on their websites, social media sites and blogs. The content generators, meanwhile, become more likely to engage with the business and its brands as a result of being directly involved with its content generation.

To learn more about UGC and how to do it effectively, click here.

Build relationships, not links.

If someone already knows you, they are more likely to let you post on their blog or to provide a valuable backlink. The relationship is also more “natural” and not as marketing-focused.

Going forward, you can start nurturing these natural relationships by engaging with blog posts and commenting on them or sharing those posts with your followers. You can also sign up to blogger newsletters and company social media accounts and leave comments or even entire replies. This way, when you finally do ask for something from the person you follow, that person won’t take your solicitation as random spamming. In fact, you might even score a business deal or some other benefit in addition to that valuable backlink.

Disavow or break bad links.

You may already have acquired a few questionable links on your website or blog. You can refresh your memory regarding which sites link to yours by using the search console in your Google Webmaster Tools area. Here, you’ll learn who is linking to your site as well as which pages and/or posts are most popular.

Google Search Console

You should look through all the linking sites and even visit them to get a feel of whether they are quality sites or spam. If you don’t particularly like or approve of a linking site, you should write its webmaster and ask that your site be removed. If you get no response back, you can choose a “last resort” method and disavow the link.

Link building is still possible.

As always, link building is just one aspect of a site’s SEO. In the here and now, link building is still possible, but it won’t be as easy as it was in say, 2007. However, there are relevant strategies for obtaining quality links. In some cases, such as in UGC, they may even lead to further developments (e.g., collaborations).

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Join the Discussion

  • Riaz Shah
    Riaz Shah

    Hey Steve,
    Wow talk about timing! It went viral all over the web that link-building doesn’t hold in much weight as it did last year and even back then, Google has already put in a lot of regulation.

    I was pretty curious too and I’m glad I found your article, glad to know that link-building still hold some value. If I were to contribute a post on another website as an author and get an link back to mine, I’m guessing that it still works right?

    • Steve Razinski
      Steve RazinskiFounder

      Yes and no. A backlink is always going to be beneficial, but Google has put less of a emphasis on guest blogging recently.

  • Ian Spake
    Ian Spake

    Hi Steve,

    I am just learning how to build a website/online business and had never heard of link building or ugc but this article was pretty easy to follow and understand so thank you.

    I also didn’t know google could enforce a penalty again thanks

    It will be a massive help to me as I move forward in my learning.

  • Jagi

    Hi I keep getting mixed messages about link building. So many people say that it’s not a good strategy any more and others say to keep doing it. What kind of outreach can I do to start building relationships with other people online? Being an introvert it’s hard to reach out, what have you found that work has worked best for you?

  • Emmerey Rose
    Emmerey Rose

    Hi Steve! I personally agree. It think link building is still alive today. I wonder, what link building strategy do you personally like best? what works for you? would love to know your expert opinion. Thanks a lot!

  • Mark

    Hey Steve-

    That was a nice little refresher course on link building. We all heard about the many business that fell off… in part to the “google slap.” As you mentioned there were, and yet… still is a lot of black hat methods taking place to enhance rankings. When it’s all said and done “Content is King” in my opinion. I am however… interested in the UGC method and will click the link in your article to gather more information about it. Thanks for the great article!

    • Steve Razinski
      Steve RazinskiFounder

      Content has always been my primary and number one focus as I built my business. It may have taken a little longer to get things going as I didn’t mess around with any shortcuts, but my site now sits at the top of the rankings.

  • Audrey L. K.
    Audrey L. K.

    Thank you for writing this incredibly helpful article! I am new to blogging, and have been hesitant to jump right into promoting and linking. For now, I am focused on creating helpful content and developing trust with my audience. I have been a little nervous about adding links, but I’m glad to have your guidelines to follow.

    • Steve Razinski
      Steve RazinskiFounder

      Links are definitely beneficial, but they need to be naturally and organically gained.

  • Stisse

    Hi Steve,
    thanks for a great article on link building! I more or less thought that this was a no no option for increasing rankings nowadays, so good to know you won’t get penalized if you do it the right way with relevant links.

    However, it’s difficult to build a good link network. Do you recommend to contact site owners with similar content, or what do you suggest?

    Thanks again for a good read.

    • Steve Razinski
      Steve RazinskiFounder

      In my experience, it’s more about building relationships with others in your niche instead of just emailing others and asking for a link. My best results have come from establishing trust via comments and offering value first. Most people aren’t going to go out of their way to do you a favor, especially if they don’t know who you are.

  • Guy

    Really interesting article. I remember indeed how easy it was back in 2011 when I started. You could use services where you pay to have your link on blogs. Then you could write articles on Ezines and similar article directories. You could even see EzinesArticles ranking first page before your website.

    I don’t do any of this anymore. But you mentioned a place called HARO (Help a Reporter Out). You got me curious. How does it work. Does it work for any niches? Mine is in self improvement, stuff similar to what Tony Robbins teach. Would this site be useful to me?

    • Steve Razinski
      Steve RazinskiFounder

      HARO sends out a list of topics that reporters need help covering. The list is emailed out three times a day so any topic could possibly appear on it. It’s a free service and worth checking out.

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