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The Inevitable Demise of Link Building… or so They Say

by Jon Cooper
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DockIf you build links and keep up with the latest trends, you’ll start to see a theme.

It’s quite obvious really, and everyone’s accepted it. What we haven’t really realized, though, is the longevity of it.

The theme I’m talking about is tactic X being labeled as spammy and no longer “an approved strategy by Google”. It’s been around since practically the beginning of SEO, and over time the discussion heats up more & more.

But as we check off link building tactics as “no longer worth pursuing”, we haven’t realized the list of “approved” tactics is growing smaller & smaller.

So let’s go through each tactic that is supposed to be no longer “white hat” or “Google approved”. Hopefully you’ll see a theme to this as well.

Reciprocal links. This was probably the first link building tactic ever being deemed as manipulative. Strangely enough, though, people are still deeming it as something that can be used to have a positive effect, but only if it’s a natural, relevant opportunity with user intent playing a big part.

Directory links. After hundreds and thousands of directories were created solely for link placement purposes, Google started to crack down. Directory links make most link purists shudder at the thought. Yet, most still believe authoritative & relevant directories are still great places to get links.

Blog comments. If you run a blog, you see the comment spam that comes through each day. It didn’t take long for CMS platforms to nofollow comment links and Google to disavow this form of spam. Yet, comments still prove to be a popular inbound tactic for those trying to grow their audience, and the links can’t hurt if they’re genuinely written on relevant, authoritative blogs. (Just seems natural, right?)

Forum postings. Like blog comments, this was notorious for spam as people could hit a button in a piece of software and watch the links role in by the thousands. Of course, Google sees this as a big no-no. Yet, relevant, quality posts in forums that provide helpful answers & information will get you good links, and it might even drive revenue.

Article marketing. This only recently died with the birth of Panda and then the knockout punch of Penguin. Even though this is in fact a tactic that I cannot see any value add, the idea behind it is extremely similar to guest posting, which we’ll get into in a second.

Press releases. Who hasn’t recently heard about how PRWeb links aren’t counted and that they could even hurt your site? Yet, Cyrus Shepard does a killer job breaking down how press releases should be used and could be used for in a totally white hat way.

Infographics. When all the rage hit in 2011 about infographics being the best thing since sliced bread (even though they were being utilized well before), people started questioning the legitimacy of them and even went as far as calling them spam. Yet, most agencies are still doing them (I do myself) because when the content & data being displayed is quality stuff and if it gets picked up by niche & news sites, and as long as the anchors aren’t exact match & show obvious link building intent, then they’re great links.

Guest blogging. Ah, yes, my favorite tactic to address on this topic. Because guest blogging has become wide spread, it’s been deemed as spammy and some have classified the tactic as a whole as spam. Yet, when you look at it, is writing content for other industry blogs “spammy”?

Main Takeaways

I’m going to get right to some extremely important takeaways here.

Almost all “spammy tactics” can produce quality, natural links. There’s a quality factor that can implemented for any of the above, and even though what most are using the above for can be deemed as manipulative, the tactic as a whole isn’t because it can be done in a non-manipulative manner.

By the definition of most link critics, we’d be just about out of ways for an average website to build links. Yep, believe it or not, not every small business can afford that big content marketing budget, and looking at the current state of rankings (a lot of sites continue to rank with the above tactics to at least some extent), one isn’t needed in every situation.

At one point, none of those tactics were manipulative. Why? Because they didn’t have the link in mind. Start thinking about how you can get quality links in the above ways as a byproduct of what you do, and not you main intention.

Algorithms detect footprints, so don’t leave one. The reason most of these tactics were deemed spammy was because link builders left footprints that could be detected by future algorithmic updates. Even if you didn’t have great intentions besides the link, you could get links from the above tactics without any repercussions. I.e. change up the author bio for every guest post, cycling in different anchors in your infographic embed codes, etc.

Conclusion

Don’t write something off because everyone wants to publicly stay in Google’s good graces. Analyze the initial reasons behind what the tactic is outside of the link, and do it with those intentions.

If you liked this post, please check out my link building training course for beginners & experts.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 119 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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34 Comments
  1. Kumar says:

    I think, mix all the methods and do work regular. Also with link building we don’t forget the value of – On Site, Social Media & Mobile. You mentioned almost every basic step that we use regular base for link building. But mixing all the method, decrease chances to hit by any update. However, we should always work according to the update.

  2. François says:

    Even if backlinks have lost some ground to other ranking criteria, it will always be relevant to search engines and so there is no such thing as the demise of link building.
    Google is engaged in an arm race with spamers and the rules are changing for everybody but not doing link building would be like leaving room to your competitors in the search engine battlefield.

  3. Brian Jensen says:

    Great article Jon and I think you make some really noteworthy points. The main objective for any link building tactic should be to send qualified traffic back to a website. As you mentioned, many “spammy tactics” are only labeled as such due to the extreme lack of effort to really contribute to a discussion and provide something of value. The way these tactics are providing value is evolving and so is the mindset of any SEO or link builder focused on sustainable, value centric results. By placing an emphasis on providing value, quality over quantity and better attribution, we can improve the outcomes from our efforts and truly understand what role these tactics are playing in leading to desired visitor actions. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Josh says:

    Nice write up Jon. I always approach SEO and the tactics associated with it in the same way I look at any type of external marketing. There is no better “closer” than overall brand reputation and word of mouth. Backlinks are just another way of saying “Hey, these are good guys…buy from them”. I think the search engines are getting better at recognizing who really means it and who is subject to another spam campaign. I find it hard to believe it’s relevance will ever be ignored by spiders, but then again Google may have an ace up their sleeve in the next year or so. Thanks again

  5. Steve says:

    Great post as usual. There is a typo here:
    “…hit a button in a piece of software and watch the links role in by the thousands” should be “roll”.

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