The Inevitable Demise of Link Building… or so They Say

by Jon Cooper

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.


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 129 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper is a link builder based out of Gainesville, FL. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter @PointBlankSEO.

Relax - I send out free emails full of
cutting edge link building tips.
  1. Thomas says:

    Shortly after the Penguin update last year I heard someone from a large content marketing agency declare:

    “Only muppets use directory links these days”.

    So they wouldn’t want a link from Dmoz, the Yahoo Directory or BOTW? This just illustrates the herd mentality and sweeping generalisations that seems to be prevalent these days.

    Late last year I read a recent interview with an ex member of Google’s webspam team Andre Weyher recommending quality directories:

    “…..relevance is the new PR. Good quality, moderated directories, or niche directories are still worth looking in to…..”

    I agree with your conclusion, nothing should be written off out of hand, as long as the link opportunity has relevance and might drive a click or two of traffic.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Generalizations like those is exactly what I’m getting at! Glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

      But agreed – the big 3 or 4 directories and niche ones as well are still great links, but they get thrown under the bus too often.

    • Sahil says:

      I totally agree Thomas, none of the link building tactics can be degraded or completely stopped except automated spam. Great blog this Jon. There are some tactics which really have a great impact on the users mind and helps one get positive reviews for his brand online. Having a website in the signature on Quora, many relevant quality Q&A sites and posting useful comments on relevant topics which helps one solve their problem or gives him/her advance insights certainly helps one build authority, brand value and hence get quality traffic to the site.

    • philip says:

      would you say the best type of links to get are just straight up ‘opportunity links’ and that scaling link building could actually hurt more than help?

  2. Good stuff (as usual), Jon!

    Just to keep the conversation going, I noticed you didn’t include social profile links (i.e. setting up and optimizing social profiles to build links). It seems as though companies like KnownEm continue to do pretty well selling services that build these links.

    Where do these types of links sit on your list?

    Thanks for the input.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Good point Vinny!

      Like any link that can be manually placed, you could scale it and get thousands of these, but going back to the main theme, they’re great links if those social profiles are created & nurtured with actual user interaction going on around them, so of course they can’t hurt you in this way.

  3. Well i guess it’s because generalization and exaggeration at same time from self proclaimed seo gurus ..and strangely each (tactic if i say so ;)) still works.. if utilized properly .. let me put it this way.. we can’t mark directory submission, press release and “spammy” tactics right?? i mean yes if you deliberately spam them, then yes definitely..but if you know how and where to submit your website in directory then it isn’t spammy right 🙂

  4. Cole Watts says:

    Link Building will always be around, it’s just going to take different forms. For example, many people disapprove of buying links, however if you guy membership to your local Chamber of Commerce more than likely you’re be getting a link in some form that you paid for.

  5. I agree with most of the stuff you said.

    Generally when SEOs write about link building tactics, I have a feeling they think about their own site and not about client’s site, which is why they probably know they overdid most of these tactics and why they think they shouldn’t do it at all anymore.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Toni. And yeah, that’s why it’s frustrating to read a lot of content on the topic, because what applies to their blog almost never applies to most clients who are in tough verticals.

  6. George says:

    I can’t see link building going away too soon. And with high quality, niche related directory links, you are also getting lots of highly targeted website visitors. Who cares about the search engines when his / her site receives lots of visitors through direct traffic, referring sites, and so on? Well… I’m one of the people who cares about that, but I’m becoming less and less reliant on search engine traffic.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Agreed!! But still tough to see a lot of traffic coming from most related directories, unless you’re paying to be at the top of the page. But the idea is completely correct.

      • George says:

        You are right about that, Jon. There are only a few dozens of directories that can send decent amounts of visitors to your site; yahoo, dmoz and botw are a few good examples.

  7. Travis Brown says:

    I love the point that you are making in this article, and I completely agree with you. People find tactics that work well, and they jump on it. You have your early adopters, and everyone else seems to follow. When too many get on board with a tactic, the quality begins to slip, and Google “does not approve” of it anymore. You nailed it though – Google does not approve the lower quality forms of those tactics because they have been compromised.

    I still love blog commenting, press releases, forum posting, infographics, and guest blogging. These are links that might drive traffic and, if done correctly, can be great links. As always I appreciate what you are doing, Mr Cooper, because we are the builders of links!

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks Travis, and I’m board with you on those 5 too! Especially forums for ecommerce sites.

      Anytime :). Just keep stopping by and leaving great comments!

  8. Nick Ker says:

    I am still amazed at the inability of so many SEOs & webmasters to understand that not everything is black and white and that links should have a purpose other than to drive keyword rankings.
    In the early days of the web, links were just about the only way to find new things. Links were usually placed because you thought the site or page was cool and deserved some exposure, or would be of interest to your readers.
    Now, it seems most people miss the idea that if there is value to users, the link may indeed be “good” even if it is a forum post, press release, guest blog, or a comment.

    Various link building methods get labelled “bad” because too many knuckleheads don’t know how to do anything in moderation. Rather than commenting on blogs when there is a good reason to do so, they find a way to automatically find every blog related to their topic and say “Good post!” and drop a link on thousands of them. Rather than finding relevant, useful directories, they submit to every directory they can find or make a few of their own. Instead of useful informative press releases, they do a release for every little action they take: “Company X Publishes 100th Blog Post”. Really?!
    Common sense goes right out the window. When the thought leaders say the party is over, the sheep-like followers start scrambling for the next trick to try to outsmart Google and repeat the cycle.
    Rational thought seems to be completely missing.

    I think it really goes back to the old “for people not search engines” thing. Will this link benefit users in some way or is it just for ranking?

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Great points Nick!

      But you can’t really say they were irrational because for a long time, they were working! Today it seems ludicrous, but that’s the history we come from – easily game-able search engines. That’s why I don’t want to hire any SEOs that have been in the industry for too long, because they come from a background that things were easy (I like training my own guys from scratch). Just my 2 cents though.

  9. Vishal says:

    You did not talk about content spinning. and the fact that Google is getting closer to deciphering on the fly (via machine learning) which units of content are a result of super spinning vs content that is written by a human and of high value. This is a key step towards detecting spam via machine learning (they use a technique of studying patterns and word occurrences etc. in human content and then compare that to the chunk of content being analyzed. This will be a huge step for Google…and if they master it – then a huge portion of automated link building will be killed off in one swipe!

    • James says:

      I agree with your comment to some extent. While I do believe Google will be able to crack down on poorly spun garbage articles, they are still years away from detecting well spun articles with good content. Now I know it’s hard to think of articles that are spun as being high quality, but this is actually very possible. Spinning your articles manually, proof reading them and making sure that they don’t sound like complete garbage is critical. Also, spinning articles at sentence, word and phrase level correctly, would be extremely hard for Google to detect. I don’t see article article marketing going anywhere, as long as you do it correctly. Also, keep in mind that not everyone who does article marketing uses spintext. Funny how people primarily tie spinning with article marketing, when it can be used for anything, even guest posting. Any back linking method can be abused and article marketing is one of them. Article marketing has gotten such a bad rep because of spammers creating low quality garbage, passing it off as content. People forget that the true purpose of article marketing is to provide great informative content for syndication purposes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

      • Jon Cooper says:

        And James – so you think there’s nothing wrong with syndicated content in this way in terms of the overall health of the Web (which is obviously Google’s focus)? If Panda wasn’t enough, then I’ll just say I think Google is wanting to get rid of the majority of syndication like this on the Web – they want people to go to one source for one bit of information, which is why they’re starting to favor brands so much in SERPs.

        • Krinal Mehta says:

          I would have to disagree with this one Jon “Google is wanting to get rid of the majority of syndication like this on the Web – they want people to go to one source for one bit of information”. Syndication is a part of the web and no search engine would want to get rid of that. Of course, there are things like using excerpts, giving proper attribution to source, adding value to the content you copy from somewhere. But if you mean that syndication as a whole is dead (or about to die), you might want to re-consider that.

          I agree with the gist of the post, there is a RIGHT way of doing it, that still lives on.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Definitely agree Vishal – but content spinning is a whole nother monster to talk about as we both know 🙂

  10. Mark Walters says:

    I still think there’s “some” value in all of the link building methods that you mention. So long as those types of links don’t make up more than, say, 50% of a site’s link profile, and don’t use spam/exact-match anchor link text, then they still can still be beneficial. Don’t waste time and money only chasing those types of links though. Balance them out with the widely-approved methods of content marketing, social, outreach, etc.

  11. Matt Morgan says:

    Hii Jon, I’ve been meaning to ask you about reciprocal linking. Let’s say I get a guest blog published on a quality site and a couple months later, they post a blog on our site. Is that type of reciprocal linking deemed spammy?

    Thanks, stay awesome!

  12. The topic that your blog deals with demands loads of research. Thanks to you who has provided the intricate information in simple words.

  13. That Food says:

    It’s such a relief to see that I’m not the only one feeling that quality over quantity will still get you results time after time.

    As for blogspam, I get over 20 comments a day with horrible links, none of them related to the general topics I cover, some aren’t even written in a coherent language or manner.

    SEO and all the satellite professions revolving around traffic and optimization have gone wrong; people looking to scam and quickly monetize have ruined the business, but I guess that the case is similar in most fields.

    Anyhow, thanks – it’s good to hear I’m not alone in my take on things.
    (also, great feedback from other commenters)

  14. Paul says:

    If some one new in SEO is reading this blog post they will definitely be confused as these are common ways every one want to do the link building activity. Is this post only relevant to Google or for all other search engines? I wish it wasn’t

  15. Brian says:

    Most of those tactics can still be used to generate good links. Each of them has a good way and a spammy way they can be implemented. I dont think link-building is going away anytime soon, so you just have to make sure the tactics that you use are beneficial to an audience, relevant to your niche and are not blatantly placed for the sole purpose of manipulating rankings.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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

  20. 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”.

The Inevitable Demise of Link Building… or so They Say - Point Blank SEO