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What Link Building Really Is

by Jon Cooper
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LinkBuilding-Head

The term link building has been around since the minute Larry & Sergey made links the centerpiece of the Google algorithm. Well, not exactly, but I think we can agree that it’s been around for a good while.

But over time, and especially in the age of Panda and Penguin, the term has grown to mean other things.

Today we might associate link building with content, and some might even claim link building is now just link earning.

Well, I’m here to set the record straight. It’s time to define what link building really is and if it has a future as an industry term. It’s going to be a bit controversial, and I’m going to be a little critical, so understand this is purely my opinion (and stay with me until I get to my point…).

Definition

I define link building as the active pursuit of going out and acquiring links.

This usually involves outreach in some sense, but not always. In times of outreach, it’s about contacting people who probably wouldn’t link unless I reached out to them and got them to. Yes, believe it or not, that’s still a practice.

In the sense that doesn’t involve outreach, this usually involves the lower quality link building tactics, but when managed and checked for quality, they can be effective (i.e. niche directories & comments on industry blogs), but usually in only small doses.

Now, what I didn’t say was earning them. Yes, links can be earned, but by no means is the active pursuit of acquiring links dead. If you think link building is dead, you aren’t in the trenches. Link earning does exist, and it’s definitely growing as a practice (who knew offering value could win you something?), but link earning is still separate & different; they simply coexist.

Content

Content is used as one of many things to get links, but you’re not building links by creating great content. Here, content would fall into the link earning category. You’re not actively acquiring links, but you’re still getting them as a byproduct of offering value through the form of knowledge & insight.

So, for the sake of terminology, I don’t consider the majority of what most see as content to be part of your link building efforts, because you’re not actively pursuing links in the same way.

But, if you’re smart, they can become the cornerstone of your link building efforts. I’ll give you a quick example.

Broken links are one of my favorite things to take advantage of because I’m actively solving a problem (weird, that doesn’t seem spammy…), and in return, I’m getting a link. But a common issue I face is wanting to make sure the content being linked to that’s now a 404 is being properly replaced.

Using a tool like Archive.org, I see the content had significant value & insight (which makes sense why it’s being linked to), and after checking with Open Site Explorer, it seems to have quite a few backlinks to the page. So, I could reconstruct the page, making it even better than before.

But if I stopped there, the purists would say “Congratz! You’ve built great content that’s earned links!” yet all those webmasters still have a link to the old content that no longer exists. Unfortunately, they don’t get a text message on their iPhone when something like this happens so they can update the page.

So do you think reaching out to them, letting them know about the problem, and getting the link out of it is wrong for the Web, not what Google wants, and essentially “spammy”? If so, I’d have to politely disagree.

The future of link building

It’s not going away anytime soon.

As long as Google has an algorithm based off links, we will always be manually pursuing them, whether they’re in ways Google likes or ones they don’t. But for those who say all link building is black hat, know this: just because we’re actively pursuing links doesn’t mean they’re manipulative.

Here’s an example. A colleague of mine was telling me about a client who has over 14,000 mentions of his name across the Web. What he’s trying to do is to reach out to those who mentioned them, and simply ask if they would link back to the guy’s personal website.

You think that’s manipulative? Yeah, he might of earned those links by being influential and getting mentioned, but until someone went out and did the dirty work of building them, they wouldn’t exist, and thus, he wouldn’t have gotten credit for them in the eyes of Google.

But I know people are shying away from the term of link building. Just look at the trends.

 link-building-timeline

Heck, try and find the term “link building” on most big agencies websites. That’s like trying to find Manti Teo’s girlfriend in person. Even Vertical Measures is rebranding themselves as a content marketing agency (you’re welcome for that anchor).

Which is why it makes sense that fewer and fewer are searching for “link building” since all the legitimate agencies won’t be found ranking for it; you’ll be stuck finding some “packaged” deal for $XXX/mo. or some software that, strangely, no one seems to have heard of.

So I get why the trends are moving that way, but after talking with so many effective agencies, they’re still building links. I’m not saying they’re not doing the value adding tactics of content and what not, I just want it to be known that they’re still in the trenches. Links is still what people are being paid for, and they’re still building them.

My final words

The link building that’s being attacked is the traditional article directory & comment software type crap, and yes, I’m with you on that one. But don’t generalize link building as something that’s dead or dying.

There are still hundreds of millions being made each year off of the backs of those building links, whether it’s for a lead gen, ecommerce, or publishing site. You’ll still find profitable SERPs littered with sites that you can 100% tell that they’re ranking and making X figures each month because of these links, and yes, they were built. Why else would they have a link on an obscure discount page when they themselves are in a vertical that no one wants to talk about?

Yes, content can work with your link building efforts. If you’re smart, research content that’s proven to get links, either because that content has been built in the past and people have linked out to it (allowing you to then hit those people up for links), or because you’re solving a problem that people are pained with (at least some of them will have websites if you target the right ones).

So think twice of swallowing the content purists message of “build it and they will come”. Sometimes you need to help them on their way. Still offer value, but go out and claim what’s yours as a result of doing so.

If you’re needing to build links, I suggest you try out my link building course. I’m the most biased when it comes to subject, so take my words with a grain of salt, but it seems to do the trick for those who need a little help getting the links they need.

Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below so we can chat. Thanks for reading amigos!!

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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33 Comments
  1. read this says:

    You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation however I find this topic to be actually one thing which I
    feel I would never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and
    very broad for me. I’m looking forward to your next post, I’ll attempt to get the cling of it!

  2. Wholesale Energy says:

    Jon,

    Very well said and mature insight into the current status of link building. Link building will always be a foundation of SEO, the true understanding of what proper “white hat” link building has continued to evolve as Google has continued to look for ways to prevent gaming the system.

    There will always be three fundamental rules when it comes to SEO… When google is comparing 2 sites side by side, it will always:

    - prefer the one with quantity and quality content versus the one with less quantity and/lower quality
    - prefer the site with more traffic versus the one with less
    - prefer the site with better links (again quality and quantity both matter) versus the one with poorer links

    And of course, better content is a key to getting better links and better links help drive more traffic…

  3. Well that was really a comprehensive article about what is link building. I also totally agree with you when you say “But don’t generalize link building as something that’s dead or dying.”

  4. DavidGill says:

    Thank you for this article about llink building. I believe that the most important think is the rich and unique content in link building.

  5. Hi Jon, link building is not an easy practice at all. I agree with you, link building is not dead, and think it never will. However, now is more difficult than ever getting a backlink from a respectable source. It takes a lot of time and effort to go out there and reach out to find people to link to your site. I tried a lot of time in the past to get a link from a well-respected source in my so called “niche”, but everyone seems to just disregard my emails. It must be the way I ask maybe…I am not sure. Anyway I am not a link building expert, ergo what I do is probably not right. Do you send emails to people to do some link building? Apologies for the ignorance regarding “your” subject.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I understand Davide. I’m not saying it’s not difficult here, I’m just saying it’s still around and if you’re willing to look, you’ll find opportunities.

      My advice would be not to look so narrowly at your niche; for example, if you sell curtains or sofas, look at the entire home decor space. Also, look at how others are building links in similar industries.

      And no, this isn’t “my” subject. Link building has been around longer than I’ve been in it. I’m not claiming it to be mine, and I’m not claiming to be an expert of any sorts. It just happens to be the topic my blog is around.

  6. mouservice says:

    Great post, Jon. I still have the mindset of “link building” as opposed to just “naturally” building links. With some less “sexy” niches, spending time in the trenches is needed. I wonder how much unrelated organic traffic you’ll get for the Te’o line you stuck in there!

  7. Lucky says:

    Nice work admin! content is the king & high quality links also play a good role for SERPs content should be perfect & fresh according to your business.

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