Is link building still a worthwhile strategy in 2014?

Danny Sullivan, founder of search engine watch at the recent SMX advanced conference interviewed Matt Cutts (head of Google web spam, until recently taking some time off), pushing the envelope on this specific question.  Whilst Danny Sullivan was trying to bait Matt Cutts into resoundingly suggesting link building was dead in today's market strategy, in fact Matt gave no ground and refuted that claim.

These are some interview transcriptions from search engine watch

danny sullivan photoDanny Sullivan: Is link building just dead? You keep saying a new tactic is dead, or must be nofollowed, is it really you just don't want people to try to build links at all?

matt cutts photoMatt Cutts: No, link building is not dead. And a very small percentage of links on the web are nofollowed. There's a lot of mileage left in links.


So what exactly is link building?

Link building in its simplest form is the art of acquiring or building links from third party sites, pointing back to specific pages on your own site, in a bid to build your SEO reputation. The premise is simple and works just as conventional word of mouth referrals. Take this scenario: two similar websites side be side in the same industry.  One on its own with limited or no backlinks, whilst the other has links from numerous other sites, all acting as a referral or vote of confidence recommending this site.  Which do you think will perform better or has the greater reputation? All things being equal, it should be the second site. 

However simply building links without due care is not the solution, and that has been the downfall of this marketing medium in recent years, especially with the introduction of Google penguin. The quality of the sites which link to you are paramount, as is the anchor text used, along with a variety of other factors such as hosting, caching, number of links on page, IP sharing and many more. 

For many SEOs Linkbuilding is a strategy which has since fallen by the wayside in light of the heavy manual involvement required for proper partnership selection. Gone are the days of easily buying 100 links for a set price based on a specific commercial keyword you wished to rank well for. Hard graft and due diligence means only the most frugal of SEOs will weather this storm.

Why should it still be a part of your digital marketing strategy?

Linkbuilding should STILL be a part of your overall strategy (or rather to clear up the matter - GOOD linkbuilding should still play a part).  Another string to your bow and a pretty thick one at that. Despite the ongoing arguments over the merits of linkbuilding, or rather the methodology behind correct linkbuilding, the simple fact remains. Back links from third parties are regarded as a referral signal, acting as a vote of confidence. This was your reasoning in doing linkbuilding last year, the year before that and the years even before then, and is the same reason why you should continue now. The only true difference is HOW you do proper linkbuilding post Google penguin. Let's move onto the disaster of article farms so we can understand why linkbuilding has become such a treacherous area for SEOs, then we shall show you what methods to avoid.

beware of seo article farmsWhat changed with link building to make it such a minefield?

A couple of years ago article directories where the new rage for SEO marketers. Let's recap and go back in time for those unfamiliar with article farms. The idea being, you would write an article centered around a topic or category, conventionally between 350-500 words, and included some commercial keyword anchor text in either the body of content or in the boilerplate description at the bottom where it outlines details of the article author. 

This article would be uploaded to the article directory for other website owners to read and, if so inclined, to then use that content for their site along with the associated anchor links, in a bid to increase link authority and hopefully some traffic.

However in reality the main problems occurred when lazy webmasters simply duplicated the content for their own site, and subsequently the links in your "link profile" where considered low quality and spammy. Likewise, the links from the original article itself, uploaded to the article directory, soon lost credibility as these sites known as link farms were all but discredited by Google's algorithm update. In short, the era of the article database was over and links from these methods actually started to have negative impact on SEO, with rankings potentially dropping due to either manual actions required or an algorithmic penalty. Many webmasters who had adopted that practice in the past soon found themselves rolling back their links, removing vast quantities, and even putting reconsideration requests to Google. The damage was done and now businesses were in a position ranking significantly sub par.

Advice on the best way to adopt Linkbuilding

Linkbuilding should be genuine and focused on providing useful information links for increased viewer experience. Sourcing good and reputable sites, then approaching them and building a relationship to generate links naturally with them is a hard slog and not one done over night. Here at Whitefish Marketing we have a strong set of criteria when we set out to search for new website partners, either for our own website or for our clients'. 

Top tips for Linkbuilding

For each site we look to build a relationship with, we consider the following points

  1. Industry sector. If the websites are not in the same related industry we won't touch them. What's the use of a cake shop having a referral from a plumbers merchant website? Answer... None. In fact it looks spammy!
  2. Domain hosting. Ideally if our business is uk based, we also want our partner websites to be hosted in the same country. Again, things looks suspicious is your business is in uk, yet a large percentage of your links come from overseas unless you are specifically pushing for international SEO rankings.
  3. IP address sharing. Check what other websites reside on the same IP address as the site you wish to partner with. Are any of THOSE sites suspicious looking or appear spam-like? If so, the simple fact that your partner site shares the same host could be bad. 
  4. Recent caching. We all know that google has a thing for "fresh unique regular content", so check to see when that site was last cached. Was it recent or has it been a while? If it's the later chances are there is a reason why Google can't be bothered to cache it more regularly. Perhaps stay clear.
  5. Content review. See what YOU think of the site. Is the content written well with no grammatical errors? Or does the content sound "spun". Also, always remember to check if the content is unique or copied. That's a definite must!
  6. External links quantity. The convention is not to have more than 100 internal or external links coming off any one we page. These include links to navigation bar, footer etc. So... Check to see if the page/site you wish to link for has a habit of over populating their pages with links. Be honest and consider if this is a link farm, or a genuine site.
  7. No. of indexed pages. Just how large is the site you're about to partner with? Sometimes, size does matter 🙂
  8. Page rank/Domain rank. And old form of measurement but still one worthwhile for this exercise. The higher the page rank, the better.
  9. Anchor text. Now, don't get carried away with repeatedly using the same commercial keyword you wish to rank well for. It doesn't work like that anymore. Consider a mix between, commercial keyword, your brand name, and "noise" (which is something like "Click Here").

Whitefish Marketing approvedArrange professional Linkbuilding through Whitefish Marketing

At Whitefish Marketing we have a strict process used to seek out then deliver high quality links to your site. During this turbulent time, use the professionals to deliver this service - We can't stress it enough. Linkbuilding is a time consuming activity and one which needs careful consideration. Speak with us today to find out more about link profiling and how we can assist in building your status for SEO benefit.

Is SEO linkbuilding still worthwhile in 2014?
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Is SEO linkbuilding still worthwhile in 2014?
Linkbuilding for SEO benefit has become a hazardous minefield over the past years, and with Google updates penalizing many websites, SEOs think twice about linkbuilding as part of their strategy. But is it still worthwhile?

About Chris Surridge

Chris Surridge is an experienced Digital Marketing Director with a wealth of knowledge on Search Marketing Strategies and Conversion Analysis. His value is in strategic planning for client accounts, and his consultative services.

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