It’s 2015 and link building is still an important part of SEO.
According to SEO blogs, it might seem like link building is an outdated fad. Critics argue that inbound hyperlinks are only a small determinant in search results and others rightly assert that Google’s search algorithm is complex enough to factor out worthless links.
These criticisms are certainly true, but only to an extent. If done correctly, a dedicated link builder can provide enormous ranking potential.
Link building has gotten much harder over the years. No longer can you get a boost from purchasing bulk low quality links or typing your site’s URL into the comment section of a popular website. These strategies may have worked a decade ago, but search engines have gotten much better at distinguishing the good links from the bad.
These antiquated link building strategies aren’t going to fly as Google’s search algorithm gets even more sophisticated. Finding the right person to build an inbound link portfolio will assuredly help your site climb to the first page – the trouble is in finding someone with those skills.
Link building itself isn’t a particularly difficult task. Anyone can build links, but only a few can build good links. What does it take to be a quality link builder?
1. Discern Paid Links
Within the first few hours of your link building career, you’ll probably find that almost every website wants to charge you a subscription fee for your client’s link. These sites will often send you a copy of their “media kit” with a host of advertising options that can cost thousands per year – all for a single link.
More often than not, these are Grade A scams. These links might provide a slight SEO performance boost for a short space, but are often an enormous waste of money. Some of these scams will dupe unskilled link builders into buying “nofollow” links for as much as $500/year. Use your budget on the creative side and avoid paid linking scams. Save your time and money for more effective SEO strategies.
2. Bury Submission Tactics
A dedicated link builder understands that directories are invaluable link opportunities. Directories are getting more difficult to find in 2015 though. Forget Yahoo Directory and DMOZ; general directories are a thing of the past. Anything that takes five minutes to submit isn’t going to turn your site into an authority.
In years past, link building was easy because you could simply find relevant and bountiful directories related to your client. They counted too. Not only has Google drastically reduced the status of inbound links coming from directories, but most of these sites are now defunct and rendered useless by Google’s Panda and Penguin improvements. Link builders today need to put their energy into ideation and research.
3. Pivot to Creative
As I’ve pointed out in a previous post, link builders today need to be creative. You need newfangled, unique ways to attract and win natural link credits. The best way is content creation – these are things like highly informative, well-researched and potentially viral blog posts, articles, and infographics that you can use to gain a link. This kind of content takes a lot of the “building” out and leverages earnability.
For a hypothetical client that works in, say, the sliced bread industry, try looking online for a publication like Sliced Bread Weekly. This clearly won’t be a popular publication, so they are probably clamoring for free content and writers. So, you research and perform an outreach to the appropriate person from the publication and pitch a content idea that relates to the client. If they agree to your post, then it’s a win-win; they get a powerful new content piece to show off to readers and you get an inbound link or at worst a brand mention.
This amount of writing is a turn off for many link builders, but it is well worth the extra effort. Bad or average content completely kills this approach. So, a modern link builder must have the ability to create highly link-earnable content to leverage deserved references from other sites.
4. Seize The SEO Tools
Link building requires a host of online tools to examine detailed website information. There are a wide range of tools that you need to be familiar with like web analytics, Google Search Console, keyword research tools like the Google Adwords Keyword Planner and third-party backlink checkers. These kinds of tools might sound foreign to a young link builder, but they are integral to the success of any inbound SEO initiative.
5. Piggyback on The Competitors
How are your client’s competitors doing on the web? Are they consistently ranking higher than you are? A good link builder understands the importance of competitor analysis. Finding out where your competitors are succeeding means that you can follow a similar path. With third-party tools like SEMRush, SpyFu, Raven, Ahrefs and Moz, you can analyze inbound link information for any page on the web. Tons of information on competitors is public and viewable without special permissions. Sure, some might consider it cheating, but it’s not.
6. Evaluate Link Worth
It takes months if not years of experience to differentiate a good link from a bad one. There are simple tricks like examining the page’s authority or last Google cache, but a lot of it is just plain gut feeling. When you compile a giant list of inbound link targets, a good link builder needs to understand how Google will view that site – not a human browser.
A link opportunity may look great on paper, but as search engines crawl these sites, they could find something on the contrary. Link building necessitates time and experience before you can gain this kind of understanding.
7. Mitigate Link Risks
Search engine penalization is a real thing and it happens all the time, even to search engines. There is no bigger setback for an SEO team than this problem and it has immediate real life ramifications, not just online ones. These penalizations occur when Google (or another search engine) essentially removes your site from its results – dealing a catastrophic blow to the client’s business.
There isn’t a group of employees at Google that decides which sites to penalize. Instead, this activity is totally automated by complex search engine algorithms. If the code believes that you are trying to “cheat the system” by purchasing links or link-swapping, then your site will remain nonexistent for even relevant queries. Search engines are how customers find new business in the digital age – if your site doesn’t show up, then expect a huge blow to the client’s bottom line.
A rookie link builder can easily make the mistake of penalizing your site. Seasoned link builders today understand the enormous risk they undertake with unsecure or nefarious SEO strategies. Their skills are in high demand while their supply is increasingly dwindling.
8. Believe in The Client’s Product
One of the most important qualities of a link builder (or any SEO team) is to have faith in their client’s work. It doesn’t matter if the client is a shoe salesman or a house cleaner, a dedicated link builder needs to fully believe that this product or service can’t be beat. And the client deserves better visibility in organic search.
As a link builder, you are a salesman of sorts – selling the idea that your client is so great that they belong on someone else’s website. You’re not just slapping a hyperlink on a random web page, you are trying to build a brand. Every site that you link to or from reflects directly on the client and their business. A qualified link builder knows that their role is a serious one and that their work has an immediate impact on how the client is represented online.
Published 02/04/15, Edited 08/02/18.
About Michael Nozick
Michael is pre-law student at the University of Georgia. In his spare time, he works as a link building consultant and online writer for local Atlanta, GA businesses. He loves reading up on international and technology news, especially new developments in SEO. See more of Michael's work here.