by Jayson DeMers
Few SEO strategies have changed as dramatically or as consistently as link building. Despite some occasional claims to the contrary, link building is still a necessary element if you want to earn any significant rankings in search engines. In fact, Google recently confirmed that inbound links are one of the top two ranking factors in the algorithm. Links have always existed as a kind of third-party validation for the trustworthiness, credibility, or authoritativeness of a page or website as a whole; if there are hundreds of sites with links pointing back to yours, clearly you've made a positive impact, and are worth listening to. Therefore, according to Google, you're worth ranking highly. However, without those links, it's virtually impossible to gain any kind of search visibility.
How Link Building Has Changed
Old link building strategies were somewhat straightforward: do whatever it takes to get more links. Link quantity was the main focus, along with anchor text, and there weren't many standards for how you could or couldn't build them. However, thanks to increasing publisher standards and more quality checks in Google's ranking algorithm, the entire idea of "link building" has evolved to mean something more. Links should be earned naturally through the power of your content, and serve a genuine value to your readers. All other links can--and will--be disregarded.
Unfortunately, a number of old-world strategies persist in our modern link building era. Due to ignorance and confusion, these techniques, when executed, actually put your domain in danger of being penalized. So instead of continuing with these obsolete, questionable practices, engage in a modern alternative that can increase your authority and keep you safe.
1. Black-hat link exchanges. The old tactic here was an implied or formal deal between two sites to set up direct link exchanges; each site in the deal would link to the other, improving the relative authority of both sites. This type of scheme also evolved to higher scales; link circles and link networks would involve dozens or even hundreds of such sites, resulting in complicated link networks. Such tactics no longer fly, and generally get every site involved blacklisted from Google. So instead of seeking a valueless exchange, why not come together for a mutual benefit, with value for your readers? Interviews are the perfect opportunity for this; one authority interviews another, members of both audiences get content value, and each participant in the interview earns a link and visibility out of the deal.
2. Including links in forum comments. It used to be common practice to simply post a link wherever you had an opportunity to post anything--and forum comment boxes presented a great opportunity. All you had to do was paste the link to your site and click "submit." Today, posting only a link as a forum comment will get you banned from the forum long before Google even catches up to you. Instead, become an active participant in the community. Once you become known and respected as an authority, you can start including links to your own site--as long as they're appropriate, relevant, and valuable in the context of the conversation. While they probably won't add much SEO value, forum links can drive significant referral traffic, especially when posted by a trusted member of the community.
3. Article marketing with sneaky links. Article directories once provided an opportunity to slap together fluff content and include your link somewhere in the body of the material. Today, article directories are shunned by Google's algorithm, rarely appearing in search results anymore. Furthermore, links from article directories are often completely neutralized or even result in penalties for the websites they link to, if there are enough of them. Additionally, publisher reputations are held in far higher esteem, and "article marketing" has been exposed for what it is; spam. If you want a chance at your contribute content being accepted by external publishers, you need to meet their standards, which means producing original, well-written, detailed material that's valuable for their readership. As long as your links are valuable and relevant to the conversation, there's no need to try to be sneaky with them.
4. Stuffing anchor text with keywords. Anchor text used to be a huge deal for a link building campaign--you had to embed your links in text that contained the keywords you wanted to rank for. The end result was usually links embedded in phrases like "cheap bookshelves Kentucky" or "best tacos Portland." These are clunky, non-descriptive, and clear indicators of rank manipulation. This type of anchor text not only has no positive effect today, it's actually the easiest and quickest way for Google to identify spammy, manipulative link building, which can earn your website a manual or algorithmic penalty. Instead, aim for anchor text that is clearly and objectively descriptive of the content you're linking to--check out any of the links in this article as examples.
5. Plotting a specific rhythm and order to your links. Old-school link building strategies required some level of formalization, identifying potential sources for link building efforts, creating a schedule or calendar for the building process, and putting those sources on rotation. It was all highly mathematical; there was even a term for it: "link velocity." Today, such a process will let Google catch on almost immediately; instead, you have to make your links as natural as possible. And what better way to make your links natural than to just attract natural links? Produce great content, syndicate it far and wide, and readers will link to it, share it, bookmark it, and comment on it.
There are plenty of modern link building strategies that allow you to earn links naturally and even place some, under the right circumstances. Never again should you have to rely on the kind of black-hat practices that drove search engine visibility growth in decades past. It's important to consider your domain authority and search ranking goals, but don't forget what's most important here--the value you bring to your audience. Keep that as your top priority, and you shouldn't ever have to worry about a penalty.
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