The Evolution of Link Building
There is no doubt about it: link building has evolved. In fact, things have changed so much over the years that link-building techniques that were effective even a few years ago are already completely out of date.
Link building has always been evolving, but the recent Panda and Penguin updates from Google took things to another level. Panda targeted low-quality, thin content masquerading as useful information, whereas Penguin targeted unnatural links.
So how exactly has link building changed since the early days? Here is a quick rundown of some of the tactics that are no longer work in the long-run and should be avoided, followed by the tactics you should now be focusing your efforts on.
Link-Building Tactics to Avoid
There is nothing inherently wrong with reciprocal links. If you reach out to other bloggers and website owners, there is every chance that you will be linking to each other from time to time. But reciprocal linking as an SEO strategy is one tactic that will eventually see your site slapped with a penalty.
Although popular until fairly recently because it was so easy to do, it did not take long for the search engines to work out what was going on. Search engines are more adept at picking up reciprocal link networks and leaving obvious footprints around the web will leave your site high and dry.
Directory submissions used to be one of the most popular link-building tactics available. It simply involved getting your website listed on as many relevant (or irrelevant in certain instances) directories as possible. Quantity over quantity was the name of the game, so the more links you built, the better your website performed in the SERPs.
Soon everyone was doing it, and it became too easy to build links in directories. Spammers got in on the act, and ultimately the value for users quickly dwindled. Having 100 directories on the same IP with 50 sites in the SEO section with the anchor text “SEO” offered nothing to users and as such low quality directories are now frowned upon.
There are a few good directories left – Business.com, Dmoz, BOTW but for the cost of submitting to these directories, you could create a piece of content that ends up getting better backlinks anyway.
Google has always made it perfectly clear that it does not like paid links. These links are often easy to spot as they are more often than not sitewide, or styled in the sidebar. They are still effective and in certain industries link buying is rampant, but on the whole it is something that should be avoided at all costs.
Over-Optimised Anchor Text
Creating optimised anchor text driven links is not a bad thing in itself. However, creating hundreds of links that all use the same keyword phrase is now something that will quickly see you slapped by penguin.
If you can spot an unnatural anchor text profile with tools like OpenSiteExplorer and Ahrefs then it stands to reason that Google are more adept at picking out an obvious gaming of their system.
Try to keep anchor text profiles as natural as possible, exact match anchor text should be kept to a minimum. I personally aim for anywhere between 10-20% max on exact anchors and the rest are natural / noise or brand.
Link Building in 2020 and Beyond
So if the above link-building tactics don’t work any longer, what should you be doing? Link building has now evolved to the stage where mass link building still works in short bursts but leaves you with a penalised domain. Outsourcing simple actions that you can repeat on a mass scale have now been replaced with the whole idea of ‘earning’ your links by focusing on practices that are deserving of links.
One of the main focuses these days is on earning links through creating high-quality content. People use the internet to find information and solutions, and the search engines want to connect them with what they are seeking.
If you create a detailed blog post, video, infographic or resource that provides information on a topic that is helpful to many people, there is a greater chance that it will get shared and read. The more your post is read and shared, the more links that are likely to be built to that resource.
The natural links that it leads to are the holy grail of link building. They suggest that your website has relevant content that more people want to see, and this is exactly what the search engines are looking for.
Part of the process of making your content more visible involves having an active social profile. Social links are becoming increasingly important for search engines, and this is something that is only going to continue as link building, and author rank develops further.
Get active in the social sphere, publish great content, engage with your customers and with important people in your industry, and over time you will naturally start to build social links that will improve your organic visibility.
Guest blogging is an effective link-building technique, but it has to be done right to yield the results you’re looking for. The idea is that you create a high-quality piece of content and rather than publishing it yourself, you try to get it published on a blog within your industry. In return you are given a link to your website.
This can be seen as a bit of a double-edged sword however, as if the content you’re publishing is truly great, then you could argue it would be better placed on your site and you would benefit from all the backlinks directly. However, sites that are just starting out with no traffic and no reader base to speak of will see this content fall on deaf ears.
So what is one to do? As long as you do not mass produce your guest blogs and publish them on low-quality websites, this is a tactic that I can see working far into the future.
Try not to target metrics like PR and DA, but sites that are hyper-targeted to your niche as you’ll see better returns and higher levels of engagement this way. If the sites happen to have high PR or DA then it should be seen as a bonus.
Don’t Use Just One Strategy
A successful website will try to use as many of the above strategies as possible. Diversifying your backlink profile is crucial and repeating the same one strategy over and over will see reduced returns quite quickly.
Link building is constantly evolving and other strategies like broken link building, press releases, video submissions, Web 2.0 are all still viable when done correctly.
Over the years it has become increasingly obvious what Google and the other search engines want: to return the most relevant content to their searchers.
By focusing on developing your brand and publishing real content, then publicising it via a variety of techniques you’ll stay ahead of the curve and see returns in visibility and ultimately your bottom line, which is why we’re doing all of this anyway right?