One of the great staples of the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) fraternity is the practice of link building. That is, getting third party websites to link back to your website to, in theory, improve the SEO rankings for your site. While this has been a long established practice and one of the better known methods for improving rankings, I’m not so sure that pursuing traditional link building strategies is worthwhile any more.
I’m not talking about black-hat methods here. I’m talking about the vigorous pursuit of trying to get relevant websites to add links to your website that are not marked ‘nofollow‘.
Google loves links, right?
Google themselves have previously admitted that backlinks were part of their ranking algorithm used to determine search engine results. Googlers such as Matt Cutts have often discussed the right and wrong way to go about developing backlinks (see the Google Webmasters Channel) and so it is undeniable that links play a role in SEO success. I feel, however, that the emphasis has changed and there are better uses of your time than active link building.
We need to keep in mind that unless you are part of Google’s innermost circles that engineer their search algorithm, all you can do is learn from cause and effect. Nobody in the SEO world knows what weighting Google actually applies to their search signals. Moreover, they don’t want us to know. After all, SEO is an attempt to manipulate their system which is counter-intuitive to their goal of returning the best search results.
Many people who are into SEO monitor the YouTube channel for Google Webmasters mentioned above and also the Google Webmaster Central Blog hoping to find clues as to what will give them an advantage in SEO. If you pay attention to these sources you quickly realise they don’t give tips that provide any advantage in SEO. Not really. They actually give you advice for creating websites that can be indexed easily and quickly. This is just good, yet basic, webmaster advice. Google doesn’t leak hidden nuggets of information that will hand you the keys to the hidden SEO city of gold. Sorry!
Punishment risks are still real
While I’m calling the usefulness of link building into question, one element remains as valid as ever – punishment or ‘manual action‘ for suspicious links. Google has never liked the procurement of links that appear ‘unnatural‘. If it appears that the links to your website are spam in blog comments, forums, junk websites or other bad neighbourhoods then you run the risk of being penalised. That hasn’t changed.
The risk of punishment is one of the reasons I’d advise against hiring a link building service. These services tend to cause an unnatural type and number of links to your website and therefore create an increased chance that your site will be removed from search results. Is it worth it? Is the risk worth the reward?
SEO tools lead you to temptation
Many of the long standing SEO tools were born when old fashion link building was still commonplace. As such, much of their emphasis is still on those old fashioned values that encourage aggressive link building and monitoring ideaology. They still charge some hefty premiums too!
I have found that businesses that continue to use SEO or link building tools are too focused on seeing their backlink numbers rise each month, despite the fact that their organic traffic remains plateaued.
For the record, I don’t use any of them and so I won’t name any here.
Instead of creating more rusty links, spend the time improving your social signals. Work on getting your content shared via the various social channels where people can find it. If it is good stuff people will link to it naturally. That’s how the pros do it!