One of the most frequent questions I get asked by clients is why we don’t practice link building. There are many misconceptions about this buzzy SEO practice. Here at FourFront, we don’t do it and it’s important to know why.
A Short History of Link Building
Long ago, the powers that be at Google had a great idea that one key indicator of a good website was the amount of links coming into the site. It’s sort of like how teams evaluate the worth of a Soccer player: how many passes that player receives. A pass is indicative of how team members value any one player and how effectively and consistently that player brings it home for the team. So links are like a pass to a website. And this is the basis for the PageRank Algorithm.
But there were those that tried to beat the game. Backlink farms cropped up, comment sections were bombarded with spammy links to unrelated websites, and an entire sub-industry of link building factories appeared that were essentially playing on the fears of webmasters everywhere (the same companies who are now marketing themselves as penalty remediators, removing bad backlinks as service). Overall, the metric became less and less useful.
So Google started actually qualifying those links and handing out penalties for spam back links and today, though quality backlinking is still a consideration for Google, it’s much less so. Though it remains a factor, Google has taken away the public ability to see a site’s PageRank probably because of the unintended consequences it caused.
Backlinks still matter, but it's more about quality and organic growth so we look to earn them with great content, but we don’t build links int he traditional sense, and here’s why.
3 Reasons Link Building is Useless and What to do Instead
They lead to artificial authority. Ramping up backlinks can improve rankings, however, it can mask other problems with your website. Unlike content, design and user experience, backlinks are one element of your website that you ultimately have no control over. They can be taken away at any time, and if your website is not well optimized, it will suffer, and fast. Take for instance a client that lost 82% of its backlinks in less than three weeks. Keywords rankings decreased significantly and quickly across the board, and with so little time to react, there was no quick fix to the situation. The content was weak, and without the artificial boost of rankings due to backlinks, it would take months to create the necessary assets to recover visibility. In that time, conversions plummeted:
Link Building can lead to penalty if not monitored closely. Link building can be very harmful to a site if the links are irrelevant or spammy. Link building en masse or with shady intentions could leave your site with a penalty, which can lower rankings, traffic and overall visibility. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need a full backlink audit and removal of bad links. If you’ve been handed a manual penalty, you’ll need to go through an arduous and time-consuming remediation process.
- There are better, more efficient ways to improve websites’ search visibility for the long-term. Our mission is to maximize our clients’ investment by implementing the most effective strategy for long-term search success. That means we don’t waste time on tasks that will not have a positive, lasting effect on the bottom line or that may cause you undue trouble down the line. This starts with helping to create the best content we can. We don’t build links, but we do advocate for link earning.
Instead of Link Building, focus on link earning. We don’t build links, but we do aim to earn them. And how do you earn links? By doing the following:
- Create linkable content that brings something new to the table. Don’t just be good when it comes to content, be great and go the extra mile. What makes for great content? It creatively answers a question or a need that people have.
- Suit your content to the audience. What are they looking for with a given query? Maybe they need regularly updated information, downloadable assets, or quick hitting infographics.
- Use social media the right way. In most cases, it’s true that you want to post consistently, but that doesn’t mean all content is right for every social platform, or that any message you send out will go viral. Post with each platform’s audience in mind and give them information and content that is relevant to their questions/needs/issues.
- Create real relationships with experts in the industries you write about. If you really want to do outreach to increase backlinks, take a cue from public relations and get involved in your industry. Interview experts for great content and create content that adds value to their content – this is a surefire way to earn meaningful links.
Be smart with your links, and don't focus on building in bulk. Focus on content that breaks new ground and mutually beneficial relationships and Google will thank you.