Link building is dead. Long live link building!

Link building is dead. Long live link building!

Posted by  on 09 April 2013

Illustration for Link building is dead. Long live link building!

In webinars and emails, I increasingly get the question, “Isn’t link building dead?” The answer is that a certain type of link building is dead, and a new type of link building has taken its place …

Of course, in a period of transition there is a lot of confusion and people carry on doing things they shouldn’t. And, perhaps even worse, fail to do the new things that they really should be doing.

In this article, I want to take some of the confusion away and give you 10 tactics that are dead or dying, and 14 tactics that are alive and well and should be at the centre of your link building strategy.

Tactics that are dead or dying

If these tactics make up the majority of your link building activity, then you’ve got to make immediate changes and update your approach.

1. Directory links. There is still some value in directory links, but they are nowhere near as important as they used to be. For a new site, they are easy links to get and at least get you started with some links. But don’t spend a lot of time and money chasing them. Some of the most worthwhile directories may be niche directories, particularly those associated with an industry association or magazine.

2. Reciprocal links. These are basically arrangements like , “You link to me, and I’ll link to you”. They used to be everywhere 10 years ago, but now they shouldn’t feature in any sensible link building plan. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with having a few reciprocal links that happen naturally: Wordtracker links out to many sites, and those sites in turn link to Wordtracker – but it happens naturally, there is no intent to do it for SEO benefit.

3. Blog networks. These are huge networks of interlinked blogs, usually with poor quality, thin content and totally devoid of readers. It is really easy for Google to identify such networks and they’re not worth participating in. You need to concentrate on quality blogs with real people writing and reading on the site.

4. Automated blog comments (comment spam). Many blogs stop publishing after a while because the blogger gets fed up and moves on. Automated scripts can find such blogs and leave links back to their site in the comments section. This practice is definitely old school and should be avoided.

5. Buying links for SEO. There is nothing wrong per se with buying links on other sites. Why can’t you advertise your site wherever you choose? However, Google doesn’t like such links when they pass on search engine ranking benefit. According to Google, all paid-for links should be no-follow so that they don’t pass this on. Sites that buy and sell such links are most definitely in Google’s sights and there have been many high profile examples of sites getting penalized. Buying links is very tempting but my advice is to avoid the practice.

6. Links in press releases. When you distribute press releases, you can include links within the press release itself, and for a while this brought search engine benefit. As a result, some businesses regularly sent out poor press releases just for the links within them. This no longer works for SEO and the only reason you should send out a press release is that you’ve got a newsworthy story to tell. It’s OK to include links because they help the journalist better understand your story.

7. Poor quality guest posting. Guest posting is a fantastic way to build links. The site you’re posting on gets content, and you get a link – that’s a fair exchange. However, some guest posting opportunities may not be as good as they seem. Look out for ‘adsense traps’: sites that exist only to accept guest posts and make money off the adsense ads they publish. There’s a general feeling that such sites will be next to be targeted by Google in 2013. As a result, I think the nature of guest posting will change – away from quantity to much more of a quality model.

8. Article directories. This is an another tactic that was in its heyday years ago but is now seriously outdated. The idea sounds great – you publish in an article directory, then other sites who want content can find and select yours and publish it on their site – giving you a link in return. But directories became flooded with poor quality content that few decent sites would consider.

9. Exact match anchor text. Using specific anchor text used to be a great idea – so if you sold used books and had multiple links using the phrase “used books” in the anchor (clickable) text, then you’d get an SEO boost for that phrase. Now, using the same anchor text over and over again should be avoided.

10. Delegating everything. Many small businesses don’t know where their links come from or what methods were used to get them. They delegate everything and trust their suppliers to get on with it. Such ignorance is no longer excusable. You’ve got to know what’s going on with your own site. Good SEOs and developers will want you to know what these companies are doing and why, and they’ll be open to talking to their clients. You should take advantage of that openness and be wary when it’s not there.

Tactics you should concentrate on

Some well established practices have been discarded and others have evolved to be part of the ‘new’ link building.

So what is this new link building that blooms with vigor and promise?

1. Focus on the multiple benefits of link building, not just SEO. This is the most important because it requires a shift in mindset. Most people think about links for SEO only, but in their desperation for rankings, they ignore all the numerous benefits of link building:

  • Direct clickthroughs
  • Quality links keep on working
  • Establishing your leadership
  • Links attract more links
  • Links help you make contacts and build relationships

But focusing on each of these in turn, you’ll benefit your business, not just your SEO. And the ironic thing about these non-SEO benefits is that they will eventually help your SEO.

2. Build your social media profile. Getting close to the customer has always been a marketing priority. Decades of business thinking has hammered home the wisdom of getting out, watching, listening and talking to customers. And social media gives us a tremendous and immediate way to do all that. But it doesn’t happen by accident – you’ve got to respond when people talk about you on Twitter and you’ve got to build your fans and followers – not because the numbers are important – but for what you can learn by interacting with customers.

And of course, it’s not just customers – you can interact with key influencers, bloggers, journalists and experts in your industry. This creates a tremendous foundation on which to base your link building activities. When people say that link building is dead, it’s usually because they think it’s been overtaken by social media. The truth is that social media and link building complement each other to great effect. Today, I can’t think of doing a link building campaign that doesn’t use social media.

3. Focus on quality link prospects. This is one of the hardest to follow because it is so difficult to do. But the harder a link is to get, the more value it has, so the extra effort required is worth it. Getting links from quality sites has a number of advantages:

  • Quality sites usually have large, active audiences so more people hear about you.
  • The link is likely to bring you good SEO benefit.
  • A presence on a quality site adds to your reputation and trust – if a top site links to you, then you must be good.
  • If you’re submitting guest posts, you have the opportunity to earn a regular column.
  • It forces you to concentrate on creating quality content.

You can re-publish on your own site – not only will you get bragging rights by “as first published on [name of top site]”, but the quality content you re-publish can help you convert more of your site visitors to paying customers.

4. Focus local (at least for some of the time). Whether you’re a large company that trades internationally, or a small business with a focus on a specific geographic area, you’ll find great opportunities in your locality. Many local bloggers, journalists, schools and colleges, community organizations and others will be open to building relationships and giving you links. Don’t forget this valuable source in your link prospecting.

5. Build relationships. It’s people that give you links, not websites. So concentrate on building relationships with the people behind the sites you’d like to have a link from. Back in the old days you had to send out reams of anonymous link requests to people you didn’t know, and who didn’t know you. Now with social media, such ‘cold calling’ is a thing of the past. You can build a relationship with a prospect long before you approach them for a link.

6. Create fantastic content. To thrive in the new link building, you absolutely must have great content – and that can come in very many different packages – articles, e-books, infographics, presentations, webinars, videos and training. The modern link builder, or at least her team, must acquire multiple communications skills and the ability to create great content quickly and regularly.

7. Online public relations. For me, this is the ultimate way to get links without asking. For decades, savvy business owners have known that getting free editorial coverage by successfully pitching the media has been tremendous for promoting their business. And the web has been a total game changer for public relations. Now, it is so easy to find and build relationships with journalists and top bloggers. Start by reading top news sites in your industry, look at the type of stories they cover and develop some ideas to promote your own business. Pitch them direct to journalists and editors and learn from your experience.

8. Quality guest posting. Many people think a blog post can be written quickly and fired off to many different prospects. But you soon find that this scattergun approach doesn’t work too well. It’s not hard to get a guest post published – but it is hard to get your guest post published on the tops sites in your industry – and those are the ones that really matter. To get published on a quality site, you need to create a quality post, well-written and with something valuable to say. I’ll spend at least a day, often two, writing such a post – but the resulting exposure is well worth it.

9. Broken link building. We all hate coming across broken links when we’re browsing. You come across a good list of resources and think you’ve struck gold. You scan down the list and then click on one of the links and find it gives you an error message. Either the page or site no longer exists – this is called ‘link rot’ and it’s common on many resource pages.

That’s irritating for you, and for the site that has published the list of resources.

Broken link building is the practice of finding such links on sites relevant to your business, telling the webmaster about the broken link and suggesting one of your pages or resources as an alternative. The beauty of this approach is that you’re helping the webmaster out – and they’re going to think positively of you as a result.

10. Brand terms and keywords in anchor text. In the ‘old link building’ we talked about the practice of using the same anchor text repeatedly in links pointing to your site. This worked pretty well, but the practice has evolved to become much more sophisticated. Now variety is the order of the day. Google will expect to see a variety of brand terms in your anchor text together with multiple keywords.

11. Read and comment on top blogs. I’m not talking about ‘comment spam’ – one of the techniques to avoid. I’m talking about catching the attention of a writer or blogger by making useful comments and adding value in whichever way you can. By doing this, it’s relatively easy to enter a dialog with the writer and start to build a relationship – and good relationships lead to good links.

12. Be quotable. People love quotes and if you can be a ready source, then people will seek you out and include your quotes in your writing. You may well decide to develop a good quote or ‘sound bite’ that reflects each of your key marketing messages. For example, I’ll often pepper my writing and presentations with quotes like, “It’s people who give you links, not websites” thus encouraging people to link about building relationships. Think about the important aspects of your business – and work on writing a short, punchy sound bite to describe it.

13. Be a controversialist. A controversialist is, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, “a person who likes to disagree with other people and say things that make people angry or think about a subject”. Strong opinions will stimulate debate and people will link to the source of the debate whether they agree or disagree with the point of view taken. It often takes the form, “Everything you know about xxxx is wrong”. Used appropriately, this can be an effective link building technique – but make sure you have a thick skin and can stand the ensuing criticism that will accompany the positive reaction you get.

14. Managing multiple disciplines. The new link building is evolving into a complex beast and to be successful you have to manage multiple disciplines – from being a quality writer to visual marketer to video producer. That doesn’t mean to say that you need to be experienced in everything, but it is important that you understand and are in control of the tactics you choose to use.

Final words

The whole process of link building is ever more complicated and you do need to understand what you’re doing. You don’t have to do everything we’ve listed here, but you’ve got to understand them those tactics that are right for your business and have an appropriate strategy.

However, it is worth the effort. Creating great content and promoting it properly will bring you search engine traffic, real visitors to your site, establish your position in the marketplace – and bring you significant sales that make all the effort worthwhile.

Read more in “The Definitive Guide to Successful Link Building” E-Book

If you’ve found this article useful, check out Wordtracker’s 386-page e-book, “The Definitive Guide to Successful Link Building” by Ken McGaffin, link builder and Mark Nunney, SEO specialist.

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • Why the ‘old way’ of building links is dead and gone
  • What Google’s Penguin update really means for link building
  • How you can find an almost unlimited supply of high quality link prospects
  • What types of content attract links and how you can create it
  • How to make your link pitches irresistible to prospects

To learn more about “The Definitive Guide to Successful Link Building” simply click on the button below:

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You can read more about how to make link building work for you in “The Definitive Guide To Link Building”

About Ken McGaffin

Ken McGaffin is an experienced internet marketing consultant and has worked for major pharmaceutical companies, advertising agencies, government bodies and non-profit organizations.

Ken unveils the secrets of successful link building in his 384-page e-book,Successful Link Building

You can watch recordings of his extremely popular (and free) Link Building Webinars

And you can read Ken’s articles about keyword research and link buildingthroughout the Academy.


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