Link building has always been one of the biggest and most important elements of SEO, second perhaps to a high-quality content marketing campaign. Of course, thanks to Google updates like Penguin, evolving landscapes of available publication channels, and differing trends, link building tactics have changed dramatically over time—but the basic premise is still here, and still worth pursuing. Having a greater number of well-placed links on high-authority sources is still a boon for your domain authority, and correspondingly, your search rank.
Still, the new developments and frequent changes have caused some headaches for modern link builders, who are still trying to get the most out of their campaigns. These are seven of the most common challenges I see (and feel) every day:
1. Greater risks.
First, thanks mostly to the iteratively evolving Penguin update, the risk of building a bad link is greater than ever before. One truly bad link can get your site penalized (though this is rarer than you might think), and a chronically poor link building system can drag your ranks down further than they ever had the potential to raise them. There’s no easy solution to get around this, other than diversifying your sources and playing your strategy as conservatively as possible. There are also a greater number of tools than ever before, dedicated to helping marketers understand the risk potential of their links—Moz’sOpen Site Explorer has an unofficial risk score you can use to gauge such potential.
2. The rising power of social signals.
“Social signals” is an admittedly ambiguous blanket term that refers to a number of different influences that are carried by social media users’ behaviors. For example, when an article is shared a large number of times, that sends a “signal” that Google can use when calculating the corresponding brand’s total online authority. Follower counts, likes, shares, and other forms of connections and engagements can all have an indirect influence on rank this way. The increasing prevalence of social signals’ influence on domain authority is a problem for link builders because it complicates an already complicated relationship between offsite engagements and domain authority.
3. The balance of brand mentions.
Similarly, the rising importance of “brand” mentions makes life more difficult for link builders. Brand mentions share much in common with external links; they’re built offsite, usually framed in content, and they confer domain authority when noticed by Google. The difference is they can exist without any formal linking structure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it actually adds a new tool to the link builder’s arsenal, but since limited data is available about brand mentions’ influence on domain authority, it becomes a more debatable, less predictable weapon.
4. Increasing publication competition.
Content marketing is a fantastic, cost-efficient strategy, and everyone is starting to finally realize it. Because of this, the content market is tighter and more competitive than ever before, with an increasing number of writers and a decreasing number of publishing opportunities. Of course, niche publications still have a way of popping up where you least expect them, but the number of contributor positions at major publishers is shrinking, and the competition is heating up. That means in some ways, it’s harder than ever to get your links hosted by high-authority or commonly sought-after sources.
5. The threat of mobile.
First, let me say that mobile is not a direct threat to link building or link builders in general—some might not even have considered it—but the social and search changes that mobile popularity is influencing are starting to make things more difficult for link builders indirectly. For example, because apps are starting to become more popular than websites, one day soon Google could increase the domain authority passed by a brand having an app (or being listed on a third party app), and correspondingly decrease any authoritative conference from traditional websites. This is an extension of the possibility that traditional websites might entirely go obsolete (which would render most traditional SEO programs null and void), but it’s separately a troubling consideration for link builders.
6. Continuing diversification.
Another problem facing modern link builders is one they faced early on in the development of link building: the challenge of diversifying the sources you use in a link building campaign. Early on, it was a problem because there was a limited number of platforms. Today it’s a problem because a “natural” diversification is easier for Google to detect and much harder to achieve when you’re using any kind of manual process at any stage of the link building process.
7. Emerging stigma.
Finally, this isn’t a direct challenge, but it has put added pressure on link builders. Thanks to comments from Google engineers and a rising overreaction to institutions like the Penguin update, the phrase “link building” now has a stigma attached to it, as if link building were a black hat practice. Overcoming this stigma is difficult both for professional agencies using it as part of a broader SEO strategy and for individual search marketers trying to showcase positive results for their supervisors and employers. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with link building by itself—there are some potentially shady specific link building practices, but if you’re smart and tactful, there’s nothing preventing link building from being a viable, helpful strategy.
These challenges are certainly tough, so it’s no wonder why more search marketers are trying to either avoid link building or treat it with kid gloves, but they aren’t incapable of being overcome. As long as you understand these challenges and find alternative strategies to compensate for them, you should have no trouble maintaining a link building strategy that continues to pay dividends for your search ranks.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.