Few SEO strategies have received as much attention—or as much criticism—as link building has in the past few years. The Penguin update in 2012 (and its subsequent iterations) scared many search marketers away from the strategy, and John Mueller’s comments that link building is a process to “avoid in general” didn’t help.
But there are multiple types of link building. As you might imagine, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. If you start posting links to your site all over the web with wanton disregard, you’ll undoubtedly earn yourself a penalty—and this is the type of link building John Mueller warns against. However, if you focus on building relationships with other sites and other authorities on the web, you can benefit greatly by the process.
When you scout for new link sources, be sure to prioritize these seven qualities:
The length of time a domain has been in circulation contributes partially to the domain authority it’s given by Google. For example, of two otherwise equal sites, one with two years of history and one that just launched, the one with two years of history would automatically be weighted with more authority. There are a few exceptions to this, especially as domains get older, but as a general rule, it’s in your best interest to look for more established sites. If a new blog pops up and you can get an easy link out of it, that won’t necessarily hurt you, but it won’t help you nearly as much as a link from a source that’s been around longer.
Respected is a trickier quality to evaluate, because it can’t be objectively measured. It’s easy to see when a domain has been around for years and when it has just emerged, but it’s hard to tell how “respected” a site is. There are a few things you can look for, such as accreditations and its relationships with other sites, but generally you’ll have to trust your gut. Do the writers of the site have noteworthy personal brands? Do other sites in the industry reference this site often? If you mentioned this site to a coworker, would he/she be familiar with it?
Your ideal link building source should be at least partially relevant to your industry. For example, if you own an auto dealership, your source should have something to do with automobiles. It might be a forum for a particular make and model of car you sell, or a directory for auto dealers in your niche, or it might even be a high-profile general news source that also has a category or section specifically for auto news. The sources you want to avoid are ones that explicitly have nothing to do with your business—those types of sources can easily register your link as spam and compromise your attempts to build authority.
The best link sources are ones that are regularly active (and somewhat predictable). They should have consistent traffic, consistent posts, and a consistent history in the industry. Some of these factors may be difficult to measure as an outsider, but you can get a sense for the consistency or volatility of a site just by clicking through its blog and social media sites. How often do they publish new posts? How far back does this pattern go? Volatile sites are less predictable, and will pass less authority to yours.
This is a quality of both the site and the people who use it. How often do you see comments on the site’s posts? How often do the users of the site share posts on their personal social media profiles? How often does your source post on Facebook and Twitter to its audience and engage with others in the industry. Generally, the more social your link source is, the more valuable it’s going to be for your domain authority. It’s an indication of quality content, room for growth, and it’s going to give you more direct exposure to a wide audience.
Some sites exhibit all the great qualities I listed above, but have unbelievably strict standards when it comes to allowing guest posts or links. There’s nothing wrong with striving for this level of quality, but in many cases, it simply isn’t worth your time to build a relationship with these sources—at least not until you build your authority with more reasonable sources. Seek long-term relationships with sources that are flexible, accommodating, and have reasonable expectations for your content and submissions.
If you’re looking for a new source, try to make sure it’s differentiated from your other sources. For example, if you already have two or three niche forums pointing to your site, don’t seek out another competing niche forum. Try for something in a slightly different niche, or try a personal blog, or try a news site. The more diverse your link profile is, the more authority you’ll build and the lower your risk of a penalty will be. Strive for diversity across all your sources, and be careful not to build too many links in one place.
If you find a source with all seven of these qualities, you can count on it as a reliable fixture in your link building campaign. Of course, don’t forget that the heart of any good link building strategy is great content, in the form of guest posts, responses, and comments that bring value to your target audience. Follow these rules consistently, and you have nothing to fear from link building—the relationships you make can only increase your domain authority and your ranks over time.
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies. Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.