Link building has been under significant scrutiny under the past few years. New iterations of Google’s now-infamous Penguin update have been rolling out annually since its inception back in 2012, and John Mueller recently denounced the practice of link building altogether by stating “In general, I’d try to avoid that.” These actions and opinions would seem to suggest that Google is on a perpetual crackdown to prevent any link building from taking place.
As a search marketer, I can see why. Many companies have taken advantage of the fact that external links pass domain authority, and have spammed the web with unnecessary or useless links purely for their own ends. When done improperly, it is an annoying and destructive process.
However, even now, there are ways to build links that are constructive and beneficial to the online community as a whole. While Google could never explicitly condone link building for SEO and their updates are constantly refining what constitutes a “good link,” there are only a handful of fundamental principles you’ll have to follow in order to build links effectively in 2015.
Vet Your Sources
This first step is also the most important. You can no longer post links wherever you please—you must carefully and critically evaluate your sources before using them. In doing so, you should have two main priorities, both of which must be met before you can proceed with link building on a particular source. The first priority is one of authority. How authoritative is this site? Is it known for providing valuable, accurate information to the public? Is it a major brand name? Does it have a .edu or .gov domain? All these things can help.
Your second priority is one of relevance. Is this source somehow related to your brand or your industry? When dealing with a very high authority site, this isn’t as important, but otherwise, your source should be directly involved in your industry, and the more niche you can get, the better. Keep a running list of “acceptable” and “great” sources to use, and try to add more sources whenever you get the chance.
Speak to Your Audience
In the old days, link building was a sneaky process. You could hide your links in the deep corners of some far-flung website and still get authority from it. Today, you need to post with your audience in mind. Post a link with full knowledge that the online community is going to see and use your link, and consider what’s going to be important to them when they first encounter it.
Get a feel for your target audience, including their demographics, their priorities, and their needs. Write a brief note or use an excerpt of content to explain the purpose of your link, and make sure you’re linking to an appropriate and valuable section of your website. If your readers don’t think your link is valuable, they could flag you as spam.
Use Brand Mentions
Using brand mentions is a way of building links without building links. As of the latest iteration of the Penguin update, non-linked brand mentions are capable of passing just as much authority as traditional links. For example, if you use your company’s brand name in the context of a blog comment, you could get just as much value as if you would have posted a link. This is advantageous because it gives you a similar value with far less risk of penalty.
Bear in mind that links are still important. You should use brand mentions in an alternating fashion, and make sure to use variations of your name if there are any.
Build Links Hands-Free
One of the best ways to build links without penalty is to get others to build links for you. The way to do this is to create a piece of highly valuable, potentially viral content, and syndicate it to the masses. Typically, infographics, videos, and whitepapers tend to circulate the best. If your audience likes what they’re reading, they’ll start sharing it and posting it for you, linking back to you as the original source. Essentially, you’re turning yourself into a magnet for links, and you won’t have to lift a finger once that content is out there.
Diversify, Diversify, Diversify
The most important strategy to building penalty-free links is diversity. Google hates to see patterns in your backlink profile—it’s an indication that you’re up to no good. Instead, diversify your practices at every level. Use multiple different sources, and work new sources into your lineup as often as possible. Post different types of links to different areas of your website, and work in brand mentions whenever you get a chance. Post at different frequencies and different times of day, and make sure you have plenty of natural links being built on your behalf by your audience.
The more diversified your strategy is, the less likely Google will be to issue a penalty to your site. Force yourself to try new sources and post different kinds of material.
The biggest key to building links without penalty in 2015 and beyond is to build them without the goal of increasing your authority in mind. Instead, focus on the value of each individual link. Ask yourself: is this link going to help someone? If the answer is yes, you’ll be fine. If you’re unsure, you should probably avoid building that link.
Also keep in mind that while link building is still effective and, in my opinion, necessary for a strong SEO campaign, it isn’t the only important factor. In the context of onsite changes, ongoing content, and social media work, It’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Don’t neglect the other pieces.
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.