Before I begin, this is by no means another post about how link building is dead and why we should just give up on that aspect of SEO entirely – in truth, it’s quite the opposite. I’m certainly not going to be ‘that guy’ today.
In actual fact, love it or hate it; links continue to play a prominent role in determining what ranks and doesn’t rank well in Google. Undoubtedly, the process of building links has changed significantly over recent years, but it still remains the same; the use of the link signal in Google’s ranking algorithm still helps deliver the best results in the SERPS. Even Matt Cutts recently said it himself.
The times they are a-changin’
To prevent inflicting you with yet another futile message about how much link building has changed since Google first ran the Penguin algorithm back in 2012 (I’m sure you’ve heard something about that already…), I figured it is best summed-up with a little help from Miley Cyrus:
How things change!
In a similar fashion to how Miley has changed in the past few years, link building has also gone through a rigorous alteration.
Attracting natural links in 2014 is an art and has taken on a new metaphorical outfit since the days of article marketing, comment spam, directory submissions etc. In hindsight, link building (done properly) now is more like the Miley of old – pure, innocent and natural. This transformation has helped redefine the role of link builders throughout our industry and, in my opinion, has helped us become all-round better marketers.
The purpose of links
Historically, as SEOs, we have been known to engage in building links that were solely placed to manipulate Google’s SERPs. The truth is out on that fact and has been for a long time. Despite this tactic actually working at the time, it took our attention away from the true meaning behind a link.
Ever since the web came about, links were there to give users more information about a particular subject – it really is that straightforward. As part of our approach to link building, it is imperative that we are of the mind-set that the user comes first and any link built should be with their intent firmly in our minds.
If you want to attract natural links, you need to offer something that is going to be of value to the audience that will eventually be exposed to the link.
To allow for this to happen, great amounts of emphasis needs to be placed on PR & building a brand that journalists, bloggers and online editors will be compelled to write about and share with their audiences. Content also goes hand-in-hand with this notion as, in many instances, creating something that is unique which visually captures information surrounding a certain topic will go a long way in attracting natural links – if promoted correctly, of course.
Links are important, but…
They are not the end goal.
Strictly speaking, there isn’t actually an end goal. SEO encompasses an array of marketing disciplines that together, help increase a site’s visibility in search engines; subsequently, the work we do is a constant work in progress.
Links are just the metaphorical sugar that goes into the cake mixture. They are not the cake itself.
It is vital that we don’t think of links as something that, once built, our work is done. Link building has turned into a somewhat timely, brand building process.
In relation to link building, the end goal for any business that is looking to increase their online presence is to build a brand that becomes THE authority in the sector they work in. They are the brands that naturally attract links (believe it or not, that does actually happen) and are the sources of information that people turn to when writing about a particular subject matter. Brands like Moz, Amazon and Apple are just a few brands that spring to mind. Yes, these guys all have awesome products but, they have also all dedicated a shed-load of time into building a brand that people are compelled to turn to and write about.
Just what is a ‘good’ link?
There are many opinions surrounding what makes a ‘good’ link and how to go about obtaining those types of links.
Here’s my take on it.
To assess whether a link has ‘worked’ for you and your business you need to ask questions such as, how many referrals did the link send through to the site? How many times did the link get shared on social media? How much time did users spend on the site after arriving through the link?
Those questions are really just scratching the surface when determining what a good link is. I’m sure you get my drift though – engagement is critical.
This data is all at Google’s disposal and the idea of them not using this in determining what a valuable link is wouldn’t make the slightest bit of sense. It would be like knowing what all the football scores will be at the weekend and not betting on any of the outcomes. Knowing what a good link is and which links should pass more value ultimately helps Google in the long run as they are able to deliver better results to their users and enables them to have a better understanding of what sites are attracting links that are of intrinsic value.
Attracting natural links and building brand awareness is an ongoing process. Gone are the days when links were primarily a numerical factor. We have placed a huge amount of emphasis on the role of digital PR in link building – our expert PR team are a testament to that and, ultimately, our job is to build a brand that people want to talk about whilst attracting links/mentions/shares/coverage along the way.
Links are not the end goal.
A link is a call-to-action. We should always be assessing whether that call to action has worked. You’ve probably been posed this question a million times before but, would the link actually serve a purpose if Google didn’t exist?
That is the question, in my opinion, that makes or breaks a link.