There are some mixed messages when it comes to link building. On one hand, websites have faced some backlash when it comes to even legitimate linking and having too many can actually hurt your ranking. On the other, you pretty much can't crack the top ten in Google's search results if you haven't built a stroke foundation of backlinks from the get-go.
How can we reconcile these two conflicting ideas and come out with better results? By recognizing the way link building has changed in recent years and adapting our strategy for 2018.
In other words, we need to be building links in a more natural way.
The History Of Link Building and Its (Sort Of) Demise
We need to be honest about old link building strategies for a minute. While organic links were a thing, the majority fell under the category of paid links. Sure, they would try to make them look like they weren't paid, but they ultimately were providing some kind of monetary compensation. Ten minutes on Digital Point Forum back in the day would show just how popular this method was.
Others did exist. Site networks, directory links and press releases where both the narrative and the links could be totally controlled gave another avenue of directing traffic back to a site. Affiliate links outside of full networks were also starting to gain some traction, building smaller communities and helping to communally improve ranking.
That was fine for awhile, it certainly worked. But Google got fed up with the whole thing and decided it wasn't a genuine form of linking (they were probably right). So they started to penalize those sites, even as they claimed they didn't have penalties. The sudden drop in traffic and the loss of ranking proved otherwise.
Here is a super interesting fact: Marcus Tober of SearchMetrics has found that 86% of the top ranking sites on Google just seven years ago no longer rank.
This was about the time that those penalties started to be placed into effect. Clearly, link building as we knew it was over. Press releases for SEO, affiliate networks... they just weren't reliable anymore.
I was never big on any of these. In fact, I found most of them pretty dishonest. Sure, I released the occasional press release when I had significant industry news, such as the launch of a new site. But that was an occasional indulgence and never brought any real spike in traffic, instead acting as a tool for those who already knew me and my brand.
What I learned a long time ago was that link building was done with relationships.
The Difference With Natural Link Building
All of the above was my introduction to the idea of relationships as natural link building. The current state of building links can seem a little unstable and having connections with others is your number one way to ensure you can still take part in the process, see real results and not catch the eye of Google as they continue to strike down those sites who use bad SEO practices. Ethical and 'best practise' SEO above all, will help to ensure you stay competitive in your rankings and be the most rewarding in terms of results.
The latest (and most alarming) of the recent updates to do this was Fred. Targeting content-based websites, it was mainly aimed at those that had chosen a more aggressive approach to in-page advertising. But genuine sites got swept up in the process and many lost as much as 90% of their traffic overnight.
This is yet another example of why a strong community and quality content is so critical. Aggressive SEO just doesn't work anymore. What does is forming unique and genuine connections and networking across the industry, showing strong ties between sites that build links in a natural and logical way... one that Google can't mistake for shady or gray marketing strategies or attempts to unfairly exploit their algorithm.
Building Those Natural Links
Alright, so I have spent a lot of time on background information rather than just giving clear instructions on how to do it yourself. That is because I wanted to really drive just how critical this process is and the risks of using the older methods of linking that are still out there in spite of the very real backlash.
But there is another reason: the tips are so simple that they require very little detail. Seriously, these link building ideas are so intuitive that you may be doing some of them and not even realize that you are already building relationship based links.
So here is an easy to follow breakdown of how to do this for yourself and your brand.
Guest Blogging... For The Sake of Visibility
Yep, this is still your number one source of healthy links and has continued to be in spite of the "you should probably stop" advice back in 2014. Links just sort of fit naturally in there because guest posts are limited by their very nature. In order to provide relevant background, evidence, additional information and proof of authority, you need to link out at least once.
Then there is helpful info internally linked within the website you are writing for. Then building third party links by backing up what you say or quoting people and needing to properly credit them. It isn't shady attempt to stuff links, it is just something that has to be done.
What you really need to stop doing when guest blogging is focusing on links. DA? Nofollow? Who cares!
What does matter is how much visibility will likely come from each article. Will it build your authority? Remember: With authority come ranks.
This has been a shockingly useful thing for me. I love including influencers in my content because they have so much expertise and knowledge to offer my readers.
So I will provide some kind of quote or mention one of the amazing studies they have done, link back to it and BAM! You have a relationship connection that can be nurtured from there. I have met and worked with so many talented people using this form of link building.
Remember: When building connections with influencers, never user cookie-cutter approach. All of them are different: Some will like your product, others would rather prefer visibility from your site. Focus on relationship building, rather than ROI at this point.
Give To The Community Selflessly
I am in love with SEMRush and their content. Not just because it is well written (though it totally is). But because they write high quality, informative, educational content and expect nothing from it but to be helpful. They don't beg for, trade or push for links. But they get them anyway.
Their organic link building is off the charts because they just provide something to the community without pressure and that content happens to be highly valuable.
Troll for Broken Links
OK, this one is time consuming but I have done it and had some relatively positive results from it. You use a tool that detects broken links (WordPress extension Broken Link Checker, Chrome's Check My Links, etc.) on industry relevant webpages. When you find one, send the webmaster an email letting them know that they have a dead link they may want to take care of.
Then offer a link to your own content that covers the same topic if they would like to use it. I get around a 60% success rate, which is awesome. But it does take time and effort.
The way I really like thinking about this tactic is that it really fixes the web, so it's actually ethical.
Create More Educational Content
I have found that content on one of these topics (especially "Safety") attracts links in almost any industry... Meaning that web publishers (teachers, journalists and bloggers) are more likely to link to articles on these topics when we email them nicely to share the resource. Of course, it also comes down to the quality and depth of content, so do your research first.
And here are a few tools to help you get that research done: First look at questions people ask in your industry:
It is a smart idea to use your broken research to brainstorm topics that are likely to result in more links through that method too.
Focus on Long-Term Goals
The funny thing is, none of the above tactics is new: they have all existed for ages. It's just they are hard (or better yet impossible) to scale and thus most online businesses were reluctant to invest in them.
With Google penalties and algorithm updates, there's no longer an option: Businesses are forced to think long-term and marketers have to make the point across: Without focusing on adding value to the community, there will be no organic rankings.
The good thing is, content creation and community building come with more benefits, beyond links and rankings. They nurture loyalty, create return visits, turn lurkers into subscribers and most importantly provide for more stability when it comes to online visibility. You cannot build authority in a day, but a good thing you cannot lose it in a day either.
Have any tips for natural link building? Let us know in the comments!