SEO has always been a subject with many misconceptions surrounding it. This has been largely to do with how search engines design their algorithms. It’s also because the many different ways SEO practitioners approach it’s execution, but link building is an important ranking signal and a key tactic of a successful SEO strategy.

Most of us have likely heard that link building can lead to a Google penalty if executed improperly. You’ve also likely heard that backlinks are a spammy tactic. The problem is that most digital marketers are not entirely sure, or have a full understanding of link building.

Here are 10 demystifying answers to the most important questions about link building:

Question 1

One of the most important questions is, why tackle link building if it can get you penalized? The simple answer is to think about it like this:

Search engines use the vote of confidence backlinks give to evaluate your site’s trustworthiness and authority.

Backlinks consistently show up at or near the top of the list of tactics that work. They’re one of the strongest ranking factors in the algorithm. The more links a domain has, the more authoritative the domain appears to search engines. Don’t forget though, it’s not about the shear number of links, but much more so about the power — authority — of the sources of those links.

Question 2

If link building isn’t a tactic you’re actively engaged in, will the backlinks you get naturally be enough to do the trick? A common, and not invalid approach to building links, is to create the best content you can, and let the links build naturally. Yes, this can work, but it will take time — even with the most compelling content. You still require exception content — that’s a no-brainer — but a faster, more reliable, and more efficient approach is to build at least some of your own backlinks. A prudent digital marketer will build links in addition to passively “earning” them.

Question 3

If passive link building isn’t enough, then why not just post links pointing to your site wherever you can? Randomly posting links wherever the opportunity arises falls into the bucket of improper implementation of link building. This indiscriminate approach can easily lead to problems. Posting links on external forums, blog comment sections and similar free-for-all type locations, at the very least can appear as if you’re spamming. You could also end up being penalized for breaking Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Question 4

So you’ve decided to take a pragmatic approach, but which links are most valuable? The rule of thumb to apply is this: the more authoritative the site is, the more valuable the link will be for SEO rankings. Of course, by favoring sites with high domain authority it’s generally going to be harder to get those links. Evaluate domain authority of a website by measuring it using a tool like Open Site Explorer.

Question 5

SEO is always changing and what used to work might not any more, so does anchor text still matter? Anchor text is the text users see when they see a link, but as SEO is always changing it’s a little different today in regards to anchor text. Allow me to explain.

Stuffing links full of keywords you want to rank for is by far the easiest way for Google to spot manipulative links. At the same time, well crafted anchor text can greatly aid in user experience as they scan and skim your content. Use relevant anchor text for your links. If it include a keyword and you can vary your anchor text — brilliant!

Question 6

As you go about pragmatically building links, is it worth it to get nofollow links? YES — is the quick answer. Strategically it doesn’t makes sense to say ‘no’ to a link just because it’s a nofollow. It’s akin to shooting your link building in the foot.

Nofollow links are links that are coded to pass no PageRank (AKA “link juice”). Back in the day site owners didn’t like people randomly (see question 3) posting links on their sites, so nofollow was created to combat link spam. Nofollow links yield less SEO value than “dofollow” links, but don’t risk losing potential users clicking on your link and visiting your website.

Question 7

Maybe you’re building links, and doing it much like what’s being outlined here, but you still wonder why isn’t my link building working? This is a legitimate question, and there are many reasons your link building campaign might appear unsuccessful. In the next post on SEO I will cover the top reasons in more depth, but here are two of the most common reasons link building can fail:

  1. There hasn’t been enough time to notice the benefits yet — link building isn’t a quick fix.
  2. There are technical errors that are holding your site back from rising in the ranks. Google has been very transparent about how technical issues — that can also be usability issues — can be detrimental to your organic ranking. Start by checking here first.
Question 8

Maybe your first pass at building links wasn’t as thoughtful, so what happens if you build a "bad" link? If you have irrelevant, clearly unnatural, or otherwise “bad” links, start by asking the site owner to remove it. If it’s just one link the risk of a negative impact is very low. Be more concerned if you have many “bad” links to your website. You can disavow these links in Google Search Console, but the advice here is to use caution. Stay tuned for a post in the near future about disavowing bad links.

Question 9

If you have a good link from one source, should you avoid building more links on that site? Building links from the same website does yield diminishing returns. This doesn’t mean you should explicitly avoid the approach. Remember, you’re also generating referral traffic with every link you build. The key here is to build “domain diversity”. The number of unique domains from which you have inbound links helps to create a strong ranking factor.

Question 10

You want to build links the right way and you want lots of them, so what’s the best way to build lots of good links? There is lots of great resource online to help you formulate a link building campaign, but here are two main strategies you need to keep in mind:

  1. Without phenomenal content, people will not link to your site. Create content people will love to link to.
  2. Create phenomenal content and then build links through your own authorship on external publications. This requires you becoming an author, and authority in your area of expertise.

These 10 demystifying questions and answers are intended to give you a solid orientation to the terrain of link building. You should be ready to start exploring it now.

Main photo by Stephen Monroe on Unsplash