In spite of the many advances Google has made to its search engine algorithms in the years since Larry Page invented PageRank, inbound links are still central to the way the search giant decides how to rank pages. But all links aren’t equal, and the easiest links to get are also the least valuable — comment links, forum links, and other linking pages where there is little editorial control over the content.
Google has also become much smarter at figuring out whether links are the genuine article: a sincere expression of editorial approval of the content being linked to or simply part of a scheme to manipulate PageRank.
Link schemes and link spam have become increasingly ineffective. And, in the unlikely event that a particular link scheme is effective, it’s only a matter of time before Google figures it out. When it does, all the money invested into building links is lost; a site held aloft in the SERPs on the basis of a link scheme will take a nosedive.
Add that fact to the plethora of other signals that Google uses for ranking, and it might seem that manual link building is dead. In fact, if you pay attention to some parts of the SEO media — never ones to avoid wild speculation and hyperbole — you’d forgiven for believing that link building was a waste of time.
In fact, that’s not true. There is still a place for link building on the modern web. But here’s the thing: if you want to build a sustainable link profile, you’re going have to do it the hard way.
Link Building Today
The first thing you need is great content. Automated volume link building is essentially, if not completely, dead, and the best way to build sustainable links is to create awesome content — i.e. content that people want to link to. Of course, great content on its own isn’t enough. I’m not advocating an “if you build it they will come” approach, because they won’t come if they don’t know about it.
The second factor in effective link building is promotion and outreach. Social media plays a big role in this: the more people see your content, the more will link to it. It’s not that social media links count for much; they don’t. But social media is the best way to get content out to as many people as possible.
In that, social media is simply a very effective promotional tool, but it’s far from being the only promotional tool available to link builders. Let’s say you written the best resource on the web on a particular topic, but you have no incoming links. When you search for the subject of your content on Google, your work is overshadowed by lots of inferior articles. That’s because they have more incoming links (among other factors, but we’ll focus on links).
If your content is the best, why shouldn’t these links point to your site instead of the inferior content? Here’s where the hard work of manual link building comes in. You can use a tool like Majestic.com to discover who is linking to the pages that outrank your content.
Next, research those sites and find out why they are linking to the inferior content. Sometimes the links will be in years-old articles or spam directories, but sometimes the linking pages will be authoritative and useful resources.
Now, the maintainers of those pages want to link to the best content, right? And you’ve written the best content. Find a way to contact them and let them know that you have better content. Your conversion rate for this approach will be low, but the links gained are likely to be a genuine and sincere expression of editorial approval of your content.
You can take this process a step further by finding popular articles on relevant topics for your niche, write better articles, and then carry out the process we’ve discussed.
Link building is far from dead. Automated link building is heading in the direction of the dodo, but the good old-fashioned process of writing and promoting great content is very much alive and kicking.