Are You Ignoring Links Out of Fear?
Where are we at?
Link building activity has slowed down, leaving only but the brave and smart search marketers in a state of stagnation. Anyone who has been actively involved in SEO for over four years will have seen a massive shift in the approach to this profession. We all know that as Google has developed, they have relentlessly worked at making the most-deserved and valuable content reach our eyes. In doing this, they have progressively cracked down on a few fundamental things:
- Quality and relevancy of backlinks – Does the page you have acquired a link from actually provide value to anyone? If the answer is no, then that link is potentially bad for your site. How relevant is the site linking to your/your client’s site? If there is no relevancy at all, then you need to question why you got this link, because yet again, it could be harmful.
- Manipulation of the algorithm through anchor text links. Google was aware that people were building links through paid link submissions, knowing they were actively doing this to get a keyword to rank in Google for that anchor text phrase. If your backlink profile was a sea of these anchor text links, then you were likely to take a hit any day.
- Quality of your onsite content. If your content was thin and not of value to your audience, then it should not rank just because you have a shed load of backlinks.
But how has this changed how SEO agencies and freelancers are providing the service?
Throughout 2011, Google’s Panda updates were rolling out to address the quality of your onsite content, as far back as February 23rd 2011. SEOs were becoming aware that thin/poor onsite content, purely created to target a keyword to rank in search was gradually going to be worked out and rankings would fall into SERP never-land, if they didn’t action. As SEOs started to address the onsite content in attempt to fight off the regular Panda updates, they weren’t prepared for the wrath of Google Penguin. Link building was still being sold to eager clients’ like Coca Cola to the people of Mexico and rankings were soaring! Happy clients and rich web agencies aplenty. Fast forward to April 24th 2012 and Google’s first Penguin Update was rolled out. Years of bad link building would finally come unstuck and leave many sites with a fraction of the traffic and revenue they once had.
So what did SEO agencies and freelancers do?
Link audits and disavows became the product to sell because it was the one hope business owners had at recovering the organic traffic they had paid thousands to tens of thousands for. Disavow files were being submitted thick and fast, and as you can imagine, link building for many agencies was slowed right down because it was the culprit for this devastating incident. All the while, SEO is getting a worse name and SEO agencies are having to separate themselves from this by diversifying, some dropping SEO and becoming PR agencies, whilst others turn to SM, email marketing and development.
What were businesses to do?
Sit and wait for Google to take them off the naughty step, and in the meantime turn to social media and onsite SEO in preparation for the big comeback. For a long period of time SEOs didn’t really know what they could do when it comes to link building. Everything turned to making the website raise the bar and become a hub of incredible content for the audience. Everyone told each other and their clients that links would naturally come because the content is so incredible that people can’t help but link to it. Indeed, for a small percentage of companies investing in their content this did happen, but for most, that content was sitting pretty and acting as a way to serve their existing audience. For some sites that hadn’t been penalised but had stopped the link building activity, this content acted as the organic traffic-driver. At this stage the smart search marketers were investing in promoting the content the right way, by creating additional amazing content on highly relevant and authoritative sites, whilst sticking to URL and branded links. They would acquire links and direct visitors to pages that are relevant to their interest and come out on top in the rankings battle.
Link Building is Dead… Blah blah blah
As many business owners began to recalibrate their expectation of organic traffic, most SEOs stuck with the content hub approach and the small percentage of smart search marketers had the edge by promoting the content. These are the guys you just can’t outrank, no matter how much you tweak your metadata. ‘Link building is dead’ became the hot topic and it is only relatively recently (2015) that SEOs are ditching the old worn out tactics and doing it right. You can see just how many SEOs are now shedding light on the fact we have all been scared to do link building.
Putting it into play
Before reintroducing this scary topic of link building to our clients, I tested a short period of best-practice link building on my almost link-free domain. How can I sell a service to my clients if I can’t prove it works?
Before sharing my advice to the SEO world and getting links as a bi-product, my site would not rank in the top 100 results for ‘panda recovery service’. Today it ranks position 6 and this is after just after a couple of relevant links.
And its not just niche terms like this which have gained more visibility. I want to rank for what my business really is, an SEO agency in Brighton. I have jumped up 25 positions for this term (and trust me Brighton is full of SEO agencies!).
All I wanted to address in this article was that link building may have changed, but links still remain a very important signal for Google.
Article written by Tom Clark, Director of Convert Digital.