Digital Insights

No More: Shortcuts Link Building Requires Sweat and Creativity


Published: August 8, 2014

Back in the good old days, getting top search results ranking was as easy as slapping together a website with content no more sophisticated than that produced in an elementary school writing class. Splurge on a $50 package of 5,000 backlinks delivered within 48 hours and watch the money pour in. And pour in it did, creating countless digital millionaires until the day that the inevitable finally happened: Google grew up.

Google wasn’t the world’s first search engine, just the smartest. It saw links as “votes” cast by authority sites that could be used to determine the relative value of a site in providing a rewarding experience for search users. The biggest problem with this strategy came to light only after marketers realized that Google’s algorithm lacked the ability to distinguish quality links from bad, and began to hijack the search results with thousands of cheap, irrelevant, and low-quality backlinks.

Google Declares War on Spammy Backlinks
Google has been systematically eliminating one linking tactic after another through a combination of algorithm updates and manual penalties. Some of the most popular link building tactics that have fallen from Google’s favor include.

  • Any form of paid links.
  • Links with anchor text that has been over-optimized for target keywords.
  • Links from low-quality, spammy websites, including directories, that are unrelated to the recipient’s industry or geographic area.
  • Links gained through guest post blogging or through guest and forum commenting.
  • Basically any link that has not been editorially earned as a reward for providing relevant quality content.

The Dilemma of Google’s Anti-Spam Link Policies
On the one hand, Google has acknowledged that links will continue to be an important ranking factor in its search algorithm for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, Google seems to be saying that it doesn’t want webmasters to engage in any form of overt link building.

An estimated 80 percent of all websites are relative newcomers to the digital marketing arena. They have not had the opportunity to gain a favorable position gained through years of an online presence, or to acquire the backlinks that Google still demands but has so severely limited access to.

Perhaps Matt Cutts, head of Google’s anti-spam team, best defined the nature of the uphill battle facing webmasters today when he said “link building is sweat plus creativity.”

Effective Link Building Practices

  • More than ever, earning links today requires high-quality, relevant content. Content should be unique or at least packaged with a creative spin, or written to update or amplify previously published material.
  • Before you even begin to think about creating a new piece of content, you need to think in terms of creating a linkable asset, one that has value that someone will willingly exchange a link for.
  • Identify the sites that you will be seeking links from as well as the type of content that would appeal to their audience.
  • Start by creating quality content on your own website. Prospective third-party publishers of your content expect to see a solid body of articles that demonstrate expertise in your field as well as the ability to craft well-written articles.
  • Emphasize relationships over one-shot pitches to acquire a link. If a blog is worth pursuing as a link source, it’s worth making the effort to build a long-term relationship.