Sick of feeling confused by the latest link building myths doing the rounds? Read on…
Link building has changed beyond recognition over the past 6 years.
That’s right. Can you believe it’s now almost 6 years since Google rolled out their Penguin algorithm for the very first time?
For those working in search back in 2012, April 24th is a day you’ll probably never forget; for good or for bad reasons.
Anyone who had been violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines probably wishes they could erase the date from memory. There’s a good chance they saw their first page rankings tank literally overnight; perhaps even dropping outside the top 100 results.
Those who had been ‘doing the right thing’ (or those Black Hatters who were very good at covering their tracks), on the other hand, were likely rejoicing that a large number of their main competitors no longer ranked at the top of the SERPs. Some nice ranking gains were probably also seen around this time as competitors dropped down.
There’s Just So Much BS Out There About Link Building
There’s a problem when it comes to link building.
You don’t need to look too far to find blog posts, YouTube videos or even Facebook groups which spread a whole host of myths surrounding link building.
Whilst no one truly knows exactly how Google’s algorithm works, there’s certainly a whole host of approaches which have been proven to work as well as those which will almost certainly land a penalty.
In an attempt to bring some truth to the topic; here’s an attempt to debunk 6 crazy links building myths.
1. Link Building Is Dead; Links No Longer Matter
Many will try to tell you that link building is dead. It’s been discussed numerous times by the industry publications in recent years; by Moz, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land to name but a few, however it’s on the forums and social media platforms where this myth does the rounds more frequently.
To put it simply; many so-called SEOs will try to tell you that link building died in 2012 when Google rolled out Penguin, due to the fact that many of the techniques and approaches which had (but really shouldn’t have) worked to rank a website for so many years, became ineffective over night. From exact match anchor text to bought links; link building suddenly got a whole lot harder to execute and see results from.
It’s certainly not dead, however. Far from it. In fact, Google announced in 2016 that links are one of their top 3 ranking signals.
Old-school link building is dead, but links still matter; the difference is you can’t get away with gaming the system anymore.
Focus your efforts upon earning quality links through content, your expertise and your relationships and you’ll see far more success than looking at ways to manipulate Google’s algorithm.
2. NoFollow Links Have No SEO Value
This one has been doing the rounds for years, however has been dragged up again in recent months as a result of Google’s continued comments that links which occur as a result of some form of commercial deal (including products gifted for reviews) should be given a rel=”nofollow” attribute.
First off; what actually is a nofollow link?
In Google’s own words (Matt Cutts’ to be precise … remember him??), “Nofollow provides a way for webmasters to tell search engines ‘Don’t follow links on this page’ or Don’t follow this specific link.’ In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links.”
Note how the definition states ‘in general.’
There’s every argument that Google, in 2018, is advanced enough to understand the value of any given link; regardless of whether that link has a nofollow attribute applied. Surrounding signals within content, or link placement, often help to determine whether a link has been paid for outside of the nofollow attribute.
That aside, however, who cares whether a link is nofollow or not? (Remember; ‘dofollow’ links aren’t a thing…they’re just links; those which haven’t had a nofollow attribute added)
There’s plenty of other benefits from great links including referral traffic and brand awareness, as well as the all important fact that nofollow links often lead to more links, many of which won’t be nofollowed. This is something which Moz spoke about almost 4 years ago.
Let’s say a national newspaper, such as The Daily Mail, link out to your latest piece of content. Great news! You’re probably running around the room in a whirlwind of excitement if this isn’t something which happens often.
News flash: the link is almost certainly nofollowed.
Does this mean it’s a bad link? Most definitely not.
It will drive referral traffic, brand awareness and almost always lead to further links from second-tier publishers (bloggers, niche publications and the like).
Many publishers often use the top-tier platforms as content discovery tools; speeding up their research process on hot topics to cover.
If one of these sees your content on the Daily Mail and covers it, there’s a good chance it won’t be nofollowed!
Do nofollow links have any SEO value? Yes, of course they do!
3. Guest Posting Is Dead
20th January 2014.
A day which went down in SEO history.
Matt Cutts infamously declared war on guest blogging and the search community was in uproar.
Having been warning against abusing the tactic for some time, Matt published a post on his personal blog which opened, “Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”
Not knowing any better, many SEOs proceeded to stop using guest blogging as a link building tactic almost straight away. Why? Because they believed every word which Matt spoke.
To truly understand the myth, however, it’s important to look at exactly what Matt was referring to.
Check out this ‘guest posts’ first of all:
Notice the exact match link of ‘Japan Anime Trip’ in the second paragraph? How about the branded mention to the only link in the post in the third paragraph?
Not to mention the fact that the post is only 332 words long.
How about the recent posts? Yes, it’s all vaguely related to travel but nothing really very exciting is it?
We’ve no idea who the author is.
Check out any post on the ‘blog’ and it’s a similar story. 300 – 500 words, exact match anchor text links.
We’ll let you into a secret … this is almost definitely a Private Blog Network (PBN). Exactly the type of ‘guest blog’ which Matt warned about in 2014. We came across this from one of the many lists of links we’re emailed on an almost daily basis.
The only intention of this post (and the blog as a whole) is to link out to try and manipulate the search engines.
Take note: These links DO NOT work. You’re wasting your $5 and writing time.
On the other hand, how about the following:
This is also a ‘guest blog.’
This time, it’s hosted on an agency / hosting providers blog. Yes, it’s marked up as ‘partner content’ but who’s to say that’s a bad thing?
Looking at the stats in a little more depth, we see that, this time around, the post is 1035 words in length and the post covers the topic in great detail.
The main blog feed (and other posts) look like this:
The post was written by Feefo. It links out with a branded link and we not only get a name for the author but also a headshot!
Why is Ian guest blogging for NuBlue? Primarily to build authority and awareness across a complementary audience (NuBlue are an eCommerce agency and Feefo offer a reviews platform) however the link is a nice bonus. A ‘thank you’ for taking the time to submit content.
Equally as importantly, we see that a number of other sources are also linked out to:
The bottom line is that guest blogging is NOT dead. It’s all about writing quality content for relevant publications and understanding that the link shouldn’t be the main driver for writing a post for someone else. Yes, it’s great to have and a worthwhile link building tactic but this is real-life marketing. It’s not about manipulating the search engines and getting a link from anywhere.
Quality over quantity every time.
Do it right and Google will have no issues. Guest blogging isn’t dead. All that is dead is the Black Hat techniques which once worked. Forget them and focus your efforts and your budget on doing SEO the right way.
The light side of the force (White Hat) always comes out on top over the dark side (Black Hat) in Star Wars. Apply the same principles to SEO and you’ll thank yourself for it in the long run.
4. Directory Links … How Old School Can You Get?
Many assume that directory links are associated only with Black Hat SEOs.
Are we talking about directories such as this:
Or directories such as this:
Both are what you could class as a directory which you could build links from.
There’s one big difference however.
The first example exists solely for the purpose of selling links. It has absolutely zero value to users and offers very little in the way of information. It’s a waste of time for link building and these are exactly the type of links which Google set out to penalise with their Penguin algorithm.
The second example, however, is a local business directory (or maybe we should call it a resource?) for those in Canary Wharf, London.
It exists for a purpose; to assist those living in, working in and travelling to the area find businesses. It’s useful and exists to serve a purpose.
If it didn’t link out to the businesses, would it still be useful? Yes, of course it would.
When doing local SEO, having a consistent NAP profile is key to success and directories remain one of the best ways to build this up naturally. They’re also a great way to earn either locally-relevant or niche-relevant links.
So long as the directories exist for a purpose other than to sell links; go ahead! They’re good link to have in your link profile and typically easy to obtain.
Start finding fresh opportunities with search queries such as:
“[location] business directory” // “[industry] business directory”
You might be pleasantly surprised at the opportunities which exist!
5. You Only Want To Be Building DA30+ Links
If you’re being asked to build links with a minimum DA, you’re probably dealing with someone who doesn’t really know too much about SEO.
Yes, metrics do matter when it comes to link building but they’re certainly not the be all and end all.
Typically, DA signifies the quality and authority of a website and there’s definitely an argument that the higher the score, the better the link.
When you begin to focus solely on DA metrics, you start to lose scope of perhaps the more important factor in link building; relevancy. You’re also, in some ways, manipulating the search engines.
By all means, aim for higher DA links, however a natural link profile will contain links across the spectrum.
Focus your efforts, instead, upon building relevant links.
Doing this not only has benefits from an SEO perspective but the referral traffic will be much better and you’ll be helping to boost your brand authority that little bit quicker.
Yes, you do need to assess the quality of a link but that shouldn’t just be based upon a DA score.
Take a look at Neil Patel’s guide on link evaluation to learn more on how to do this.
6. Link Relevancy Doesn’t Matter
This has more or less been covered above, however many would argue that a link is a link and that relevancy doesn’t matter.
Search Engine Land published a study in 2016 which looked specifically at whether relevancy or authority has more link value.
Guess what some of the comments surrounding relevancy were? Things like…
“If all metrics are the same (including all link value metrics at page level), then I would take relevance in 2017 over authority.” – Paul Madden, Kerboo
“Even links from high-authority sites may be discounted if there is no relevance. “Without question, I would take a highly relevant link, with low authority. All. Day. Long. The reasons for choosing a relevant link are many.” – Cyrus Shepard
“I’d choose a highly relevant link with low authority. The authority can always increase over time if it’s a relevant and useful site; however, the relevance of the link likely won’t change.” – Aleyda Solis, Orainti
That’s some big name SEOs fighting for the corner of relevancy.
In all honesty, no one truly knows whether or not link relevancy matters but it’s common sense.
Google are doing everything they can to reduce webspam and websites based upon their own relevancy to a search query. Surely, given that, they’re giving a weighting to links from relevant websites? We’d say so…
That’s not to say that you should ignore relevancy completely. Far from it.
If you’ve got the opportunity to earn a link from a high DA site which isn’t really relevant to you (yet there’s a hook and genuine reason for the link), go for it! You’d be stupid not to.
Just don’t make this your only strategy.
Always remember relevancy and your marketing efforts will go far beyond SEO. It’s all about building a brand around yourself and your business.
7. Too Many Links At Once Will See You Penalised
Link velocity. Another hot topic amongst SEOs.
Some say that if you earn too many links in a short period of time, you’ll be penalised for it.
Is there any truth in that?
If these are editorially earned links as a result of a content marketing campaign which went viral; of course you won’t. In fact, this in itself can be seen as a signal of authority, that your site is one which Google needs to be paying extra attention to.
We recently earned over 700 links for a client in the space of around 4 weeks. This included links from Mashable, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Daily Mail etc. This was as a result of a content marketing campaign which started to snowball.
Wonder what happened to their organic search visibility? This…
The links were earned in October 2017…right before the rapid growth.
Earning a large number of links quickly isn’t always a bad thing.
On the other hand, if you’re thinking you can go and buy 1000 links from a PBN through Fiverr; forget it. Large volumes of low quality links, especially those using exact match anchor texts or which display other signals of manipulation, will almost certainly see you trigger a penalty of some sort.
Always consider the circumstances when looking at link velocity. Don’t get caught up in discussions around building either the same number of links or varying the number up each month.
If you approach link building in an organic way, why worry about how many links you’re building? In many ways, its irrelevant. Simply focus upon building high quality, authority links. If you can earn 700 with a viral content campaign; great. If you can only earn 3 or 4 through a targeted (quality focussed) guest blogging campaign; that’s also great.
8. Don’t Ever Link Out To Others
There’s nothing more frustrating than those who refuse to link out to others from within their content.
Many a time when working on link building campaigns, we’ll be met with resistance from bloggers and webmasters.
The conversation often goes something like this:
Us: We’ve got a fantastic content campaign which we’ve been working on which we think your audience would love. Fancy covering it or adding the link to your existing post to add some value?
Them: Wow, we love the content. But sorry, we don’t link out from our site. It’s bad for our SEO. We’ll lose link juice.
Stop being so stingy with your so-called ‘link juice.’
This is something which was a hot topic in the pre-Penguin days when link sellers would bump up the price for a link on a page with only a few outbound links on the grounds that the PageRank is spread across less links.
Maybe this was the case but you really shouldn’t be buying links on pages where there’s 1000 other links in 2018. If you are, we feel for you, we really do!
Similarly, SEOs would often advise clients not to link out to others as that PageRank could be better distributed internally rather than externally.
No one is debating that, but, believe it or not, linking out to others is actually a sign of authority and is something you should do.
Linking out to other content shows that you’ve done your research and actually adds value to your readers. You can’t ever cover everything in a piece of content but there’s plenty of occasions when a reader would want to explore a topic further. Link out to it, in that case.
In fact, Moz first talked about this in 2009. A whole 9 years ago!
Rand suggested that, “As for costing PageRank – yes, it’s true. Technically, the original PR formula (described in great detail here by my grandfather, Si) dictates that any link equity spent on external pages is lost opportunity that could have been spent on internal pages. HOWEVER, I (and many other notable SEOs) have seen very compelling evidence to suggest that not only does linking out NOT harm a site’s rankings, it appears to carry some positive correlations with ranking, trust, etc. on both a page and domain-wide level. I’ll cover this more in my reasons to link out below.”
9. The More The Merrier
Remember when your goal as an SEO was to earn as many links to your own or your client’s website? Without any real care about the quality?
Those days are long gone.
Pre-Penguin, Google really should have had better quality filters in place within the algorithm to filter out the s**t. But they didn’t. SEOs abused this and many businesses made a shed load of short-lived money from ranking at the top of the SERPs for high-volume money terms.
Stop focussing upon the number of links being built.
Instead, focus upon the quality of these.
That’s not to say a metric such as DA or even relevancy, but by determining what a quality link looks like within your industry.
When you start to focus on building a set number of links, or even to simply earn more links than your competitors, you lose sight of how Google’s algorithm works.
Not all links are equal.
Some will give you a serious ranking boost whilst others will either have absolutely no effect or be seen negatively by the big G.
Quality is king when it comes to link building. The sooner you get yourself in that mindset, the better.
10. Private Blog Networks Still Work
Run a search on Google for ‘Private Blog Networks‘ and you’ll find plenty of posts such as this and this discussing whether or not this old-school (not to mention Black Hat) link building approach still works in 2018.
So…to answer the question. Do PBNs still work?
By that, we mean that if done in a way which is truly private and in a way which they look to be genuine, authority sites then yes, they probably do. But building up a series of authority sites with great content, great designs and established domains takes a lot of time.
When doing that, how is it really much different to buying a competitors business which is up for sale and linking to your site? It’s not and in small volumes, a truly private blog network probably won’t do you any harm if the links are part of a varied link profile.
Does that mean you should be using this as a link building strategy, though?
In our opinion, probably not. There’s much better ways to allocate resources … content marketing and content-led link building where you can easily earn 100+ links with a well thought out campaign.
It would take hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to build 100 private blog network sites.
On the other hand, if you’re thinking of PBNs as the large lists of sites which you receive in your inbox a few times a day, where you can place a ‘guest post’ on a site for $5? Yes, they’re PBNs.
You didn’t really think they were genuine sites with traffic of their own, did you?
These don’t work. Full stop. In fact, they’ll most likely see you penalised by Google. Forget it.
11. Gifting Bloggers For Links Is A Quick-Win Solution
Remember when Interflora was served a Google penalty back in 2013 as a result of a large-scale blogger and advertorial campaign?
The popular florist had been openly gifting flowers to bloggers in return for links and Google decided to make an example of the company and serve them a penalty which killed their visibility on the SERPs. They were also buying advertorials from newspapers, which was reportedly also part of the problem.
Interflora was missing even from branded search queries for 11 days.
That’s a long time for a brand of their stature.
During this penalty period, Google issued a reminder about paid links.
Google’s Stance Hasn’t Changed In This Time
Fast forward to today and we can clearly see in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines on the topic of gifting in return for a link that, examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results include, “Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.”
Pay attention here to the exchange of goods … gifting free products.
Does this mean you should avoid gifting products completely? No way!
Influencer marketing is booming and the power of such a campaign can be huge. Not only across blogs but also on social media and YouTube.
If you’re running a B2C campaign, if you’re not working with influencers you’re likely missing a big trick.
You do need to be aware, however, that Google classes such links as unnatural on the grounds that you’ve gifted. These links should be nofollowed.
Should you, therefore, specify to everyone who reviews that they should nofollow their links?
Leave a reviewer to make their own mind up.
Many will already be nofollowing links as a result of warnings about disclosure of sponsorship from the ASA. Some won’t however.
Let the links come out as the publisher sees fit and you’re very unlikely to run into any issues. It’s only when you start manipulating the link profile in this way that you’ll soon be wishing you hadn’t.
12. Google Will Never Know You’ve Paid For That Link
So…you’re thinking about buying a handful of links to speed up your SEO campaign and are under the impression that Google will never know that money has changed hands?
Be careful, that’s all we’ll say.
As a general rule, paying for links strongly violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and could see penalties imposed.
The question you must always ask, however, is how obvious is it and at what scale are you doing it?
If you’re paying for a link from a blog where the post has ‘sponsored’ plastered all over it, of course Google will know money exchanged hands. The link should be nofollowed in this instance. Don’t necessarily avoid as there may well be brand value.
On the other hand, if you’ve built up a relationship with a blogger over a period and start chatting to them about working together and they mention that they want a fee paying for doing so, you may be safe.
Think on it this way…would you work for free?
If you’re asking a blogger to spend a few hours writing a blog post which includes a link to your site, why should they do it for nothing? You get the benefit and they’ve spent an evening helping you out.
The discussion here is whether you’re paying the blogger for their time to write a blog post (don’t even mention the link to them; they’ll likely do it anyway and it’ll end up more natural) or are buying a link.
Google have never said you can’t hire a copywriter, have they?
Look for the signals. If it’s obvious you’ve paid for a link, stay well away. If what you’re actually doing is commissioning a blogger (an expert in their field) to write a piece of content, so long as you’re not doing it at scale and foregoing quality and relevancy, you’re probably not putting your site at risk of a penalty.
As always, however, ask how that budget could be spent elsewhere to further your SEO campaign. Many bloggers don’t come cheap these days.
13. Reciprocal Link Building Should Be Avoided
“You link to me and I’ll link back to you. That way we both get a link and some SEO value.”
Remember those days?
You know, when emails like this landed in your inbox every hour…
This might be starting to become a trend, but who cares?!
Reciprocal or not, stop thinking about link building in this way.
For starters, you’ll be hard pushed for anyone who will fall for such an old-school tactic anymore. It just doesn’t work like that. We’ve all been spammed to death for years and years that any of these emails that still come through get deleted straight off.
Will Google penalise you because you get a link from a site which links to you? Of course not.
On the other hand, should you focus your link building efforts on reciprocal link building? No way.
It’s not even really a strategy anymore. If it happens that an opportunity for you and another site to collaborate together; great. Just don’t travel back in time and start spamming with the above.
14. Publish Great Content & The Links Will Come Naturally
Too many so-called ‘content marketers’ work on a principle that if they create great content, it will naturally earn links.
Yes, if you create a fantastic piece of content, let’s say a guide, which ranks at the top of the SERPs for a term which is regularly being researched and cited in other content, you can earn links naturally. It happens all the time.
Just not for most, unless you’re a big brand with a level of authority which means your great content shoots straight to the top.
In most cases, you can publish the best content there is out there on a topic, but if no one knows it exists, they’ll never link to it. Pages need links to rank at the top of the SERPs (big brands can get away with doing things differently due to their authority) in order to be cited in other content.
You need to have a solid promotion plan in place when you’re publishing content otherwise the unfortunate reality is that you’re unlikely to see much earned in the way of links.
Take what those who claim links come naturally to great content with a pinch of salt. In some respects, it’s true, however in most cases, only when you’re working for or with a big brand with a huge DA. For most of us, content needs to be promoted to earn links and we’d always working on the 80/20 approach; that being, spend 80% of your time promoting content and 20% producing it. That’s not to say you should scrimp on quality on production; more that you need to promote a piece to death to see it really perform for you!
15. It Takes Weeks For Links To Affect Rankings
Some used to throw 4 weeks around as the length of time it’d take for links to really show an effect on rankings, however in reality, it’s likely far longer than that.
Back in 2016, Moz published a study which looked at this specific topic, with their conclusion being that it takes approximately 10 weeks on average to see 1 rank jump. That’s quite a while!
It’s for this reason that it’s so important for clients to give agencies time when assessing the impacts from a link building campaign. If rankings aren’t being affected by links for 10 weeks or so, assessing a campaign after 3 months (12 weeks) is pretty pointless, right?
It can take many months to start seeing an ROI from an SEO campaign but it’s all about education and expectations. If clients understand this, they’ll roll with it for 12 months or more before seeing a strong ROI; so long as there’s noticeable improvements along the way.
Fail to educate, however, and there could well be some tricky conversations after a few months.
16. All Links Are Worth Having
Most certainly NOT!
Links aren’t equal and certainly aren’t all worth having.
Those who adopt a mindset of ‘any link is a good link’ are playing a dangerous game and are likely not seeing the results which they’re hoping for.
In short, in order to rank on the SERPs you need to earn high authority links from relevant sources. This could be through:
- Guest blogging
- Resource-page link building
- Broken link building
- Citations from genuine directories
- Content asset production and outreach
- Case studies & testimonials
- + Many, many more
Great links could look like this:
Or even like this:
If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to link building approaches, check out The SEO Project which will walk you through 184 different techniques.
On the other hand, you want to stay away from links which are intended to manipulate the search engines. Typically those including:
- Article directory submissions
- Exact-match anchor text links
- Directories intended only to sell links
- Bought links / sponsored links
- Private Blog Network links
- Mass blog comments
- + Many, many more
A spammy article directory submission, as an example, might look like this:
Or again, the example of a directory solely for the purpose of selling links shown earlier:
Going down the route of grabbing any old link doesn’t work. Once over it may have done, however certainly not in 2018.
Focus your efforts upon earning high quality, relevant links from traffic-generating sources and you’ll win at SEO this year. No questions asked.
It’s all about showcasing to Google that you’re an authority and when you place this as your primary goal, you’ll reap a whole host of SEO benefits as a result.