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Link Building

Backlinks = Rankings, Rankings = Traffic – Deal With It

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Matt Cutts

Link building, done correctly, is hard work. It's laborious and filled with lots of rejection. In many ways, it's like telemarketing – nobody likes it, but it pays off. In fact, link building still works better than anything else to boost organic rankings.

Google's Matt Cutts recently confirmed the continuing value of links here and here. The key quotes:

...backlinks…are a really, really big win in terms of quality for search results ... backlink relevance still really, really helps in making sure we return the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.

...backlinks still have many, many years left in them ... over time backlinks will become a little less important ... we will continue to use links in order to assess the basic reputation of pages and websites.

So what are the takeaways from these videos? Most commenters picked up on natural language processing and authorship, as probable ranking factors moving forward, without acknowledging the core message of the videos – links still matter a lot. And they will continue to matter for many years.

I don't blame anyone for chalking these videos up to Google FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), but the evidence doesn't stop there. I'm sure that you're familiar with the Penguin algorithm. How about manual penalties, for unnatural links? If links didn't matter, would there be an entire industry dedicated to link audits and sanitizing backlink profiles? Would Google spend so much time and resources battling spammy links? Of course not.

Still, there is a whole contingency of "link deniers" proclaiming that "link building is dead." These folks are just as fervent in their beliefs as the "truthers" and "birthers" despite factual evidence that runs to the contrary. (There's a pretty good chance you will read their comments, below.)

So why are so many people running away from the single most important task in building organic rankings? The answer is pretty simple. Not only is link building hard, but if done improperly, it can result in a penalty and in the most extreme cases can even get you sued!

Can you blame SEO professionals for running away from that hot mess? Of course you can – and you should.

Every marketing campaign focused on building organic rankings needs a link building component. Thousands, if not millions, of pages of great content are published on the web daily – most will never be seen by human eyes. Great content alone, in a competitive niche, rarely ranks without links.

There's a big difference between link building (baiting, earning) and link spamming. The kinds of links that matter are the ones that are editorially given. Links with innate value, not necessarily SEO value. These links require human intervention for placement. A link that can be dropped automatically by anyone has little value and often leads to abuse and trouble.

So, what are some effective techniques for building links in 2014? Actually, the same strategies advised by Cutts way back on March 4, 2010 still hold up today:

  • Create controversy: Use it sparingly like spice. The occasional rant is best and if over-used, loses its effectiveness.
  • Use humor: Offered as a "softer" alternative to controversy. Can be equally effective – especially if original. (The Oatmeal has built a franchise on funny)
  • Participate in blog and forum communities: Not as a spammer, but as an interested community member who gives back to the community by answering questions that help people. This builds credibility and opens up opportunities to attract links.
  • Publish original research: Doing a little work to dig into a subject can get a lot of links.
  • Use social media: Think about where your target audience spends their time. Is it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? You need to be there as well. Like blog and forum communities, getting to know people via social media opens up link opportunities.
  • Create a "Top X List": Like controversy, this is best used sparingly or it can get old fast
  • Blog frequently and establish yourself as an authority in your field: If authorship had been in place when this video was produced, I'm sure that would have been mentioned, as well.
  • Create how-tos and tutorials: They may not attract a ton of links, but a few good links can have a huge impact – especially on the long tail. These are also a natural for video.
  • Create a useful product and give it away for free: Firefox extensions, Chrome extensions, WordPress plugins, anything open source.

Bottom Line

Cheap, easy, automated link spamming is no longer an option for those in it for the long haul. (Notice that I didn't say that it's dead or doesn't work.)

Editorial link building is alive and well and more powerful than ever before. Getting position one for a keyword is no longer the only KPI to measure, but it's still an important metric to pay attention to as a means to drive organic traffic to your website.


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