7 Golden Rules of Link Building Revisited

Back in October 2012 I wrote a post entitled “The Golden Rules of Link Building” where I listed seven golden rules (yeah, like the title says) that had held true for me for years and that I expected to remain true for another few years.

So did they? I mean golden rules are kind of supposed to be constants aren’t they?

Let’s take a look.

Rule 1: Great content on a great site will attract attention, whether it’s from actual links, social shares, people talking about it on outside sites or forums, etc.

Nope.

I’m totally at a loss to explain why I thought that great content would just magically attract attention because guess what? There’s so much content out there, even the great stuff is easily buried.

You know how you sometimes see someone tweet a link to a post that’s a few months old and you click over and think “wow, I can’t believe I missed this one!”? Well that’s life today on the Web. I am personally flooded with information every single day whether I’m checking email, building links, looking at Twitter, or even watching a show on Hulu. The noise is making us all have attention issues so how can you think that great content alone is enough?

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I was so naive back then.

Remember I said “great content” and “on a great site,” though, which does add a wrinkle but we’re all savvy enough that even if our favorite site posts a so-so article, we’re going to call them out on it. We now think of these authority sites as having a responsibility to readers. If you’re popular and you publish a bunch of rubbish you’re going to hear about how you’ve let everyone down.

Remember Moz’s recent whiteboard Friday fiasco that was dissected on the Sugarrae.com site? It’s a perfect example of this fact.

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Rule 2. Great content on a not-so-great site that no one sees will need help in order to generate buzz.

I’ll stand by this one but say that today, I think it’s even more critical.

But we all need help right? Remember that: promotion has to happen.

Rule 3. If you’re actively going after a link (whether you’re asking for it, hinting that you’d like it, sending the webmaster a fat Amazon gift card, or outright giving a webmaster cash), you should make sure that the link is worth your time and effort.

I’m happy to say that this is still 100 percent true today. Sure, some people think that if you pursue a link, that’s a bad thing but for the rest of us, it’s a necessity and considering the damage done by crap links, you really need to make sure it’s a good link. Actually you should make sure that it’s a great link because anything less is a potential problem down the road.

Rule 4. If your only online marketing strategy is link building (or any other single tactic), you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Oh wow this one is still so, so true and I do think that most webmasters understand that links aren’t magic bullets. There are a few who don’t want to do anything else but most people now understand that you can’t just ignore usability and on-page factors and get a bunch of links that will skyrocket you to the top of the SERPs.

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Rule 5. If you’re using link-building tactics that are short-sighted and dangerous, you should have a backup plan for when you get caught and penalized.

Oh yes, yes, yes, yes.

How many people had a backup plan, though? How many people actually thought they’d get penalized?

From what I’ve seen, a lot of penalties happened to sites that did have some baggage in their profile but certainly not more than the average older site. I was quite surprised to see so many white hat link builders see the sites they worked on get hit, but it happened and it’s still happening.

Why?

Well for one thing, the definition of what tactics are shortsighted and dangerous changes every time Google updates its Webmaster Guidelines. We should expect that, though, as every popular tactic gets abused and then cracked down on.

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What kind of a backup plan can you really have if you rely on Google? Giving them money through AdWords? Hoping that you can make it up through Bing or social sites? And I hate to ask yet another question but who doesn’t rely on Google? Some people are lucky and they don’t but the rest of us are kind of at their mercy in many ways.

I’d also say that even if you aren’t using shortsighted and dangerous tactics, think about a backup plan. Please.

Rule 6. However, there is a reality that some people have faced, and that is that with many updates, there is collateral damage and you can’t plan for when you’re accidentally victimized by the latest change.

This is even more true today. I think that many SEOs finally realize that Google is not a fair and benevolent company and that’s their business (literally) but it’s crazy to see the tide changing. Just a few years ago there were Google acolytes everywhere and now? A lot of them are quick to call Google out on how their algorithm can ruin people’s businesses, accidentally. I’m not saying Google owes you anything, but when you do nothing that intentionally violates their guidelines and you still get penalized, it’s difficult to keep worshipping them.

Before you protest, let me give you an example of what I mean here: we all know we aren’t supposed to comment and forum spam but what if you ran a site that commenters and forum members naturally linked to? I dealt with a site in this situation (they had a database of famous quotes) and they got hit. They didn’t build those links but they attracted them, and in a very natural manner since people love to use quotes and link to them and it’s very common to see quotes in a signature. I’ve never seen such an unfair penalty.

Rule 7. Like it or not, some sites will most likely have to rely on techniques that are frowned upon.

Nobody likes to talk about this but in some competitive industries, you’re going to buy links and do other things that may break the rules. We can argue for days about whether you HAVE to do this but let’s just acknowledge that this is what’s going on in many industries.

This part of my old post makes me shake my head and wonder why I didn’t see it coming back then:

“If you use article syndication and press releases, two tactics that are occasionally trashed yet remain popular and successful methods that aren’t a violation of Google’s guidelines like buying links is, what will you think when Google does add those to its ever-growing list of “things we don’t really like anymore”?”

Well that’s happened hasn’t it? And people are still doing it, maybe because they feel they have to in order to compete and it’s worth the risk for them. No matter what, I don’t see this ever changing. Marketers are a very smart bunch and we tend to be able to find a workaround to just about any roadblock.

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So six out of seven isn’t too shabby is it?

The last paragraph of my post is also something that I want to address before ending:

“Link builders need to step up and learn more about online marketing and SEO. We used to be generalists, and then many of us moved into specialty niches within the industry. Is it time we branch out into generalism again?”

I definitely think that it’s almost impossible to be a truly amazing SEO generalist today. There are some who can hack it but by and large, there’s just so much going on that it’s very difficult for someone specializing in content creation to be on top of certain major e-commerce technical issues, for example. It’s hard to work on intensive link-building campaigns and run a large-scare and cost-effective PPC campaign. I do think that anyone specializing in one aspect of online marketing should learn everything possible about other bits but we should all recognize when we need to say hey, I really don’t know the right thing to do here so let me point you to someone who does. There’s no shame in that. The shame lies in screwing up because you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re too afraid to say so.

So what have I missed? What golden rules do you think have held true and will hold true for 2015?

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