The whole ‘SEO is dead’ mantra seems to have calmed down.
To be honest, I got a bit bored of defending SEO over the years. Not because I am too invested in all things search / digital marketing, but simply because you would be a mighty fool to ignore the potential that search engines offer in terms of delivering high quality traffic.
I would absolutely agree that most of the old-school SEO techniques are dead. Thankfully so, as nobody really benefits from spammy, low quality / high quantity strategies. There can be no doubt that SEO has evolved and quality is most definitely more important than quantity in modern SEO and it really is about creating / amplifying amazing content rather than trying to ‘beat’ the search engines.
Whilst there was an era where the death knell of SEO was an ever-present soundtrack in my life, that hasn’t really been the case for the past few years. I have, however, recently sensed a bit of an emerging crescendo of claims that link building is dead.
The catalyst for the clamour was arguably comments made by Gary Illyes, an analyst on Google’s search team, who said the following about links at this year’s Pubcon Pro event in Austin:
I believe they are important, but I think people overestimate their significance. I don’t agree that they are in the top three. They haven’t been for some time.
This has led to certain members of the SEO community declaring that link building, in all forms, is dead.
Is link building really dead?
In short, I do not believe that link building is dead.
The longer version is a bit more complicated. As with the general ‘SEO is dead’ argument, I would agree that link building for link building’s sake is dead. Mass, spammy link building with a focus on quantity rather than quality is fairly dodoesque and I would absolutely not recommend anyone entertains a strategy that measures link building success by the number of links obtained. Not only is that highly unlikely to actually get you anywhere on the SERPs, there is the real risk of a manual penalty if you have been obviously spamming the system.
Good link acquisition is, however, still extremely important in my humble opinion. That opinion is one that is born from experience.
Remember that Google was initially called ‘BackRub’ as it was based primarily on the analysis of a domain’s back links. By analysing a site’s link profile, assertions could be made about how credible / worthy that site was. The basic principle is that you must be doing something right to warrant a link from an external site. Each link counted as a vote of confidence and was pretty much always a good thing.
This, of course, is very susceptible to manipulation and, being honest, the power of backlinks gave birth to the SEO industry which was initially focused on mass spam. The problem was….. it worked. It was possible to use directories, article sites, forums etc etc to supercharge backlink acquisition and you were rewarded with rapidly improving search rankings.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realise how flawed the link algorithms were and the search engines declared war on spam and have subsequently spent all waking hours trying to stop these spammy techniques actually working. This is why there is some truth in the whole ‘link building is dead’ argument.
I personally think that you would be mad to claim that links no longer play any part in search engine optimisation. Yet, this is what I have been seeing some people claim in recent months. They claim that today’s SEO is really only about good quality on-site content. I am the first to support a brutal review of the content on your site and there can be no doubt that you are going to struggle to perform well in search engines if you do not have a very strong content strategy, but you only have to look at the top ranking sites in the SERPs to realise that they are all the bigger brands, who enjoy millions of links. Their content is often inferior to sites that are struggling to rank for the more competitive terms, but their link equity propels them to the top of the pile.
Maybe it isn’t in the ‘top three’ ranking factors, according to Illyes, but I just cannot agree with those that suggest there is no point trying to attract more links to a domain. You just need to do it properly.
Good quality link building
Good links will help to prove the credibility and authority of a website. The best links are therefore earned rather than begged / paid for.
This is why it is so crucial to have a really strong content strategy. The best links are often those that you are not actually involved with at all. They are simply the natural result of other people enjoying content on your site and linking to that content. This is the dream scenario.
In the real world, you usually have to help amplify your amazing content. Good old fashioned outreach may be very time consuming and frustrating, but it will help get your brand in front of others and showcase the content that you publish. You should not feel ashamed of shouting about some amazing research if you believe that it will be of genuine interest to other sites. Very much like issuing press releases, people will be receptive if you push some really interesting content in their direction. They will not, however, appreciate blanket spam emails promoting terrible content without any consideration of the interests of their site’s audience.
You can also offer to create content for other sites, with the reward being a link back to your site. You need to be able to demonstrate that you will help create something of real value for their website but everyone is desperately trying to create content to feed the ‘content is king’ monster, so a well crafted and thoughtful approach will often reap rewards.
If there was one word that I would associate with good quality link building, it would be relevance.
Links from totally unrelated websites often smell of bad link building and are much more likely to be identified as artificial links. If it feels a bit contrived, then it probably is. When considering sites to approach to explore the potential for some form of content sharing, ask yourself whether there is a natural fit. If there is, reach out to them and start a human conversation.
I feel as though this is similar to the debate about domain authority. It isn’t really a black and white issue and incredibly difficult to split test different strategies as link building is such hard work and takes a long time. I simply do not believe that links are not an extremely important factor in all search engines’ algorithms as it is extremely difficult to attract lots of links without being fairly brilliant. Just as building a brand takes a long time and consistent effort, building a great off-site link profile is a real achievement that I have seen rewarded too many times to be a coincidence.
You are welcome to team up with the naysayers and ignore your link profile in favour of focusing on your on-site content, but you need to recognise the risk that this entails.