If you want some good fodder for conversation in digital marketing circles, just bring up link building. Those who understand link building and have spent time working on link building campaigns firsthand understand the power that properly placed backlinks can have on search results. But those who’ve never been up close and personal with link building are often misinformed. And, to be quite honest, it’s no fault of their own.
Link building myths, misconceptions, and lies permeate the digital marketing and SEO industry. If you run a quick Google search about link building, you’ll find headlines like:
The list goes on and on and on. And if you aren’t careful, you can eventually be led to believe that these folks are right.
But there’s one big problem: 99 percent of people talking about link building have little-to-no firsthand experience with actual search engine optimization (SEO). They might have taken a couple of courses, listened to some podcasts, and even launched their own “agency,” but they’re not SEO experts – and they certainly haven’t done link building at scale.
If you read these anti-link building articles, you’ll find that most of them have almost no grounds (and zero objective proof) as to why link building doesn’t work.
In fact, most of them point to a singular point in time as justification for their beliefs: January 20, 2014. That was the day that Matt Cutts, who once led major parts of the Google search quality team (but who has since left for greener pastures), wrote this blog post. And in that blog post he led with the following statement:
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.
Cutts then went on to discuss Google’s quality guidelines and decried other spammy practices that black hat SEOs were using to “backdoor” their way into better search engines.
That single blog post – published over seven years ago – has served as fodder for link building haters for most of the past decade.
Out of that one blog post, thousands of articles and hundreds of hours of YouTube and podcasting content has been produced to say that Google hates link building and all link building is a waste of time.
In fact, the narrative became so twisted and extreme that Cutts and Google actually had to release additional statements to clarify the role of backlinks.
Less than a month later, he had this to say:
It turns out backlinks, even though there is some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really really big win in terms of quality of search results…We played around with the idea of turning off backlink relevance and at least for now backlinks relevance still really helps in terms of making sure that we return the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.
He then spent the better part of the remainder of his career at Google fielding questions about backlinks and repeatedly stating that backlinks are a valuable and integral component of the Google search experience.
Unfortunately, so many people ran with the original misinterpretation that link building is dead that the truth never had any chance of being brought to light. And here we are many years later and the same myths, lies, and misconceptions are being spread like wildfire.
The moral of the story is simple: Be careful where you get your information. If someone makes a bold claim, research who they are, what firsthand experience they have, and what motivations they may have for making those claims. In the case of link building, you’ll find that most of the people spewing the misinformation have never launched a successful link building campaign in their careers, which has led them to believe that the whole thing is broken. But in reality, they’re simply part of the myth.
The remainder of this article is going to focus on setting the record straight by debunking common link building lies. So, please, do your research and due diligence on us. You can learn more about who we are here and here. We’ve even got case studies for you.
The point is simple: At SEO.co, we don’t just talk about link building and SEO – we live and breathe it. For over a decade, we’ve provided bleeding-edge content marketing and link building services to thousands of small businesses, venture-backed startups, and Fortune 500 companies (many of which are household names). We’ve been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc., Forbes, Mashable, WSJ, MarketWatch, Business Insider, VentureBeat, Search Engine Journal…the list goes on.
So while tooting your own horn is rarely a good look, we think it’s only appropriate (in light of this article) to tell you why you should believe anything that we write. We are, without question, one of the most experienced white hat link building services in the industry – and we have 10+ years of results to back up the fact that link building is not dead. In fact, it’s very much alive.
Link building myths come in all shapes and sizes, but here are some of the most common ones that we come across year after year:
Is it technically possible to rank without a bunch of backlinks? Well, anything is possible. But if you study the data and look at it from an objective standpoint, ranking for high-traffic keywords without backlinks is extremely difficult.
Just consider the following findings from a recent study of 11.8 million Google search results:
In summary, the data shows that a site’s overall link authority strongly correlates to higher rankings. So while there are plenty of other factors that go into search engine prominence, trying to rank without backlinks is a slippery proposition.
One of the more prevalent myths is the idea that you only need to create quality content and then everyone will come to you. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.
Unless you have a brand/website that already has a ton of traffic and is naturally grabbing eyeballs, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll pick up a significant number of backlinks in an organic manner. You might get a couple of links here and there, but they’ll provide minimal lift.
There are ultimately two types of link building: link attraction and manual link building. While we’ll discuss each of these in greater detail later in this article, you should know that link attraction takes years to play out. If you’re purely focused on link attraction without the manual link building portion, you’re in for a slow process. You need a proactive strategy.
In the world of link building, every linking domain has its own ranking metric known as Domain Authority (DA). A website’s DA is basically a measure of how much authority it has. A website with lots of traffic and a long history of producing quality content is going to have a high DA. Someone’s personal blog with a dozen posts and no SEO strategy will have a low DA.
As someone who is interested in building links to your site, you want to target sites with lots of domain authority. These links have the ability to quickly move the needle and alert the Google algorithm that your page is worth serving its users. However, DA is not the only thing that matters.
You’ll often hear misguided link builders claim only links with high DA matter, but take this with a grain of salt. Here are a few reasons why:
The biggest thing is to avoid getting so caught up in the analytics and metrics that you lose sight of the big picture. Natural backlinks that properly align with your site are always going to benefit you in the long run.
You can think of your website as having two types of pages. There are “money pages,” and then there’s everything else. A money page is either a home page, landing page, or product page. In other words, it’s a page that turns users into leads and/or leads into sales. Anything that isn’t directly responsible for producing a lead or conversion – like a blog post – falls into the “everything else” category.
While it can certainly be helpful to acquire backlinks to money pages – particularly the home page – the idea that these are the only backlinks that matter is misguided. And in reality, you might actually be better off focusing on non-money pages.
When you approach sites in your niche and ask them for links to your money pages – whether through guest blogging, broken link building, or some other method – it’s easy to come across as spammy. Very few will bite. But if you present bloggers and site owners with valuable content that can help their readers – like a “how-to” blog post – they’re much more likely to see you as a useful resource.
You can certainly try to generate links to your money pages, but don’t discount the role of “everything else” pages. (Just make sure these pages are optimized in a way that visitors to these pages can easily find their way to your money pages.)
When most people discuss link building, it’s in terms of satisfying the search engines by appealing to their algorithmic preferences. But this is not the only benefit of link building.
In addition to the technical aspect of link building, you’ll also benefit from visibility. Whether your link is placed using a brand mention or it’s simply a natural/contextual hyperlink, anyone reading the content will see the link. Some will even click it.
This is why relevancy is such an important part of link building. If you can secure backlinks on relevant sites, you stand a much better chance of driving relevant traffic back to your website.
We’ve already discussed the role of domain authority and debunked the idea that you should only care about high DA websites; however, we can’t ignore the fact that there are differences in value between certain types of links.
The idea that all backlinks provide equal value – even if they’re from sites with similar DA – is patently false. Here are a couple of examples where “link juice” varies:
There are dozens of other nuances such as these. So as you dig into the details of link building, make sure you consider how much value different types of links pass along. It could have a direct impact on your approach.
Even among those who know the truth and understand the importance of backlinks, there are still myths surrounding the best ways to build backlinks. One common myth is that you have to take a slow and methodical approach, otherwise Google will “get you.” But again…simply not true.
The easiest way to debunk this myth is to study viral content. Any piece of content that naturally goes viral attracts hundreds or even thousands of links in a matter of just days. And rather than get penalized, this content thrives and naturally emerges near the top of the search rankings.
Google doesn’t care about speed of acquiring backlinks, so long as they have authority and relevance. If you build out 100 links to spammy websites in 72 hours, yes it’ll probably hurt you. But if you build out 100 links to authoritative websites that are relevant to your niche…all good!
Anchor text is the clickable hyperlink that stores your backlink on a page. It’s the thing that people click to take them to a page. Over the years, there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding anchor text best practices. And somewhere along the way, a myth has emerged that you need exact match anchors, otherwise the backlink is useless.
An exact match anchor is basically anchor text that has one of your keywords in it. In others words New York realtor or life insurance. If you can get an exact match, more power to you. However, the idea that it’s an exact match or nothing is false. In fact, natural anchor text actually appears more genuine and can help your link stick.
For best results, your anchor text should vary from backlink to backlink. If you’re using the same optimized keyword dozens of times, it sends a red flag to Google. They want to see some variance, so feel free to switch things up.
As previously mentioned, there are really two theaters of link building:
1. Link attraction. Also known as link earning, this is where you develop content and then wait. The idea is that high-value content will naturally rise to the top. And after several months of letting your content ripen, it’ll eventually earn links.
2. Manual link building. This strategy involves proactively seeking out links through a variety of strategies, including guest blogging and broken link building. It requires time and money, but usually gets faster results.
If you’re serious about architecting and implementing a white hat link building strategy, you need to prioritize manual link building while letting link attraction naturally occur in the background. And a proactive manual link building strategy requires the right partner.
At SEO.co, we don’t just talk about link building – we do it! (And we do it well.) For over a decade, we’ve led the industry as one of the few white hat link building companies that Fortune 500 companies and small businesses trust with their online brand reputations.
Our formula is quite simple:
If you’re interested in learning more, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us today for a free site assessment.