As marketers, we’ve all been in the difficult position of feeling like we’re doing everything right—yet the results just aren’t going in our favor. In the realm of search engine optimization (SEO), and especially the sub-field of link building, this feeling creeps up often; these are complex tactics with hundreds of variables, so when things go wrong or when your results grow stagnant, it’s hard to tell exactly where the problem lies.
Fortunately, with a bit of digging—and the help of this guide—you should be able to uncover at least a few of the issues plaguing your link building campaign.
Let’s find out.
First, let’s talk about how link building is supposed to “work” in the first place, and the various ways that link building can go wrong. You likely understand the goal is to establish or earn links pointing back to your domain to reap the benefits of increased authority and traffic—so how can you tell if your strategy is working or not?
These general problems all indicate that something is probably wrong with your campaign. Even if you’re earning value in some areas, a disruption of growth in any other area is enough to warrant closer inspection; detecting and correcting the issues within your campaign can always make it stronger.
That said, there are many different possible issues to address, so I’m splitting them into two main groups: high-level and ground-level issues.
First up are high-level issues; these are general problems with your approach, your overarching strategy, and your means of execution. They aren’t specific to any one aspect of your campaign, but can affect almost all aspects of your campaign when they exist.
One of the most effective ways to build links is creating guest content to be featured on off-site publications; this provides context for your link, gives you a good excuse to be featured on high-authority sites, and gives you a recurring platform for development. However, if you can’t find your way onto a publisher’s site, which is usually the case, then this option is closed for you. I wrote an in-depth guide on how to become a contributor at major media publications, called The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.
Rejection is to be expected with this strategy; no matter how authoritative you are or how strong your pitches are, some publishers just won’t be interested in what you have to offer. But if you find yourself rejected consistently, and unable to land your first guest spot or advance to another publisher, you won’t be able to progress.
There are a few possible influencing factors here:
Content quality can affect your campaign in a number of different ways; content quality can indirectly affect the strength of your link, it can affect which publishers accept you, and it can even determine whether your link stays in place or gets removed. Of course, content quality is an important factor for many aspects of SEO, so low-quality work will practically guarantee the ineffectiveness of your link building campaign.
There are hundreds of variables and considerations that relate to content quality, but these are some of the most important with respect to your link building campaign:
You might also experience stagnation in your link building campaign if you have an imbalance between building and earning links. Thus far, I’ve mostly focused on manual link building, but it’s important to remember that link earning can be just as valuable.
While link building requires you to target new link locations and build them yourself, link earning is a process of trying to earn links naturally by creating and promoting amazing, linkable content on your own site.
Link earning is advantageous because it employs a more hands-off approach, and because all the links you earn here will automatically be “natural,” meaning you shouldn’t have to worry about quality issues or penalties related to link manipulation. However, growth in link earning is much more difficult to predict or control—and even if your content is truly astounding, there’s no guarantee it’s going to earn links for you.
Link building, by contrast, is more controllable and conducive to strategic direction. However, it doesn’t have the same explosive potential as link earning. Accordingly, the best link building strategy incorporates elements of both building and earning (skewing toward building if you’re serious about achieving consistent growth). Any imbalance here can skew your results and leave your link building strategy less effective.
A lack of diversity in your link building campaign could also be to blame for a non-flourishing strategy. You need to rely on a number of different sources, internal destinations for your links, and tactics throughout your campaign to see the best results; a show of diversity makes your links seem more natural, and exposes you to a wider audience, which in turn helps you see better returns on both domain authority and referral traffic.
It also gives you more practice with a wider range of publishers, giving you more experience and flexibility that you can use in future endeavors.
Diversity is important in multiple dimensions of link building:
The scale and pacing of your operation is important to consider; by “scale,” I’m referring both to your frequency of building links and the number of high-tier publishers you use, and by “pacing,” I’m referring to how quickly or slowly you increase that frequency.
If you scale too slowly—in other words, if you spend too much time on low-authority publishers, building one link at a time—you’ll reach a plateau before long, and you’ll be stuck there until you make the investment to grow more quickly. However, there’s also a danger in growing too quickly; if you try to reach out to high-level publishers before you’ve built a decent level of authority yourself, you’ll end up facing more rejection than acceptance, rendering your efforts useless.
On top of that, if you start building too many links too quickly, Google might view your link building tactics as spam, and penalize you.
The extremes are dangerous here, so your best bet is to set a clear path forward, gradually increasing the number of links you build as well as the quality of sources you use to build them. It’s difficult to find this balance, but if you set both long-term and short-term goals, and keep inching your efforts forward, you’ll eventually settle into the right pace.
Even if your link building campaign is conceptually flawless, there’s a chance you’ll see worse returns on your investment if there’s significant competition interfering with your work. If a competitor is building the same types of links you are (or better ones), for example, they may rival your rankings, making it nearly impossible for you to advance and keeping your organic traffic consistent (despite increasing investments in your work).
Earlier, I made reference to Moz’s Open Site Explorer, a tool used to monitor the domain authority and inbound links for practically any domain on the web. In the previous context, I recommended you use it to calculate your own authority, but you can also use it to see a competitor’s authority (as well as what types of links they’re building).
If you can identify your key competitor culprits, noting their positions in search queries you’re currently targeting, you can use this tool to investigate how they’re building links, and decide whether they’re the ones stifling your campaign growth.
If they are, there are several potential solutions. The easiest path forward is avoidance, steering clear of the most brutal competition by investing in other keyword targets and link sources that your competitors don’t touch. You could also invest more time and money into your highest-profile targets to assert your dominance, but the chances of succeeding are lower, and the costs are higher, so judge the benefits carefully before proceeding.
One of the most common mistakes I see in link building is not paying close enough attention to your costs and benefits. If you don’t know whether or not your strategies are effective, how can you set yourself up for success long-term? How can you know how and when to make improvements?
The real danger here is that the people making this mistake often don’t even realize they’re making it; they neglect the importance of tracking their link building efforts, don’t know which stats are most important to measure, and ultimately are blind to the full potential results they could be seeing if they spent more time measuring and analyzing their work.
There are many variables to consider when calculating the ROI of your campaign, including your total traffic figures, conversion rates, and profit margins, as well as the total costs of your efforts. But with consistent reporting (at least once a month) and a firm understanding of your most essential metrics, you should be able to forecast your results, interpret which of your efforts are effective and ineffective, and use that information to make meaningful improvements to your campaign.
Next, there are the ground-level issues. These are problems that develop despite having a solid direction for your campaign. They may be a result of a mismatch between your strategy and execution, mistakes, or inefficiencies that prevent you from getting the full value from your campaign.
Choosing bad sources is a problem that can ruin an otherwise solid link building campaign. In the early stages of your campaign, a “bad” link to your site can make it harder to build a baseline authority. In the later stages of your campaign, with a tight network of high quality links, a bad link can halt your momentum, or even attract a penalty, setting you back several steps.
So how can you tell if a source is bad?
Google doesn’t tolerate any tactics it believes to be spam, or a deliberate intention to manipulate your rankings without benefitting the general audience of web users. It judges links based on their merits, or their usefulness to readers; if a link is found to be unnecessary, irrelevant, or otherwise useless, it could be considered a “bad” link. If that’s the case, your publisher will have clear grounds to remove the link, and if they don’t, you could end up facing a Google penalty.
These are some of the most common spam-like tactics marketers use—if you’ve participated in any of the following strategies, it could be the reason your campaign isn’t progressing:
Note that it’s unlikely that you accidentally participated in any of these spammy tactics; if you used them deliberately, knowing the risks involved, it should be clear that they were a contributing factor to the stagnation or reversal of your campaign momentum.
You might be seeing a decline in your link building returns if your publishers have a habit of removing your links before or after your content is published. This is a factor that’s easy to observe and check for; do a manual review of any content you’ve submitted to external publishers, and look to see whether the links you originally included in your content are still present.
If more than a few of them have been removed, this could be part of the problem. A link removed before publication will never contribute to your authority, and a link removed after publication will negate any authority you may have originally gained from it.
There are a few good reasons why a publisher might remove your links, and they’re all preventable:
I also want to point out that your efficiency has a bearing on your overall results as well. You may be seeing a respectable increase in your organic and referral traffic, but if you’re hemorrhaging money to make it happen, you might not consider your efforts to be “working.”
Take a close look at how you’re spending money, including:
These aren’t the only issues you could be facing. You could also have trouble with:
You’re likely reading this guide because your link building campaign isn’t getting you the results you wanted (or maybe you just want to ensure you don’t make any of the mistakes that commonly cause poor results). I’ve covered many different potential issues on this list, but most of them can be categorized into one of the following broad categories:
If you’re still struggling to get your link building campaign in order, you may be in need of some outside direction. For a free consultation on your efforts thus far, and a recommendation of where to go next, be sure to contact us today!