Even though SEO is ever-changing and ever-evolving, link building still remains one of the most important aspects of every search engine optimization strategy. Regardless of how good or detailed your content may be, it still won’t be able to make its way to the first page of Google search results if it doesn’t have any good links pointing back to it.
Several years ago, Backlinko analyzed over a million search results in Google. Their study proved once again that backlinks (among other things) influence rankings. According to Backlinko’s findings, no matter the phrase or term they were analyzing, top-ranking content always had the biggest number of quality backlinks.
The world’s most popular engine still relies heavily on links to calculate the importance of specific pages in search. It doesn’t really matter which niche or market you operate in, Google will certainly favor a page with the most quality links pointing back to it.
If you want to stay relevant in this online game and pique the interest of your desired audiences through search, you need to invest a certain deal of attention and effort into link building.
Even though in theory this sounds like a pretty straight-forward plan – in practice, it’s a whole different story.
If you haven’t been keeping track with Google’s latest algorithm changes, you have probably missed the engine’s latest ability to spot nefarious link building schemes. While link building still remains a crucial piece of every SEO strategy, the process of generating links has significantly changed over the past year or two.
In this day and age, it’s all about quality. If you want to rise to the very top of Google’s search results for desired keywords and phrases, you need to create “natural links” for your pages. Because of the engine’s new “zero nonsense” policy, marketers are forced to update their playbooks and invest a lot more planning and efforts into producing relevant links.
Marketers are doing everything they can to keep up with these changes and comply to all the latest Google’s rules.
For us at FourDots, link building is a part of a larger strategy that’s designed around an idea of producing content hubs and linkable assets all across the Web. This is not a typical strategy in the industry – a lot of marketers have different approaches towards link building today.
In order to help you keep up with the changes and successfully update your link building playbooks, my team and I decided to reach out to some of the biggest industry experts and get them to share their ideas and strategies for building high-quality links:
1.Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
(Community Growth, Zest.is)
Effective link building always comes down to creating content that is so useful that people want to share it. That’s the core of link building that’s never changed. But the standards for useful content have changed – content has to be outstanding, original, thought-provoking and actionable because there’s too much competition for anything less to get noticed, or even really be worth reading.
You’re really setting yourself up as a thought leader in your industry when you’re creating content like this. You’re not just pumping out articles, you’re building an audience around your specific perspective, philosophy or values (I’ve been reading Content Inc. by Joe Pulizzi recently, and his advice is basically to find an original angle on familiar topics to differentiate your content).
Now, if you go down the road to becoming a ‘thought leader,’ link building becomes much easier. You can post your great content on authoritative sites – most editors are starving for truly great content, and in many cases, they’ll even pay you for it if you’ve got an established personal brand. And of course, they’ll give backlinks.
And, when you publish great content on your own website, you can share it on niche forums like Growth Hackers, Zest.is, and Inbound to distribute it (and that will generate more links as people find and share it).
The challenges of this route, of course, are that great content requires more resources to produce, and you’re still competing with the flood of content out there (content shock is real!), and it takes time to build a personal brand. Research also shows that you need links from lots of sources, high-quality sources, to achieve high rankings from backlinks, so it’s important to diversify your distribution (as long as it’s still in front of your ideal audience
2. Dr. Chester Elijah Branch
(Transmedia Marketing Expert featured in Forbes.com, Hubspot., Inc.com, and Yahoo Finance.com… @storynotes)
These are 5 big link-building challenges: I’ll start with the last one first. In the past, all one had to do was get more links to rank higher. But Google’s algorithm updates have, for a good reason, made the process a little more sophisticated. You’ll need to find authoritative links with a strong domain history. It is now more about quality over quantity.
Which speaks to the other 4 challenges.
1. We suffer from ‘infobesity’ – information overload.
2. Everyone is competing for the same content.
3. People’s attention spans are shifting.
4. UGC is more influential than brand produced content.
5. Google’s algorithm updates killed ‘old school’ backlink methods
I wrote a marketing article about this last year that was shared over 1K times in less than 6 weeks. The best way to create quality content that can meet and beat these link-building challenges is to create interactive visual content. By inviting the crowd, the reader, to participate in the content, they feel a sense of ownership with the content and they share it amongst their own followers.
This is a more organic method of increasing link-building called prosumerism. It’s a method created by Alvin Toffler but you can see its function in UGC, Inbound Marketing, and interactive infographics. Infographics alone can help solve these challenges. In addition to this, interactive infographics can increase social sharing and by proxy link-building for the following reasons
1. 90% of information transmitted to our brains is visual.
2. We respond well to visual narratives.
3. Infographics go viral.
4. The Picture Superiority Effect
3. Josh Steimle
(Founder, Influencer Inc www.influencerinc.co)
What we’re seeing with link building is the continuation of a trend that began in earnest with the first Penguin update in 2012, but which goes back even further, perhaps to the beginning of Google itself. The trend is this – Google wants to deliver the search results a team of humans would deliver. Think about that for a second – if Google was human, would it return your website as the top result for the search terms you’re chasing? Or do you feel gratitude that Google isn’t human because that allows you to “trick” it? This is the first thing to take care of – no amount of link building will solve your problems if your website doesn’t deliver what people are searching for.
Assuming your website is in good shape and delivers the value people want, the next question is if Google was human, what kind of links would it consider to be reputable and worthy of considering when ranking a website? That’s why I recommend targeting the highest quality, hardest to get links, like editorial links from top news and business websites. Helpful links from relevant articles on exclusive websites – that’s what will win the link building game
4. Fili Wiese
(renowned technical SEO expert, ex-Google engineer and was a senior technical lead in the Google Search Quality team. At SearchBrothers.com he offers SEO consulting services with SEO audits, SEO workshops and successfully recovers websites from Google penalties.)
Links are the foundation and really the fabric of the world wide web. Only by following links can users and search engine bots navigate between content sources or websites. Consequently, link building that is acquiring new inbound links and also adding new, relevant outbound links remains a very important part of online marketing.
The challenge with link building, however, is that the vast majority of site owners does it completely wrong. Rather than building links that drive relevant, converting traffic to their websites, which remains the ultimate goal of every website, most people focus on vague hopes of boosting their website’s visibility in Google Search first by acquiring PageRank passing links that bear important anchor texts. That strategy is flawed because it is impossible to confirm whether a backlink passes some or any PageRank at all. It also exposes the target website to a great risk because of the Google Webmaster Guideline violation it represents.
Google reserves the right to take action against websites they find to be in violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines. Both a manual spam action aka manual penalty as well as the impact of algorithms fine-tuned to identify link offending sites, most prominently Google Penguin loom over sites that are pushed artificially through PageRank passing link building. Consequences of Google penalties can be dire and their impact, while frequently reversible, costly. Another advantage of a future-oriented link building that completely neglects PageRank and focuses on conversions, is that it doesn’t require you to create as many links in order succeed. For anyone interested in finding out how to build links that promote your site risk-free in more detail, please read my article on the topic: https://online.marketing/guide/linkbuilding/
5. Andy Crestodina
(Chief Marketing Officer, and Co-Founder, Orbit Media Studios, Inc.)
Link building is more of an outcome than a strategy. The actions that lead to links are influencer marketing, guest blogging and PR. If you focus on those, links and authority will naturally follow. Think of it this way…
1. If you start an interaction with the goal of building links, you may not have the collaborative, mutually beneficial mindset that works best.
2. If you start with the goal of networking with content creators, sharing and driving benefits to them, you’ll likely win plenty of links along the way.
That doesn’t mean that we should forget about our goals to build authority and get mentioned on the big sites. It does mean that we should pay special attention as we interact on social media, and deliberately build relationships with content creators. People who create content create links. And only 1% of people on the internet create content. That’s the “One Percent Rule.”
So, relationships with content creators are half the battle. Now for the other half: create something worth linking to. You might be best buddies with the editors from all the top newspapers, but unless you do something newsworthy, they have no reason to cover you. The good news is that there’s one format for content that is far more effective at attracting links than all others: original research. Publish a new statistic that supports claims people are already making in your industry. Now you have something link worthy.
It’s a long process. It’s a slow process. And the results are indirect. Visitors to your content rarely become leads. But the links to your content make your sales pages (the product and service pages) more likely to rank. This is what a lot of content marketing miss. The benefits of content are indirect. And it’s all about authority!
6. Sean Si
Despite the many changes and updates in SEO over the past few years, link building has remained a solid SEO strategy that helps bring in a consistent amount of traffic to any website. Our link building teams have worked tirelessly in keeping the traffic flowing, and they have performed well using the best strategies available. We see link building as something that is just as important as it has been for the past few years.
One of the first things that we prioritize before outreaching for links is to make sure that our content is of high quality. People will always look for quality links that would be beneficial for them, and content is what will drive them to your website. We have covered content optimization numerous times and emphasized quality and proper use of keywords and title tags. Our blog management team ensures that we are able to deliver quality content that our link builders would help distribute.
With content in mind, guest blogging is still an important strategy that enables more users to discover your website just by going through your content. Skyscraping is one strategy that we have found to be successful as it provides users with the best content, resulting in more leads and traffic. Image link building is another strategy that provides traffic from social media through the use of images such as infographics. Link building has been very beneficial for our clients and we plan to continue using this as a part of our overall strategy
7. Anna Lebedeva
(Head of Media at SEMrush)
Link-building changes along the way with Google algorithms. I won’t say big things like – “black hat SEO is dead” and so on, but really, it doesn’t really make sense not to do white hat SEO with the help of link-building. And competitor analysis plays a huge role in link-building as you really don’t need to reinvent the wheel when considering which platforms you should target – look at competitors and their backlink profile! But not all backlinks are born equal – you shouldn’t just copy/paste your competitors’ backlink profile: double-check whether your target audience coincides with the TA of the site that gave a backlink to your rivals, take a look at the amount of traffic that it brings along and only then does it make sense to invest your time and efforts in acquiring a link from that space. Certainly, this job shouldn’t be done manually, so picking the right tool that could help you with competitive intelligence will bring you a huge advantage.
8. Dejan Petrovic
(Managing Director of DEJAN SEO company, search engine optimization influencer, innovator, science enthusiast and space aficionado)
I see many big brands with thousands of inbound root domain links, chasing yet more links, for no particular reason. This pointless link building inertia carries on regardless of whether additional links make any difference or not. I believe this is due to one simple fact. In the world of foggy SEO metrics, links are one of the few tangible deliverables.
Another challenge will be coming up with guest posts that are actually worth reading. I argue that with the increase in user behaviour signals and machine learning, , link value may be dependent on the perceived value of the content that hosts it. And from my research I know two things: a) the world doesn’t need any more average content, b) even the great content will not be read fully – it will most likely be skimmed and scanned for quick answers.
Here’s some content for you so you can skim through it:
9. Marcus Miller
(SEO & PPC Consultant,bowlerhat.co.uk)
The primary challenge with link building is the same as it was in 2008, and likely the same as it was in 1998, though to a lesser extent. This is creating a strong enough reason for the right site to link to you. Now of course, if we go back far enough, there were lots of low-value tactics that would deliver results – short-term results in the big picture when we look at this over the last 20 years or so I have been in this game, but results no less. As time has gone on, these low-rent tactics can do more harm than good. And of course, Google has gotten a lot smarter.
The problem we see all too often, particularly in the small business space where we operate, is that people want links before they have anything worth linking to. I talk about this in great detail in a post over on the Bowler Hat blog. The main issue here though is that links typically point to informational resources. And many small business sites don’t have this kind of content. So, there is no compelling reason for anyone to link to them. With some content assets in place, it is easy to tackle safe link building tactics like guest posting and link to your content and typically the homepage in the bio.
The main point here though is that the link must add value to the linking page. If I was talking about Google Page Rank here I may link out to the Wikipedia on Page Rank. The topic is too large for this article. Yet, I want to ensure readers can click the link to understand what page rank is. The link adds value to the user. This is a good link. A safe link. A link that helps a search engine and more importantly a user.
So, my answer to what is the biggest challenge in link building is simple – it’s mindset. If you can understand what real links look like and commit to an approach that helps people, then you will never fall foul. From an agency perspective, getting the client to buy into this kind of approach is not always easy. It requires education. But, as the experts in this field, that is what we should be doing. Trying to educate. This is why we spend time writing content that hopefully educates small businesses over on www.bowlerhat.co.uk.
My SEO advice, in a nutshell, is pretty simple though and I expand upon it in these posts:
1. Get everything else done first: https://www.bowlerhat.co.uk/small-business-seo-tips
2. Engage in a content-led link building campaign: https://searchengineland.com/organic-traffic-link-building-small-businesses-269353
3. Use content to expand keyword scope and create more link targets: https://searchengineland.com/content-marketing-seo-right-place-right-time-281381
Ultimately. Focus on helping people. Create content that deserves links. Then promote that content. And with enough time and effort, everything else will fall into place
10. Marko Saric
(Founder of howtomakemyblog.com and digital influence)
I see several main challenges with link building. First is that there are more people than ever trying to do link building. This is now an activity that pretty much every company does in order to increase their reach and search rankings. All the bloggers and other publishers are drowned in the number of email requests they get.
Second is the vast quantity of content that is published every day. Everyone is into content marketing and there is a high amount of quality content being published and promoted. Your content really needs to stand out for you to have any chance of attracting attention.
The third is that the amount of quality websites that are open to the idea and would consider placing organic links to other sites is getting smaller and smaller every year. Linking was something people and websites used to do freely in the past, but with the rise in social media it has now become a much rarer activity. You should not be surprised if most of the sites you reach out to for links either ignore you or want you to pay them.
11. Dennis Seymour
(Marketing consultant at SeriousMD, a practice management and EHR company)
Link building is definitely going to be more challenging this year as more and more people just spam their way to people’s inboxes. I practically receive emails each hour asking for a link or a post to review that I can link to. They don’t even know who they are emailing to.
As automation gets bigger, people will continue to abuse it but my advice to you, who are reading this, is just to take the slow route of building relationships. People will ummm…. “get used to” getting link requests and the known publishers are already immune to them. Being personal will get you over that, not automation of 1000 emails being sent out.
Meeting people, building a network… it’s a lot of work but that leads to real links that matter and they bring in results.
It’s because people that eventually link to you, have more stuff to say, have more clout and they have followers that listen to them compared to those that just put a link out for the sake of it.
In the long run, it will bring in more results for fewer links.
I’m not saying begging for links, buying it or just nagging somebody about it doesn’t work. I’m not saying the old school link building strategies don’t work and though I don’t recommend it, preying on new bloggers that are craving for attention can still work.
Linking strategies will work, but please get to know the people involved. Build a relationship, have a mutual respect and help each other. The internet is big and you can find success together and that’s how link building campaigns really succeed.
12. Joe Williams
(CEO at Learn SEO Fast)
Topical backlinks will carry even more weight. If RankBrain is Google’s artificial intelligence algorithm that matches search results to the most relevant results (and not just the best keyword optimized results), it’s logical to think the algorithm or a related algorithm will extend further to match backlinks to related topics from the page and domain they sit on. This will make generic link building even more challenging and the most successful link builders will become subject matter experts in their industries.
Ex-Googler Matt Cutts mentioned Topical PageRank back in 2014. But I feel that was more a future intention because both Google’s Hummingbird (launched the year before) and RankBrain (which didn’t exist at the time) have needed time to develop – and I feel this is the year that building topical backlinks will double their weight, but will go under the radar as it’s unlikely Google will confirm and it will be hard to prove.
13. Alexandra Tachalova
(Founder of a free online event, DigitalOlympus.net.)
The main problem is the real cost per acquired link, which many digital marketers aren’t aware of. In reality, some well-known link-building strategies are insanely expensive. The issue is that in the majority of cases all costs are hidden unless you start to track how many hours you need to spend to get the desired result.
I recently spent more than 10 hours on personalized outreach and this activity brought me one link. Nowadays, this type of an outreach is praised as the best kind but I’m not sure whether it is actually very effective. You might say something like, “Hold on, Alex! You got one link!” Yes, but take into consideration that the real cost of this link is over 2k USD since it took me over 10 hours to acquire. This means that when we evaluate link-building channels, we should use the following criteria:
– Possible outcome (the number of links you can generate)
– Number of hours you need to invest
– Additional resources that you need to involve (for instance, you might need a copywriter to write guest posts or a PR specialist to pitch your story to journalists/bloggers)
– Tools (it might be a tool like Hunter.io that allows you to find a person’s email address within a second)
After you have this data in one table, you can easily work out which method can bring you the best, cheapest results in the shortest timeframe.
14. Maddy Osman
(SEO Content Strategist who helps connect businesses with the most relevant traffic from the search, at The Blogsmith)
One of the biggest challenges of link building is finding a fit that’s so clearly mutually-beneficial that it inspires the person you’re communicating with to take action.
As someone who is the frequent recipient of link building requests, I can tell you all about how annoying and misguided many of these attempts can be. I’ve seen so many examples where people get in touch multiple times, with the same messages, sometimes from different members of the same company. So, perhaps another challenge is creating a system and making sure that any automated efforts won’t end up making you look silly.
But the bigger issue is that most people who reach out suggest a backlink opportunity that really doesn’t make sense to me. Sure, there’s sometimes a vague relation between their content and mine—but not enough for me to be inspired to dig into WordPress and add it on their behalf. The solution? Temper yourself to suggest backlinks only when the relation between content pieces is crystal clear. Then, make this relation obvious. And offer a suggestion for exactly where the backlink might be placed.
15. Patrick Kant
(Director Business Development of Juulr.com – the Influencer Agency and Marketplace)
Nowadays, it has become standard to almost every marketer and marketing department to use content creators for their link building process. At Juulr we see an increasingly diverse and sophisticated demand coming from our advertisers. Think of placing links and or mentions and writing editorials and or advertorials. But also the way advertisers negotiate with their publishers is changing rapidly.
The market is in full swing. At Juulr we notice that our partners and clients are increasingly interested in performance-based deals in relation to finding relevant influencers and bloggers. In a performance-based deal, the publisher receives a standard fee supplemented by a bonus, aiming at the performance of the blog post.
Domain Authority is still the foremost important KPI for many of our advertisers. The Domain Authority (or DA) qualifies the value of the blog site in general. It gives the advertiser an idea on how well a website will rank on search engine result pages. At Juulr, however, we see that our customers increasingly expect a more broad analysis of the blog site. You can think of deep-dive analytics of the target group that visits the blog site, the Page Authority and for example, the defined vertical that the blogger is usually focused on.
Another development that we follow closely is the omnichannel preference among advertisers. Advertisers are looking out for content creators that deliver a full-service package. Here, in addition to a blog post, traction is also expected from the publishers by use of their Social Media channels.
A somewhat more negative trend that we especially see among the major clients and corporate advertisers is the product push. Some of our clients deliver a campaign briefing and demand commitment from their publishers down to every single decimal.
To place that in perspective: in recent years, many brands and organizations have had to deal with tighter marketing budgets and yet there has always been a need for fresh viral content. There is no good reason to think of spending money on a professional studio, photographers, expensive equipment and producers if social influencers and bloggers themselves have the expertise and know-how to generate magazine-worthy content.
Moreover, Influencer Generated Content (IGC) performs better than the standard hero images that the public has grown accustomed to. Trust your publishers that they are more than capable of transferring your message and making content really come to life.
Content is king but authenticity is key.
16. Adam Singer
(CEO of Ability Inbound Marketing Inc, #1 SEO in Baltimore, MD.)
Link building has many benefits but takes time, effort, and dedication to do well. Here are some of the major challenges facing those trying to build links to their website, as well as some suggestions for facing those challenges.
Attract Links with Content
With this strategy, you create content that others would find valuable (and thus, worthy of being shared and linked to.) Then you hope that people do just that.
You do your best to promote your content, of course. (AudienceBloom has tips on content promotion in their link building ebook.) But ultimately you don’t have much control over whether someone links to you or not.
There is the risk that you simply won’t attract enough attention to get shares and links. If that happens, you’ll have wasted the time you spent creating and promoting your content.
Manual Link Building Through Guest Posting
This strategy involves creating content (such as a guest post) on someone else’s website, with a link back to your own. The site hosting the post gets free content, and you get a link building opportunity.
Often the most challenging part isn’t in writing the post itself; you may have trouble just finding a host site in the first place. The site for your guest post needs to have a significant authority of its own in order for the link to benefit you. However, they can’t be too far beyond your own reputation, or they’re unlikely to respond.
It can take hours of emails, pitching to various websites for a chance.
Even after all that, you may not even get a response. The site you’re pitching to may ignore your request or not understand the value behind it. Just like with attracting links, there’s a chance that your efforts will go to waste.
If you want to wrestle with link building, this article from Ability SEO lists helpful link building tools and sites. You’ll find that the more resources and knowledge you have, the easier the journey will be.
If the scenario I described above sounds like a nightmare, you might want to look into outsourcing your link building strategy with a marketing firm like AudienceBloom. They are experts in link building, so they know how to handle the ups and downs that come with it.
Link Building In the Future
The kind of link building I talked about here is still relatively new as a marketing tactic. Many people who have been in marketing for a while may associate link building with older, less savory tactics. That’s partly why link building can be so difficult; new link building is not very well-known. As people who are familiar with new link building develop new tactics and make it more well-known, link building may get easier for everyone.
As you can see from all the comments above, link building has significantly changed over the last couple of years. It is no longer a practice where SEOs try to improve their domain visibility in Google’s search by overstuffing their backlink portfolio with links from medium to low-quality sources.
Link building is far more complex these days. It requires a lot more effort and planning. A lot of successful marketing professionals now focus on quality over quantity. Many of the experts that contributed to this post have emphasized the importance of producing high-quality content. Top-notch content is now the key ingredient in every successful link building strategy. They believe that companies and web admins should strive more to passively earn links, apart from manually building them.
The best and most important takeaway here is to understand that you should never build links just for the sake of links. If you want to achieve success online with your marketing efforts, you need to carefully plan your efforts, pick the right target and precisely execute your strategies. It is of crucial importance to understand that your link building efforts should be aimed towards building and sharing value, something that can be truly beneficial to people, instead of just boosting your rankings.