Last Friday, Google’s John Mueller said link-building can do more bad than good and should generally be avoided. And then the internet overreacted.
In response to the question “Is link-building in any way good?” Mueller said:
“In general, I’d try to avoid that.
So that you are really sure that your content kind of stands on its own and make it possible for other people of course to link to your content. Make it easy, maybe, put a little widget on your page, if you like this, this is how you can link to it. Make sure that the URLs on your web site are easy to copy and paste. All of those things make it a little bit easier.
We do use links as part of our algorithm but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your web site that actually helps [sic].”
Mueller is asserting you shouldn’t be building links in the spammy, manipulative manner that now incurs the wrath of Google Penguin; rather, you should be earning links with content that is unique, useful, and valuable to your niche or vertical.
So, if you’re developing excellent content as part of an offsite SEO and link-building strategy, don’t freak out and drop everything. And at the same time, if you think you’re off the hook from ever having to earn a backlink again, I have some bad news.
How to build links in 2015
By now, most SEO professionals are aware of the link schemes that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and put websites at risk of a penalty:
- Buying and selling links
- Excessive link exchanges (Cross-linking)
- Private blogging networks
- Low-quality directory and bookmark sites
What might be unclear is what techniques, if any, are still viable. Before you entirely write off link-building, understand that you can still earn high-quality links in 2015, but it will require hard work, commitment and savvy.
Before you get started with your link-building campaign, take a look at your current backlink portfolio. Did you recently redesign your site, change URLs, or remove content? Chances are you now have broken links, i.e. external links to pages that return 404 errors. If you do, reach out to the linking sites and request that they update their links to point to live pages on your site. If your outreach is unsuccessful, set up 301 redirects from those 404 error pages to the most suitable live pages on your site.
Content is still king
The cornerstone of earning links, of course, is developing quality, relevant content. Gone are the days of slapping together thin 300-word posts stuffed with your target keywords. Writing valuable content is difficult and time-consuming, but without it, nobody is going to care about your site. The bottom line is people will only share what’s interesting, funny or insightful.
Earning links to your content takes time, but if you want to accelerate the process, consider the ego-baiting technique. Everybody loves to read nice things about themselves, so give them something to read about.
If you’re dying to earn a link from an influential player or website in your niche or vertical, get on their radar by writing a glowing post that strokes their ego. If you’re genuine in your adoration and subtle in your execution, there’s a good chance of earning social mentions and even a backlink from your target ego.
Okay, we get it, we need content. What else?
Now that you’ve reclaimed your lost links and developed a wealth of wonderful content, utilize these worthwhile techniques for developing an outstanding backlink portfolio in the modern SEO landscape:
Content distribution and amplification
Nobody is going to link to your site if they can’t find your content, which is why distribution and amplification are critical elements of any link-building strategy. There are more places than ever to distribute your content, so be sure you’re utilizing them all.
If you’re not already on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, you should develop a presence on these platforms immediately. Every time you produce a new blog post or piece of content on your site, you should share it on your social media channels. Consider utilizing paid promotion to gain an even wider audience.
Be sure you also add social sharing buttons to your content to make it as easy as possible for other people to post your content on their own social media pages, without having to undertake manual labor.
Content discovery platforms and social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, Delicious, and Digg place your content in front of audiences interested in the topics you write about. These sites help people find new websites based on their selected interests. By submitting your content to these platforms, you open yourself up to a wealth of opportunities for obtaining new links from people who may have otherwise never found your content.
Just like on social media, these platforms offer paid promotion to put your content in front of an even wider audience.
Guest blog posts
Guest blogging was declared dead for SEO a year ago by Matt Cutts, so why would it be recommended as a viable link-building strategy in 2015? Because — in keeping with the larger spirit of this post — what Matt Cutts was declaring dead was using spammy guest blogging networks that only exist to create backlinks, not guest blogging as a whole.
If you have an awesome piece of content and know of a website that would love to feature it, reach out and pitch the content as a guest blog post. In addition to a backlink, a guest blog post can bring in exceptional referral traffic.
Public Relations and earned media
Earning media coverage not only heightens the awareness of your brand or business; it can also provide valuable links back to your site. Links from respected news sites can pass tremendous ranking power, and earning them might be easier than you think.
Yes, we know now that press releases carry nofollow links, and that over-optimizing the link anchor text can be considered spamming, but press releases are still useful in 2015 because:
- If you actually have relevant news to share, journalists will find your press release and consider picking up your story.
- Even if your story isn’t picked up, nofollow links from press releases add variety to your site’s backlink portfolio. Having only dofollow links can potentially signal to Google that you’re scheming.
Help a Reporter Out
Help a Reporter Out is an outstanding resource that connects reporters with expert sources for stories. All types of topics are covered so there’s the potential to get quoted in an article no matter your niche or vertical.
Requesting links from past media coverage
Was your brand or business already mentioned in a previous article? Did the article link back to your site? If you’ve been featured in a news article, but the article did not link back to your site, simply contact the editor and request they add one. Most will be happy to oblige.
The people and businesses you work with in your own community can also present excellent link-building opportunities. If you’re actively engaged in your community, here are some effective ways to build links locally:
If you work with outside vendors, agencies, or consultants, offer to write them a testimonial for their work or service. More than likely, they’ll be happy to share your kind words on their site and provide a link back to your site.
Link to business partners
If you partner with other businesses in your community, develop a page on your site that highlights these partnerships. Chances are your business partners will link back to you as well.
Sponsor local events or provide speaking engagements
Sponsoring local events relating to your industry helps get your name out in the community and can also provide a link back from the event website. Providing a free speaking engagement at a local college or university can even yield a coveted link back from a .edu URL.
Stop worrying, start building
Yes, John Mueller said you should avoid link-building, but only if you plan to use shady tactics. Backlinks have and always will be a key element of your site’s ranking power, so continue to strive for the best links you can get by writing and sharing excellent content. If you write content that makes the internet a better place, the internet will reward you for it.