Our SEO Best Practice Guide is always one of the most popular reports on Econsultancy, and last month we posted a significant update to the guide.

To keep our guides the best they can be, we go to those working at the coalface of search marketing to get their contributions so they are relevant and up-to-date.

Following on from our blog posts on mobile SEO and on-page optimisation, I caught up with one of our contributors Nichola Stott from theMediaFlow to ask her about link building today. Her thoughts are below…

You helped contribute to the Link Building section of the SEO Best Practice Guide. In your experience, where are companies going wrong here, and what could they be doing right?

I believe a lot of companies are being misled or “over-sold” on link acquisition as an end rather than a means. Links and associated signals such as the content-quality, proximal text, site quality and authority and page engagement, are used by search engines as an ingredient in the recipe to determine how well (and with what authority) pages on the company website can answer a user query.

So links are a commonly found side-effect of relevance and authority because people link (via social activity) and writers link (to credit sources, provide additional context or value for readers).

Link ‘building’ therefore is entirely unnatural behaviour and fakes symptoms to effect a desired result.

Instead, companies should be focusing on the desired result itself – which should be growing the online presence and authority of the company and its products or message.

I’d recommend instead that companies focus on developing stories and campaigns that emphasise why their product or mission deserves to be most relevant and authoritative.

Work with a good SEO agency that can devise creative marketing content, educate your PR teams to understand where and when links can add value to media coverage and how to position that to journalists they are working with.

What sort of process should companies have when it comes to link building?

I’d suggest a content development process with the goal being “linked-coverage” (for external media) and amplified content e.g. social shares, engagement and links-attracted for content that lives on the owned and operated sites.

Is it more important to have a structured approach to building links, or be able to seize opportunities quickly?

It’s important to have a strategy that can accommodate both kinds of approach.

At theMediaFlow we have year ahead editorial calendars and a publishing schedule for client content, but in addition we use a lot of monitoring tools that allow us to react to news opportunities and such.

It can take some skill and experience to understand what kind of opportunity is worth dropping everything for and depending on the size of the company we’re working with it can be more effective to empower the PR team to be mindful of link opportunities when taking the lead on reactive opportunities.

What are your preferred tools when it comes to link building?

Knowing how to search the Google index thoroughly is the single most valuable tool for identifying online media to pitch to, and we also find Linkdex helpful in assisting us to identify networks of influencers in the respective social spheres for our client sectors.

Can PRs be valuable for building links? Or is this a job best left to SEOs with relationship skills?

Yes, PR professionals are often best-placed to ensure that writers link where it adds context and value to do so.

However, it seems to me there’s an implied assumption in the question that an SEO with “relationship skills” is somehow unusual.

SEO is quite a broad spectrum and to make most efficient use of an employee’s skills and abilities may mean that outreach isn’t the best use of time for a technical analyst for example, but I think that to reinforce stereotypes around more technical skills going hand in hand with less-developed people skills becomes counter-productive for the marketing industry as a whole.

To go back to an earlier point about having the most relevant and authoritative content on the site in question the work of a technical SEO helps to architect and surface that content so that it can have greater potential to attract links. Focusing on the role of the person who may “seal the deal” creates division and loses sight of the broader marketing objective.

If there’s one key piece of advice when it comes to link building, what would it be?

Concentrate on why your business, your message and your product deserve to be linked to and ensure that is reflected on your site and in the content you create first and foremost.

Read more by downloading our comprehensive SEO Best Practice Guide today.