Link building has been a dying SEO practice for some time. Google Penguin is now three years old and it’s getting smarter every year at identifying between spammy and genuine links.

If you’re still operating link building campaigns, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Here’s why and how.

Outdated practices

Google wants rankings to reflect the popularity and quality of pages as accurately as possible. In the early days of Google, there was a general principle that the more links that pointed towards a certain domain, the more trusted and popular it must be.

However, SEOs began to exploit this by artificially building links, resulting in poor quality sites becoming more visible than they deserved.

The Penguin algorithm was introduced to help Google better determine which links are genuine, editorial, earned links – and therefore worthy of passing pagerank – and which are bogus, paid for and unworthy of passing it. The theory being that this would bump up high-quality sites and punish spammers.

Penguin has been used to punish those that operate blackhat SEO tactics like automated link building, link farms and paid links.

Even guest blogging for the sole purpose of link building has been highlighted as a potential grey area by Google’s Matt Cutts.

(Image credit: @ProfoundryCo)

The message from Google is quite clear: stop link building and start link earning. If you don’t you’ll likely see your campaigns lose effectiveness, and you might even incur a Google penalty 

What’s a Google penalty?

Google penalties are how Google enforce its webmaster guidelines. Basically, it’s a drop in SEO visibility either as a result of algorithm updates (like Google Penguin) which introduce new rules, or a manual action, where Google manually limits the visibility of your site.

You’ll be notified in your webmaster tools if you receive a manual penalty — but automatic ones can be a lot harder to detect. Google updates its algorithm pretty frequently nowadays, so it’s important for marketing execs to keep checking for drops in SEO visibility.

You can do this using paid tools like Searchmetrics or, increasingly there are a number of free penalty checking tools available.

What might you be doing wrong?

  • Exchanging links – swapping links with other sites for no reason other than to boost page rank.

  • Paid links – paying other companies to include links to your site on their own.

  • Emailing for links – Sending mass emails encouraging/incentivising others to link to your site.

  • Comment spamming – Leaving irrelevant links to your site in forums and on blog comment sections.

  • Article aggregation – submitting your posts to aggregators who just duplicate content from other parts of the web.

  • Directories – Adding links to your site on the MILLIONS of web directories.

  • Link farms – joining networks that exist to share each other’s links.

What can I do instead?

1. Create unique and relevant content.

Produce unique, quality content that meets a demand.

Use tools like BuzzSumo to see what kinds of topics have been popular in the past, then put your own unique spin on it.

Blog on topics in your company’s niche so you can provide genuine value to readers.

2. Outreach to influencers

Use tools like Followerwonk to research influential people in your niche, then work out ways to get them involved in your content strategy.

‘Ego bait’ by contacting influencers for expert opinion. They’ll almost definitely repost your article to their followers and, if you’re lucky, they might even give you a link on their site.

3. Post on quality blogs

Getting a link on a high-quality site, in your niche, that’s picky about its contributors is totally different to spamming irrelevant, low quality posts on article farms.

If you’ve created a great piece of content then there’s nothing stopping you from publicising it through a well-written guest post. 

4. Get involved in the community

This could be seen as an evolution of the forum posting strategy. Find the relevant forums and social media pages in your niche and simply offer them your expert advice.

This will increase brand trust and awareness, you get your articles read by relevant prospects and, if you’re lucky, you might get your tips picked up by a few bloggers who’ll link to your site. 

5. Build partnerships

Partnering up with a site just to exchange links is a no, but that shouldn’t stop you from linking to and from the site of a genuine business partner, as long as its relevant.

Focus on building partnerships with high-quality companies that have an effective content marketing strategy and social following. Then work with each other to drive traffic between your sites in relevant, natural areas.