There was a lot of web chatter about links last month and the debate doesn’t look like abating anytime soon.
This is one topic that always attracts extremes in opinion and polar declarations on how website owners and SEO service managers should handle link building strategies, if at all.
If you’re a website owner who employs a digital marketing agency or marketing manager for your site, you will have no doubt seen ‘outreach’ campaigns listed on your reports and possibly been charged for link ‘acquisition’.
You may have even questioned why you need links from other sites at all. If almost everything you’ve heard about links is negative and associated with references to Google algorithmic penalties such as Penguin, which you don’t really understand, why would you risk having anything to do with links?
What Are Links?
Inbound links or backlinks are the primary measure that Google uses to determine the trust of a website and one of many factors considered when determining the rank or importance of your site for a search query.
They are links directed towards your website from other websites and serve as votes of confidence in the quality of your site while helping to entice visitors.
Search engines such as Google look and the number and especially quality of those links to calculate the relevance of your site for a keyword.
Quality is determined by many factors including content. A search engine will analyse the content of a website to determine the quality of the link related to your website. If links are found on sites with unrelated content, they are considered lower quality or less relevant. The higher relevance of the link the greater its quality and benefit to your site.
Why You Need Links
In most authoritative studies, backlinks remain the most heavily weighted and number one ranking signal in Google’s algorithm. The focus is on quality or relevance, rather than quantity.
Here’s one list of the most important ranking factors and influence percentage in 2017:
(Image source: FirstPageSage)
You can find similar and consistent link metric results in Moz’s annual search engine ranking factors surveys and other expert research.
The bottom line is you need quality backlinks to rank well in Google search and your site is unlikely to perform well without them.
What Google Wants for Your Site
You can read Google’s guidelines for linking to get a detailed description of their policy. However, in short Google wants to see what they consider a healthy link profile that signifies authority and trust in your site.
That means you should have quality links to your site from topic relevant content found across the web from a diverse range of sources. You want sites that link to you from all over the world, but you also need to ensure that the link is from high quality content on a strong or trustworthy domain. The number of links should also grow steadily over time.
What’s all the Recent Fuss About?
There were two link related topics firing up web chatter last month.
In the first, Google sent out a reminder about its guidelines for links while noting that it had seen an increase in spammy (low quality) links in articles referred to as guest posts or contributor posts.
It particularly mentioned poor practices such as:
- Stuffing keyword-rich links to your site in your articles
- Having the articles published across many different sites; alternatively, having many articles on a few large, different sites
- Using or hiring article writers that aren’t knowledgeable about the topics they’re writing on
- Using the same or similar content across these articles; alternatively, duplicating the full content of articles found on your own site without canonical and nofollow tags.
The reminder was targeted at large scale publishers and those that had taken link building to the extreme. However, the reminder found a broader audience and Google’s advice to “focus on improving your site’s content and everything else – including links – will follow” had many hammering out warnings of impending SEO doom for all.
Should you Buy Links?
The second link related topic doing the rounds was the notion of buying links. The Google recommended and white-hat SEO best practice is not to buy links as it’s an extremely risky enterprise that will get your site penalised.
However, there are many paid link building services available to website owners as well as other link schemes that have proven effective, until they were penalised.
Link-assistant.com asked several SEOs about the practice and strategies of link buying and selling. They also referenced an Ahrefs study in which:
- 68% of sites surveyed replied that they do sell links.
- 13% of the sites that agreed to sell a link stipulated that the link would be included in a post marked as ‘sponsored’.
- None of the sites insisted the link be no-follow.
- $353 was the average cost of a link. The cheapest quote was about $101.
It’s probably safe to say there will always be someone trying to manipulate the system. Keep in mind that if you decide to buy links:
- Your website has an extremely high probability of being penalised
- The purchased links are unlikely to be tailored to your industry or location and therefore will have low quality and relevance
- You will need to pay to have the spammy links removed
- It will take time to clear your website and recover lost trust
It should be noted that buying links is different to paying someone to develop good links (usually based around production of quality content) as part of a legitimate SEO strategy.
If your website is a blog site, where you charge for guest posts for linking purposes, you may also want to reconsider your approach.
Linking Bottom Line
Despite the online debate, there’s nothing new related to links. The best advice remains:
- Your website needs good quality links to rank well in search
- Don’t pay for links or participate in link schemes
- Keep up to date with Google’s policies on linking best practices
- Consider with caution and take a critical approach to any articles or advice advocating easy ways to get links quickly
- Confirm information with trusted sources
- Don’t focus on only one aspect of SEO such as linking, to the detriment of a balanced, holistic digital marketing strategy.
Need help with your digital marketing? Contact us for more information about how we can help you.
White Chalk Road are a specialist Search Marketing Agency based in Perth, with over 20 years’ experience in the industry. As a Google Premier Partner, WCR specialise in SEO, Search Marketing, Advertising & Marketing Automation. WCR help Perth businesses, across both B2B and B2C markets, who need help being found online by their customers.