The continued viability of link building as an effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy has been debated by search marketing specialists since Google released its Penguin search algorithm update in 2012.
The Penguin update penalised sites utilising “webspam” such as keyword stuffing, doorway pages, paid links, and link schemes to create large volumes of low-quality links. While some SEO practitioners declared link building dead in the aftermath of Penguin, others sought to reimagine link building through the implementation of high quality linking strategies.
Is it Best to Avoid Link Building Altogether?
Comments made earlier this year by Google’s webmaster trends analyst, John Mueller, once again reignited debate about Google’s stance on link building. When asked whether link building could improve a websites ranking, Mueller replied that link building represented an unnatural strategy and that it was best avoided as it could cause problems for a site. This led again to search marketers choosing to curtail many of their link building activities rather than run the risk of receiving ranking penalties.
Google’s position on link building was further elaborated by an official post that warned webmasters not to buy, sell, exchange, or ask for links. While the buying and selling of links has been long prohibited by Google’s webmaster guidelines, their position that even asking permission for a link built by the other party constitutes a violation seemed to preclude accepting any form of link establishment.
This position was later clarified when Google advised that webmasters should not “buy, sell, or ask for links that may violate our linking webmaster guidelines”. This means that link building remains acceptable as long as no buying, selling, excessive exchanges, automated bidding, or keyword stuffing techniques are utilised.
The Argument for Link Building
While Google stresses that “unnatural” link building should be avoided, evidence and daily practice affirms that when practiced correctly it remains an indispensable part of SEO. This was affirmed at the 2015 Search Marketing Expo Advanced conference, “link building is not dead”, where factors dependent on quality and quantity of inbound links were shown to be the most important website ranking factors.
Further, the 2015 biannual ranking correlation study analysed the top 50 Google search results for approximately 15,000 keywords and found a strong correlation between the number of linking websites and a sites search ranking. In fact of all the top 50 search results, 99.2% of websites and 77.8% of individual pages had at least one external link pointing to them. So while Google publically downplays the importance of link building, evidence suggests that without links, websites are unlikely to gain any useful degree of Google visibility without utilizing some form of link building strategy.
The Best Strategy for Safe Link Building
While Google increasingly seeks to penalise any form of webspam, it also continues to hone its algorithms to direct search traffic to the most relevant and high-quality content. This has led to a resurgence in content marketing as it represents a safe and effective link building strategy.
By publishing great content that people will naturally share and link back to, sites can engage in effective link building in a manner permitted under Google’s guidelines and provide value to website visitors.
Alex is an experienced SEO & Analytics Specialist with a background in English literature, marketing and digital media. As part of Search Republic’s search engine optimisation and analytics team, he specialises in high-value content creation, link building, and on-page and off-page optimisation.