Why Traditional Link Building is Broken (And What You Can Do Instead)

If SEOs agree on anything, it’s that link building is one of, if not the most, difficult and important parts of SEO. Building a solid backlink profile takes time, effort and, depending on how you go about it, money. More importantly, people often (maybe even usually) go about it using broken or flawed methods. 

Good link building is sustainable link building–links built in ways that Google will view (now and in the future) as adding value for users of its search engine. Not only does Google’s ability to determine that value gets better year after year, but core updates can change the effectiveness and even safety of certain link building strategies in ways that will either tank or grow your traffic. 

Summary/tl;dr: Traditional link building tactics that overuse commercial pages, try to game Google’s algorithm with exact-match anchor text and only build a specific type of link are all broken. Google, increasingly focused on UX as the primary indicator of site quality and therefore ranking merit, is too sophisticated for that. A sustainable, high-quality backlink profile contains links to relevant original content on your site, with intuitive and contextually appropriate anchor text directing traffic, coming from a variety of sources. 

Are you looking for a link building service that can help build a natural, sustainable backlink profile aligned with Google’s quality standards? Reach out to us at https://dofollow.io/

With that as our context, let’s jump into exactly WHY link building is broken.

Google Has Become Exponentially Smarter

It really comes down to Google’s relentless desire to shore up its position as the biggest and best search engine and pass value judgements on websites and their content to that end. In the last year alone, Google has released some 250 updates to its ranking algorithm, many of which impact how links are evaluated–both at the individual and link profile levels. 

Google’s AI and machine learning grow more sophisticated with each passing year, especially when it comes to qualitative analysis. They are not only better at determining how a site sources and employs its links to pass on juice and drive traffic; they are better at understanding how the links add value for readers. 

In short, Google’s standards with respect to link building have shot through the roof. Long gone are the days of creating blog networks and links farms or simply buying cheap links in bulk and dominating the SERP. 

Google is looking for links that have passed through a more thorough editorial process

What we mean to say here is that Google wants to see that links back to (and away from) your site are coherent to and consistent with your niche and content. In short, Google wants your links to promote good user experience. 

User experience is quickly becoming the foundation of ranking, and to promote user experience, you have to put some serious thought into your SEO strategy. Your site’s users either like reading your content and navigating your website, or they don’t. 

Relevance is a fundamental metric for Google when determining UX and judging the quality of your backlinks. If you run a SaaS, a link from a DR30 DevOps news site, for example, is going to be more relevant–and, therefore, a better indicator of your authority to Google’s ranking algorithm–than, perhaps, a link from a DR80 home and garden affiliate site. 

Google also makes judgements by looking at where on your site your referring domains are pointing. The algorithm is wise to shameless commercial page linking, for example.

Additionally, Google looks at how natural and contextually seamless both external and internal anchor text is. Does that hyperlinked text read like a neon pawnshop sign or does it feel like a contextually relevant description of and insight into the content to which it is linking?

To wrap up, an editorial process is about adopting more thoughtful and strategic link building practices and ditching the old broken ones. With that in mind, below are three of the most commonly employed broken tactics, what to do instead, and case studies backing up the claims. 

Over-Linking to Your Commercial Pages is a Broken Tactic: Use Your Info Pages to Build Links and THEN Internally Link to Commercial Pages

Of course, the objective of a website, if you’re a for-profit company, is to drive traffic to the places where you offer your products and services. That is the whole point of a sales funnel. But there are better and worse ways to go about it from Google’s perspective. For Google, UX is about blending a commercial and informative/entertaining experience, which makes sense.

Think of it this way: would you rather buy a car from a salesperson who simply thrusts a brochure and a contract in your face as soon as you walk through the dealership door, or one who gets to know you a bit, tries to understand what your wants and needs are, showcases their personality and expertise in a much more tactful way, and guides you towards a decision that makes sense for you? 

That is the primary difference between a commercial content-heavy link building strategy and a much more balanced mix of both commercial and informational content. The response to the broken tactic of overlinking to commercial content is to use high-quality info-related content as a base from which you then link internally to your commercial pages. 

Google respects backlinks to pages that try to add value to your site’s user experience–that demonstrate expertise, authority and trust; that entertain; that provide unique information and information presented in engaging and dynamic ways–far more than it does a backlink to a page with purely commercial intentions because readers do too. 

From these more UX-friendly pages, you can then, in a contextually relevant way, insert links to your commercial pages. The links that you build to your higher-quality informational content will (in theory) likely come from higher-quality websites (because high-quality sites don’t want to link to your commercial content), passing on more link equity, which you can then distribute to your commercial pages. 

Take a look at a case study we did with one of our clients (starting from 12,000 views a month to over 2M). We focused on building better links from more relevant and high-quality sites to our client’s most fitting info pages:

Anchor Text Optimization is a Broken Tactic: Use Intuitive, Contextual Anchor Text

There is such a thing as over-engineering content for SEO. We’re not just talking about keyword stuffing here. Google wants your articles to be as pleasant and immersive for human readers as possible, and exact match, branded and keyword-optimized anchor text are not conducive to that. What’s more, they don’t encourage people to click through to the hyperlinked content.

A few years ago, anchor text optimization was considered a best practice and one of the quickest ways to get your content to rank higher in Google. After Google’s Penguin Update, however, it’s seen as inorganic. 

That is because this kind of anchor text is so obviously part of a link-building campaign. And, while you need to build high-quality links to your site’s pages in order to rank, you also need to build them in ways that Google doesn’t look down upon. 

The idea is to use intuitive, contextual anchor text that fits naturally into the externally hosted content while also providing a natural, relevant segway into the linked content. Take a look at the way any big, high authority site inserts hyperlinked URLs–major online newspapers and periodicals, leading industry blogs. They are always part of the story, not jarring commercial interruptions to it. 

Focusing on a Single Outreach Method is a Broken Tactic: Diversify Your Link Sources

If you look at any successful link building strategy, the links are coming from a variety of sources. That is to say, a site is not exclusively focusing on any one outreach method. This is because different outreach tactics tend to build different links and some of those links are, by virtue of how they are built and where they come from, seen as more genuine indicators of a site’s quality. 

If all of your links are coming via insertion into articles with publish dates well in the past, it’s a pretty clear sign that they are being paid for. If all of your site’s referring domains also have links back to them from your site, it’s quite obvious that you are exchanging links quid pro quo. 

What you should do instead is build a link profile comprised of links from various sources and always in an effort to maximize organicness and authenticity. What you should be doing is trying to build links via HARO, skyscraper, guest posting, links from content marketing, resource pages, etc. 

You want HARO links because they point to your homepage which, given the context in which HARO links are built (i.e., through unpaid, organic outreach), is seen as natural by Google. strong indicator of their organic nature. Someone linked to your site because they thought doing so added value for their readers. There was no financial transaction involved. 

Skyscraper style links are those linking to your info content and, similarly, they are associated with authenticity because a site chose to link to a page of its own accord, and that link passed through their editorial process. You reached out and proposed a useful addition to one of their articles (i.e., your content), and they agreed. And lastly, you want links from guest posts (preferably ones you write yourself) because they come from original content and allow you to insert anchor text and choose destination pages in ways that are as natural as possible. 

Conclusion/Summary of the Above Tactics and Points 

Traditional link building is broken because Google is wise to traditional link building tactics, plain and simple. The algorithm is too good at detecting manufactured links and failing to appreciate this is to waste time and money. 

Strategic link-building is the only responsible way to build links in an era of sweeping and potentially devastating core updates. If Google is transparent about anything, it is about its desire to provide the best user experience possible and remain the world’s dominant search engine indefinitely, and it will continue to tweak and update its ranking algorithm to that end. 

To ensure this supremacy, it will reward sites and pages that take a user-first approach to things like content and link building and punish those that don’t. What this means is that link building, the most difficult and arguably the most important part of SEO, is only going to get more involved and hands-on. Your link editorial strategy will underpin much of your site’s success moving forward, and we are here to help ensure that success. 

Are you looking for a link building service that can help build a natural, sustainable backlink profile aligned with Google’s quality standards? Reach out to us at https://dofollow.io/

Eric Carrell

Eric Carrell