As Google continues to refine its algorithm to detect any efforts to manipulate search results, SEOs have been given a new challenge - keeping up with it! In my time as an internet marketing professional I have worked with and laisied with many SEO agencies that focus the majority of their efforts on building links for their clients.
Going back 10 years, this was standard procedure, especially with new sites, and it worked a treat. Google would love websites with lots of links pointing at them, and little else in the way of optimisation, and rank them at the top of the search results.
Google hasn't really moved away from using links as an indicator of a website's relevancy and authority, but it has got smarter about doing so.
In the past, countless hours were spent adding websites to low-end, irrelevant directories, just to get their link count up. But today, not just any links will do. The links that pass the most value are ones that come from sites with a higher authority in Google's eyes. The sites with a higher authority are the ones who have lots of high quality links pointing to them too.
Google does not want to give credit to websites that are deliberately trying to manipulate search results, so those that are thought to be building links for SEO purposes only are frowned upon and could be devalued. Google wants to see links that have given naturally by other websites as these are genuine 'votes' for a site. They haven't been paid for or even asked for, therefore, the website must have earned the link because of the high quality content it provides.
It wasn't that long ago that SEOs placed a huge importance on the anchor text used to link to a website. Getting the keywords in the anchor text was crucial and something that was taken to the extreme with thousands of links being built using the exact same anchor text. This wasn't something that would ever occur naturally, so neither was it ever something Google approved of. We're now seeing more and more from the experts about getting links where we cannot control the anchor text, or at least not asking for specific anchor text.
Life after link building death
So what's an SEO to do? Well, we really have to go back to the 'why' behind link building. What is it that we hope to achieve by getting links to our website? You might think it's to improve search engine positions and if that's the case, you may have lost sight of the bigger picture.
Our SEO efforts should indeed improve our search engine positions, but the real reason we do this is not a vanity thing, so we can say we got our client on page one of Google, it's about driving qualified traffic to our sites to generate sales and leads.
In order to convert the traffic we get from Google, we have to provide a great user experience with high quality, relevant content and this is exactly what Google is looking for. If the links we earn are because of the great experience and high quality content we produce then we have ticked off another box on Google requirements. Links that are built naturally will hold a much higher, long-term value than the links we build manually.