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Over the past few months I have been absorbing multiple articles on the ever-overwhelming question of link building, should be we doing it anymore? I am not claiming that I am here to provide all the answers, but hopefully give some insight into the ubiquitous mistress that is Google.

 ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”

There are two kinds of SEO, they are sometimes referred to as ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’. Black hat SEO is to attempt to manipulate Google. This mainly involves tricking a search engine, and as you can expect your website’s usability can be neglected, not to mention the possibility of getting caught out. Which can be catastrophic for rankings.

The alternative path is referred to sometimes as ‘white hat SEO’, this involves optimising your website for a human audience, this focuses on content and usability and, yes it can include link building.

What is the purpose of link building and how can it affect rankings?

Links can help Google determine how relevant a website is. A link is interpreted as a ‘vote’ and more influential pages’ votes hold more clout. Pages that receive more votes are deemed more important. A link forms a relationship between websites, so ask yourself, what websites do you want to be associated with?

When can link building be detrimental to a website’s rankings?

The following are examples of situations that may lead to unnatural link building and have the potential to damage ranking:

  • Buying or selling links that pass page rank, exchanging links for money or samples
  • Guest posting with keywords rich content
  • Large scale article marketing
  • The use of automated link building services
  • Text advertisements that pass on page rank
  • Links with optimised anchor text in articles and press releases
  • Low quality bookmark and directory sites
  • Links distributed in footers and templates
  • Forums and comments that contain links

So as we can see link building is a tricky task and we SEOers must tread lightly for fear of the dreaded webmaster guidelines. I feel that one simple rule mostly sums up link building for 2015, it is Quality and not Quantity. Below are some points to guide you through making informed choices about what links you want and where you want them.

 “All links are equal, but some links are more equal than others”

  • Links higher up in the HTML seem to pass more ranking than those lower down
  • External links can be more influential than internal links. I.e. ‘what others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself’
  • Links from unique domains are more valuable than links from previously linked to sites
  • Links pass more value if from a trusted seed site
  • Links from unique content will pass more value than those from footers, sidebar or navigation
  • There is evidence to support that links from anchor text in HTML is more valued than alt attributes in image links
  • Links from a more trusted site will be more valuable than a less trusted one, even from a less important page
  • Links in </noscript> will not pass much if any value, this is because the links on the page are not visible to visitors
  • A sudden influx of links may for a short time at least boost a web pages’ authority; this is because search algorithms may interpret this as new content
  • Pages linking to webspam may de-value other links

But didn’t Google condemn link building when the Penguin was released?

Yes and no, Google condemned poor quality links used to artificially increase the number of backlinks to a page with the Penguin algorithm update. But this doesn’t mean all link building should be avoided.

“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

So what kinds of links should you be looking for?

Create links naturally from real events and partnerships, some examples of link building opportunities are:

  • Awards
  • Charity events
  • Other relevant blogs
  • Industry events
  • Local community events

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to build links as long as they are relevant and natural. Unnatural spammy links are no longer worth the time or money it takes to create them. Stick to building quality links you think your customer base would find useful.