Over the years, dubious tactics have served to damage the reputation of link building as a legitimate SEO strategy. In addition to this damage, since Google's 'Penguin' update, the search engine has penalised unnatural backlinks and the company has repeatedly played down the importance of external links as a ranking factor.
Indeed, last year, John Mueller was quoted as saying: "In general, I'd try to avoid [link building]," claiming it can often do more harm than good. Yet, as almost any expert offering SEO services will confirm, link building can still be incredibly effective. In fact, when utilised correctly, it is one of the keys to SEO success.
The Importance of Links
The recent trend of downplaying the importance of link building flies in the face of available research. While it is certainly true that manipulative link building, including spam, poor quality guest blogging and links from completely unrelated websites will be penalised, good-quality external links are vital for competitive search terms.
Indeed, a study from Moz, focusing on the top 50 Google search results for around 15,000 keywords, found that the correlation between high SERP positions and the number of linking websites was greater than almost all other ranking factors. Moreover, a staggering 99.2 percent of all of those top 50 results had at least one external link.
What this means is that it is virtually impossible to rank for competitive search phrases without at least one other website linking to yours. Moz's study also found that the vast majority of top results have far more than one external link and, as a general rule, more external links means a higher search rankings.
Effective Link Building
In most cases, companies develop an effective SEO link building strategy in conjunction with a search agency, or by hiring a link building professional. This is because specialists in the field recognise that not all links are equal. The trick to quality link building is to attract links from high authority, contextually relevant websites.
This means that you need to target prospects with high domain authority, who can link to your content in a way that makes sense to the reader and does not detract from their experience.
It is crucial to remember that link building is a long-term investment and you will not get instant results. It may take time to research prospects, communicate with them, put your strategies in place and create quality content worth linking to. Even after all that, it may be months before those links really impact upon your search rankings. However, when carried correctly and according the best practice, this tactic can significantly boost websites’ visibility on search and have a great impact on conversions, sales and/ or branding.