Misconceptions About Link Building

We’ve talked about some common misconceptions about SEO in the past, but there is also a great deal of gray area when it comes to the dos and don’ts of link building. I’ve heard and read quite a bit of not so great advice over the years, so I wanted to address some misconceptions about link building that really grinds my gears. Keep in mind that these have come from industry “experts” as well as from business owners who may not be all that familiar with SEO.

Having too many backlinks can be bad for SEO.

I can understand the logic behind this. Google is known for penalizing websites that have too many links from irrelevant or spammy sources, and rightfully so. However, it is never a bad thing to acquire links from relevant and high-quality sources or having too many links of these types of websites.

What often gets websites in trouble with Google is having too many links where the anchor text, the text used in a link to a website, has clearly been manipulated. For example, say Dave’s Shoe Barn – davesshoebarn.com makes antique barnyard style shoes for all ages. Most of the anchor text used in the backlinks to Dave’s website should naturally read “Dave’s Shoe Barn”. But Dave really wants to rank out for “antique shoes” so he intentionally tries to create links to his website that use the anchor text “antique shoes”. It’s clear that these links were created unnaturally and solely for the purpose of manipulating search results without providing actual value to users.

Unfortunately, the fear of being penalized has resulted in many believing that acquiring links in any form will result in trouble. Google has gone on the record to state that they still rely heavily on website’s backlink profiles for improving relevancy in search results.

You must build meaningful relationships to get links.

Sure, it’s always nice to have solid relationships with some site owners, journalists, and other influencers, and there are plenty of case studies out there that showcase how links were obtained that way. But the notion that you need to spend a decent amount of time building up a “let’s be besties” relationship with ALL websites that you reach out to for links is misleading.

Few website owners have the time, or frankly care enough, to learn about who you are, what you do, and what you had for breakfast. That isn’t to say that the content you are promoting should not be stellar and the way you reach out to these people should not be personalized, but it is important to know that they likely get bombarded with outreach emails all the time and want you to get to the point.

So, before thinking about how you’re going to build relationships to get good links, think about these two factors:

  1. Is your content/website good enough to get links? (ie, much better than everyone else’s)
  2. Would this person/website be interested in this content?

Link building is dead. Link earning is the future.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen some high profile people in the SEO world make this attention grabbing statement. I still don’t think that there is a solid definition of “link earning” in the SEO world. My interpretation of link earning is the whole “If you build it they will come” philosophy. In other words, link earning is creating really really good content. So good that people cannot help but link to it, WITHOUT the need to extensively promote the content.

While some argue that link earning is creating good content and reaching out to people who choose to link to you, I don’t see how that is any different from non-spammy link building practices. In other words, just by changing the name doesn’t make the tactic any different. If we all decided to start calling pigs “porkers” from now on, would it change what bacon tastes like?

Speaking plainly, I think “link earning” is a fluffy attention grabbing buzzword that was created by SEOs to stir up some drama and thus website traffic. It has little evidence that shows it is a sustainable or scalable tactic for acquiring links across all industries.

There are studies that show that building quality content will not result in links WITHOUT promoting the content. Even if content gets shared across social media channels and gains tons of traffic via Facebook it does necessarily result in backlinks. Also, any of the case studies I’ve found about how “link earning” worked for them all require some sort of content promotion strategy to get links.

Sure, there will be some exceptions. Websites with high brand awareness like the New York Times or ESPN don’t always need to manually promote their content to let people know that it exists. However, it is completely misleading to tell a small business with little to no brand awareness that they need to stop link building and start link earning.

For example, a real estate company may decide to spend a ton of time and effort creating a really good guide to their local community and then assume because it is so good that all of the news outlets in their area will find it AND link to it.

Directories are no longer important for SEO.

Completely false. Directories are still incredibly important for SEO and should not be ignored, especially for local businesses. Google wants to know about a company’s basic information – specifically the Name, Address and Phone Number information (NAP) and uses directories to acquire that data. Citation building is taking NAP information and making it accurate, consistent and prevalent online, and is a tactic many SEOs use to improve results for localized keywords.

If your competitors are appearing in the local 3 pack in Google search results and you are not, it’s time to start figuring out what directories your website is not included in but your competitors are listed in.

While having links in directories may not guarantee you a #1 spot, having links from trusted sources like Yelp, Manta and YellowPages is beneficial for SEO and can result in referral traffic from those sources.

Paid links are bad for SEO.

Generally yes. You should not try to purchase backlinks for the sole purpose of benefiting your search engine positions.

However, say if you are a local pizza shop and you sponsor a youth soccer team in your area and the youth soccer website links to your website on their sponsor’s page, that is not something to be afraid of. After all, do you know how many organizations Google sponsors? Neither do I, but it’s probably many more than your business sponsors.

Relevancy and intent are important here. You should not stop supporting a local charity because they link to you. You should stop buying links from that link farm because Google is going to drop the hammer and de-index your website very soon.

Don’t get links from websites with low domain authority.

A brand new website that’s high quality and relevant can have a domain authority of 0. A crappy website that’s been around for a while can have a domain authority of 60 (that’s good). Domain authority is a nice guide for prioritizing link prospects that you have already determined to be relevant.

Any editorial link from a relevant source is good to have for a website, and in no way should you be requesting relevant links to your website to be removed just because the linking website’s domain authority is low.

Don’t link out to too many external websites, you’ll lose link juice.

Way back in the day, Google’s PageRank algorithm operated using a system for distributing value based on the number of sites a page linked out to. So if a page links out to 10 websites, each website get’s 1/10th of that page’s “link juice”. That is not exclusively how Google’s algorithm works today, and you should not limit links based on the assumption that link equity is funneling out of your website.

If you think having too many links on a given page is affecting user experience, then it certainly makes sense to cut back on the number of external links on a page.

Know of any other link building misconceptions you think I missed? Let me know!

Michael Hall

Michael Hall is an Account Manager at Netvantage Marketing, which specializes in SEO, PPC and social media. Mike also runs our Chicago office.

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