Link Building isn’t Quick or Easy, but it’s as Important as Ever

inbound link buildingYou may have heard all the recent chatter about the practice of link building being dead or at least on the way out, but that’s not exactly true. It is true that link building isn’t what it used to be. Since Google released its famous – some might say notorious – Penguin update in April 2012, link building has been much less about driving as many inbound links as possible to a given site and much more about building authority, boosting search engine relevance and generating loyal readership.

All of these things are crucial to generating leads and maximizing conversions. In fact, they’re much more important – not to mention more cost-effective – than using old-fashioned link building techniques to blindly drive traffic to your site. As this informative Search Engine Watch article explains, search algorithms analyze links in a far more sophisticated manner than the old “one link, one vote” method of determining relevance.

We can’t be clearer on this point: Increasing the number of links that point to your site is no longer enough to ensure a high search rank. When building links to your company’s website you can’t simply create new domains that exist for the sole purpose of link building, pay “link farms” to point links to your site or create spammy guest posts that offer no intrinsic value to readers. Any link building practice that produces large numbers of “unnatural” inbound links will reduce the overall value of your links or cause Google to flag your site for a manual review that may have even more dire consequences.

That’s the “bad news,” but it’s not really a bad thing at all.

Link Building: The Good News

The good news is that proper link building remains an indispensable strategy for increasing the authority and visibility of your business.

Google’s recent Hummingbird update incorporates a treasure trove of data from Knowledge Graph, a framework that contains information about more than 3.5 billion distinct “things.” In practical terms, this means that Google is now even better at determining relevance and sniffing out blatantly unnatural or spammy links than in the days before these updates.

In a world where search engines are built to reward relevant links and penalize old-fashioned “quantity over quality” link building, how do you drive prospects to your site without hurting its search rankings?

Emphasize quality over quantity. Instead of linking to your site from barely related blogs that exist only to draw reciprocal links, work with manually curated, authoritative sites that focus on your company’s niche. Visitors to such sites will naturally be interested in what your company has to offer. Once they click through to your corner of the Web, they’ll be drawn in by the highly relevant content that they find on your site. (Your site does have highly relevant content, right?) As they spend more time looking around, they’ll be ever more likely to enter your sales funnel. By educating, engaging and eventually nudging visitors into your conversion pipeline, quality links from high-authority sources have intrinsic value beyond SEO.

This is an ongoing project: After identifying, contacting and acquiring high-authority players in your niche, cultivate long-term relationships that result in much more than a “one-and-done” link exchange. By repeating this process multiple times, your industry’s best online “neighborhoods” are populated with organic links back to your site. Since these relationships tend to lead to new ones and create a cumulative effect that boosts site traffic over time, this practice pays long-term dividends.

We also know that Hummingbird and Knowledge Graph — and whatever future updates build off these recent tweaks – use a broad range of factors to determine relevance. These include social media shares from Facebook and Twitter users, Google Authorship, Google Places for Business listings and more. As algorithms give more weight to these factors, your optimization strategies to seamlessly evolve to accommodate them.

In sum, robust networks of inbound links from reputable sources are a boon for your business. Creating these networks may be more difficult than working with “guest post for hire” sites or link farms, but the payoff is far greater in the long run resulting in growing traffic volume, increased brand visibility, and an aura of thought leadership that widens your sales funnel and turns leads into paying customers.