The death of the backlink has been greatly exaggerated. It often feels like SEOs from all over the world are running around with tinfoil hats while proclaiming that their backlinking efforts not only aren't working, but they're getting themselves, and their clients penalized.
Better excuses for the decline in value for backlinks can range from the fact that you bought them from a guy on Fiverr who inserts them en masse via script to a blog network that features 500 blogs on the same class C IP address.
Or, maybe you took a slightly more hands on approach and bought software to handle your backlinking. Xrumer, SEO Nuke, or one of the many others that give you a sort of a plug and play approach to building links... surely, that's the smarter option.
Or, maybe you're still relying on article directories and "do follow" blog commenting. Whatever the case may be, your links may not be working like they used to. I say "may" because, although I do not usually recommend these techniques, there are still countless cases of them still working. It's always best to make a personal call on what will be provide the best ROI based on your goals and experience.
While there are cases where this leads to SEO success (though probably short lived), this is usually the time many start considering that the backlinks they built are the cause of their SEO sorrows. After all, you spent three hours spinning articles, and pushing the "go" button on your software but the only noticeable increase is your feelings of depression.
So maybe it's time to look at an alternate reality that most low-grade SEOs haven't considered until now. Maybe backlinks are MORE important than they ever have been. The only catch is that they have to be good and "good" is not something that can be automated/easily done.
Joe's Widget Store
Let's take a look at semi-typical example that you'll get from most SEOs when they try to tell you why backlinks are the new plague, and should be avoided at all costs.
Joe's widget store had a backlink profile of five hundred backlinks. While this isn't a huge number of backlinks, it had him on the first page for most of his most relevant keywords in his niche.
All this was cool until a new Google update that decides that identifies most of those links with thin content, spam sites, or a number of other low value factors. Now Joe's left with a bunch of links that can't seem to catch Google's eye anymore. It's a lot like that hot kid from high school that put on 25lbs their freshman year of college.
Obviously some of those links are still important. In fact, they're clearly more important than the majority of five hundred that were marginalized by the Google update. This is where the smart SEO snaps into action; trying to find out what was different about the few good links that are still holding on to what rankings they have left and figuring out what they can do to build more.
Sadly, it feels like most SEOs would rather come up with excuses such as "backlinks are dying." Friend, I assure you that the death of SEO isn't a new battle cry for the defeated link builder.
Back to the links...
Of the five hundred plus links that lost their value, you can see upon closer inspection that a two-hundred were directory submissions, a hundred or so were blog comments, another hundred were site-wide links you had paid for in the past, and the remaining few are those that you hired the overseas outsourcer to build for you through methods that you probably didn't want to know about at the time.
That leaves you with fifty "good" links.
Of those fifty, twenty are links that reference your content on other blogs. Ten are from those insightful thoughts you posted on fellow niche leader sites. The final ten were from syndication channels within your niche. Obviously this is a bit simplified but you get the picture.
Maybe Content is King...
Not in the sense that it's the only thing that matters, but if we do a quick peek at our link profiles you'll notice that the only ones that still mean anything are directly tied to content. Paying five bucks on Fiverr for hundreds of directory submissions, or site wide links within blog networks are likely worthless (or soon to be), but those that were somehow tied to content still seem to have held their value.
So what is the conclusion that most SEOs are drawn to?
"I lost favor in the past Google update, so backlinking obviously isn't working anymore."
The correct approach to this sort of quandary should be:
"Some of the methods I had used in the past to obtain backlinks aren't working, let's shift the focus to the methods that work."
Google Doesn't Punish Quality Sites
If you take a look at some of the bigger Google slaps, you'll see that sites like Yahoo Answers, eHow, Livestrong, nearly every article directory and About were some of the biggest targets. If you break down the "why" behind it you'll quickly begin to see that shoddy link portfolios and crappy content are behind the penalties, not the link itself - at least not the legitimate ones.
Google doesn't go out of its way to punish good sites. If your content is hand written by a quality English-speaking writer, and your link profile is relatively natural (and largely stemming from the content produced or the overall authority of your site) then you aren't going to have much to worry about.
Here's the Key to SEO that Works
Quality, quality, quality...
The smarter SEOs are moving away from finding every link opportunity, and instead focusing on building links that are not only relevant, but of a high authority and built around quality content.
In the past two years, we've seen a monumental rise in the number of guest posts, and this isn't without an explanation.
Content partners are the key to post-Penguin link building.
While some are going to argue that they've been penalized for accepting guest posts, or for writing them on other sites, that's only half the story. Yes, the guest post you accepted (or wrote) was the reason for your penalty but only the shortsighted can blame the method rather than the execution.
Google encourages guest posting if it provides value to readers. The guest posts that are being penalized are those that are thin, irrelevant, or chock full of anchored links. In short, if you're writing the post solely for the sake of linking (rather than writing a high quality post that brings value) you're going to lose the battle on a long enough timeline.
High quality is of the utmost importance, especially now. Google no longer accepts half-hearted attempt to manipulate the system. Now, not only is the quality of the content you produce on your own site a ranking factor, the quality of your guest posts -and the quality of the site in which you're publishing your guest posts also factor into the equation.
Those that realize that linkbuilding isn't dead, but a matter of hard work / quality over quantity, are the SEOs that are going to reap the benefits from their current (and future) backlinking campaigns.
Backlinks aren't dead, but the way you're building them just might be.
Chris Warden is a seasoned entrepreneur and CEO. Starting his entrepreneurial career at age 19, he has performed in numerous capacities owning and managing both offline and online companies. Chris now serves as CEO of Spread Effect, a leading content marketing and publishing company. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) and often writes on topics of content marketing, SEO, and business development. He’s passionate about building and mentoring world-class teams and loves to chat with like-minded individuals. You can connect with Chris via Linkedin, Twitter - @ChrisWarden_SE, or Google+.
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