Let’s face it. Link building is not sexy. Link building is no fun. And in 2014, if done correctly, it certainly isn’t cheap or easy.
More importantly, and contrary to what you may have heard, link building is far from dead. Many “link building is dead” theories are rooted in wishful thinking and/or fear. The fear is real and understandable because the Penguin update finally delivered on Google’s long-standing promise to severely penalize websites that engage in manipulative link schemes.
(Fear Not) Google Reaper
Some have concluded that the best and safest answer to Penguin is to stop link building altogether. It’s a bad idea.
Back to reality: the best way to improve visibility in the SERPs, in 2014, remains link building. Links are still considered the most important part of the algorithm, according to the most recent Moz Search Engine Ranking Factors survey.
Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed the same in a interview with Eric Engeindicating:
“Links are still the best way we’ve found to find out (how relevant or important someone is) and maybe over time, social media, authorship or other types of markup we will give a lot more information about it.”
This statement has some pretty big implications when it comes to planning and budgeting for a digital marketing campaign.
The main takeaway is this: link building is always the key to higher visibility in organic search. If your goal is to improve visibility in organic search, invest in resources accordingly. Social networks and fatherhood may (and likely will) impact the SERPs at some point in the future, but not today and likely not significantly in 2014.
Relevance is the new PageRank
The evolution of the original 1 link = 1 vote algorithm took a leap forward in May 2012 with the introduction of the Knowledge Graph, which is used by Google to provide search results with semantic search information. This information is gathered from a wide variety of sources, using over 500 million objects and 3.5 billion facts. In Google speaksthe Knowledge Graph is about “things, not strings”.
Knowledge Graph is most likely integrated with Hummingbird, Google’s latest algorithm. Assuming this is the case, then a correlation between “context, not anchor text” and “things not strings” is applicable. Relevancy is the new PageRank when looking for link opportunities.
A real life example might look like this: Pre-Hummingbird, a search for car covers might yield results split between auto accessories to protect your car, tribute bands that cover classic rock band “The Cars” and cover songs by Ric Ocasek and cars. The “old” algo could not distinguish one car cover from another. Colibri, on the other hand knows the difference. Now, all those auto parts links from high PR band sites, are now being exposed for what they really are: unnatural. At best the link is devalued. At worst, it triggers a manual review.
Link Schemes vs Link Building
Understand the difference between link diagram and link building is critically important in 2014. For webmasters who were doing SEO before Panda, this can be especially difficult to navigate.
Many have been directly impacted by the Google paradox. Unlike Einstein’s Insanity Theory, in Google’s Paradox the SERPs actually do give different results after doing the same thing (spam link building) over and over again.
A link scheme that scored the number one ranking in 2010 can and will result in a manual or algorithmic penalty today. This paradox has driven many webmasters crazy!
According to Google, the following activities are link schemes – not link building:
- Buy or sell links that pass PageRank
- Using automated programs or services to link to your site
- Linking to a site for the sole purpose of getting a backlink
- Build a network of links with the aim of linking
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting using keyword-rich anchor text
- Buy infomercials or articles that include links that pass PageRank
- Creation and distribution of press releases with optimized anchor text
Recently removed from the guidelines, but still likely to trigger a penalty:
- Linking to web spammers or unrelated sites for the purpose of manipulating PageRank
- Links that fit into articles with little consistency
3 Sure Ways to Bond in 2014
So what’s left?
- Focus external link building efforts on acquiring editorially donated links. These are links that require human intervention and approval.
- Create relevant links – on pages where readers would have a genuine interest in your website.
- Quality trumps quantity. A few links from highly trusted/authorized websites will have more impact than hundreds of links from “Made for Guest Posting” blogs.
There are no more shortcuts to create links. The process is difficult and time consuming. In 2014, it’s time to spend the time and money to get it right so you can stop fearing the Google grim reaper.