Link building

What is link building? – Search engine monitoring

The Webster’s Dictionary defines link building as…it’s not.

Why is there no standard definition? It’s not like link building is a secret. According a recent study80% of businesses engaged in SEO spend more than $1,000 per month on link building.

The lack of a standard definition leads to great confusion within the industry itself. I met other SEOs and marketers who had a tenuous understanding of link building at best. It’s not like there is an SEO university. Forget it: SEO is barely taught in universities.

So what exactly is link building? If you ask me for a simple definition, I’d say it’s the process of going out of your way to find good links.

But I don’t think that definition really does link building justice: it ignores the importance of link building. It ignores the crucial role it can and should play in any online marketing campaign. In my opinion, the true definition of link building is not just asking what, but also asking why.

Link building isn’t just the aforementioned process of acquiring backlinks that point to your site: it’s also a proven marketing tactic that increases brand awareness and conversions.

The why

So why should you link today? You should do this for the same reason you should have linked last year. And the year before. And every year since Google dominated the search market.

You need to build links because links are still one of the most important ranking signals for Google’s algorithm and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to Matt Cuttswho highlighted the importance of links at the recent SMX Advanced conference.

Danny Sullivan: Is link building just dead? You keep saying a new tactic is dead or shouldn’t be followed, is it really that you just don’t want people trying to link?

Cutts: No, link building is not dead. And a very small percentage of links on the web are unfollowed. Lots of miles left in the links.

Even though it seemed like Sullivan, the founder of Search Engine Land, was trying to trick him into saying that link building was of little value, Cutts brushed off the idea.

However, it’s not just about increasing search visibility and brand exposure. Link building can help drive other marketing strategies. Content marketing is widely talked about as “the new link building”. I believe that is a lie.

The two are completely different. Content marketing has ambitions beyond link building; it is mainly focused on spreading a brand message.

If you’re launching a content marketing initiative just for links, your content will likely suffer. Content marketing and link building may not be synonymous, but they complement each other well. Link building can help you build relationships that can also benefit you in other projects.

Link building is a crucial part of a comprehensive online marketing campaign.

The Ghost of Link Building Past

I can’t give you the exact year link building started, but I can tell you that link building has been around for a long time. Eric Ward, who is known as the godfather of link building, has been helping create a link building strategy since 1994. That’s four years before Google even existed.


Image Credit: Moz

Link building hasn’t always been the best of professions. In previous years, there had been an arms race. Everyone knew that links were heavily weighted in Google’s algorithm, and everyone also knew that Google’s algorithm wasn’t sophisticated enough to detect inappropriate links properly. This led to the creation of some famous black hat tactics, tactics that created horrible user experiences and manipulated search results.

This stuff isn’t entirely in the past; I see examples of some of these tactics being performed on occasion. It may even work for a very short time.

Link building is no longer just about submitting poorly written content to dozens of link farms that no one ever sees outside of a web crawler. Link building no longer hides keyword-rich anchor text under an infographic. Google keeps getting smarter and continues to refine its algorithm to avoid manipulation attempts.

Link builders are adapting to a new SEO frontier where building meaningful and relevant links isn’t just a suggestion: it’s a requirement to stay competitive. A backlink profile filled to the brim with unnatural backlinks will no longer increase your visibility in search. It is more likely to result in a penalty.

Link building today

At SMX in June, Cutts said it was possible to do White Hat SEO; it just requires “sweat and creativity”. Cutts, despite Sullivan’s promptings, and despite a plethora of reasons to condemn link building – it would certainly make his job easier – still stood behind links and link building.

In order to define link building today, you need to understand what “sweat plus creativity” means. For me, it’s not rocket science.

When Cutts says “sweat plus creativity”, he simply means hard work and innovation. That’s all.

The link arms race was responsible for a massive amount of links designed for the sole purpose of manipulating Google’s algorithm. Google no longer defends it: they want links that better serve the user experience.

Google doesn’t want natural links just because they’re idealistic; many would say the company has losing one’s idealistic roots during the last years. Google wants this kind of Internet because it is in its financial interest to provide the best and most relevant search results possible. Their ability to return relevant results depends on natural links; manipulative links will abnormally inflate rankings.

Even though Google seems to be expanding into a different area of ​​technology every day, Google is still amassing a overwhelming majority of its revenue from advertising on the SERPs.

I want the Internet that Google wants too: we all should. The Internet is the most powerful communication tool the world has ever known, and it would be an injustice to ruin the experience of those who use it. It means creating the kind of links that take sweat and creativity.

Is link building another form of promotion?

Just like television/radio advertising, link building is firmly rooted in the marketing sphere.

How could we think otherwise? A large percentage of websites are designed to generate leads or to sell something. This means that a website has become the brick and mortar of the digital age.

Just as the interior of a Walmart is a representation of its brand, the pages of a website are a representative of the brand. You just need to bring people to the website. This can be done via social sharing of course, but search remains in my opinion the best way to direct users to your site.

This means that links aren’t just links; these are votes of confidence. A backlink pointing to your site is a signal of trust and authority. No webmaster will want to link to you unless they think it will provide a better experience for site visitors.

In order to get links, it is increasingly essential to clarify why you are worth linking to. This means that link building is slowly turning into another method of promotion.


So what is link building? It’s really a lot of things. In 2014, I would say that link building is:

  • The process of going out of your way to find good links.
  • A proven marketing tactic that increases brand awareness and conversions.
  • A form of promotion.

My definition may differ from yours, and that’s okay. I anticipate that my current definition will change in five years. But unlike the crowd of SEO doomsayers that populate every corner of the web, I know that link building will be a valuable visibility strategy five years from now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it remained so nebulous.