We all know link building is an integral part of ranking higher in organic search. Heck, I’ve been doing it myself for this blog for these last few weeks. 🙂 And I’ll be doing a lot more of it in the months and years to come.
But I think there are still way too many people who don’t take it seriously enough.
That’s not to say they question the importance of link building. It’s just that they lean towards taking shortcuts when doing it.
There’s a serious lack of patience around link building. Among individual marketers, small business owners as well as bigger companies and agencies.
We all want higher ranks and more targeted traffic that purchases what we’re selling. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to grow your business or avoid being put out of business by your competitors. If you’re a freelance marketer, you want to be able to build a portfolio of case studies you can later point to in order to bolster your credentials with future clients.
And we all know big companies and agencies need to continue to feed the beast in order to boost their profit margins and stock price.
So what happens? A lot of people cut corners. And human-ness is usually the first to be sacrificed at the altar.
People look to automate their link building outreach e-mails with a template so they can churn out e-mails like they were sending out party invitations.
Or they waste time with low level things like blog comments and directory submissions that have very little, if any, impact on their overall backlink profile.
Some even participate in black hat link schemes that put their site at risk of being penalized.
All because they’re avoiding the hard work of what it takes to build the best quality backlinks:
1.) Creating kick-ass content (that ultimately attracts links on its own merit).
2.) Reaching out to people who actually want to consume and link to that content.
By the way, I’m not trying to lecture you from my pulpit. I’m guilty of a lack of patience too sometimes. We all are.
Are you making these common link building mistakes? Here’s how to tell. In fact, you might want to save this article so that when you find yourself wanting to take shortcuts, it’ll snap you back into reality.
Mistake #1. You waste a huge percentage of time on low level tactics
Once upon a time, before the phrase “content marketing” was ever en vogue, you could contact a few like-minded webmasters in your niche to exchange links, submit some articles to Ezinearticles or sites like that and leave comments on blogs with your link.
And you’d pick up a ton of relevant backlinks that way. I know because that’s what I used to do back in the day with MySpaceSurveyFun.com. Here’s a screenshot of the home page from waaaaay back in August of 2006. Look at all those link partners!
(Side note: yes I built the first incarnation of that site in Frontpage. Try not to laugh too hard.)
….Seriously, are you done laughing?
No? It’s totally cool, I’ll just wait until you’re done…..
Good to go? Ok. Thanks. I know, it’s always good to have at least one hearty laugh a day.
Anyway, all of these were tactics that paid dividends back in the day.
Now none of this was automated, mind you. I didn’t use specific software like serious black hat SEOs used (and still use today) to produce bulk comment spam and link request e-mails.
But the truth is I also didn’t have to work that hard or produce anything of real tangible value to people in order to build these links. I simply talked to like-minded webmasters, usually on forums like SitePoint, who happened to have web sites like mine. Usually, they were other MySpace-specific sites that compiled layouts, gifs or other HTML code one could use to doctor up their profile. Maybe we would look at each other’s PageRank score and use that as a barometer for how and where we would do an exchange. But it was all very wild wild west.
Blog commenting has historically been the same thing. Yes, you yourself may work hard in finding blogs to comment on. But is your vapid, two-sentence comment with a link to your site really creating value for someone? Come on.
Let’s say Google didn’t have a search algorithm at all. That every link between two sites was checked and verified manually with a pair of eyes first in order to parse the true relationship between the two sites.
Can you honestly say the media blog that you’re leaving that comment on with the link to your site has “endorsed” you in some way?
No, of course not. You’re not playing in the spirit of the rules that Google, Bing and the other search engines have set.
You don’t have to believe me, either. This is from Google’s Quality Guidelines section for webmasters on what they refer to as “link schemes:”
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.
And that’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind:
Any kind of link building strategy that lends itself to quick-hit automation is, at best, going to have a negligible effect on your ability to rank for your chosen keywords. And at worst, it’ll actively hurt your site.
The way to avoid this problem is simple: if you’re going to build high quality links in 2016 and beyond, you have to put the time and effort into building great content and then reaching out in an empathetic, understanding way to someone whose audience might be able to benefit from it.
In a lot of ways, you’re no different than an entrepreneur coming up with the idea for a product. You do market research, you talk to potential customers and find out about their pain points and then produce a product that will ease that pain in some measurable way.
Just like you can build a “me-too” type of company and piggyback off the success of an existing product, you can certainly get quality links just by producing better content than the next guy. That’s the equivalent of “building a better mouse trap.” A longer tutorial, a more extensive list of tactics, etc.
But if you can create original content that solves a problem someone has; maybe some research that they were interested in or a case study on a particular tactic, then you’re in a position where they’re much more likely not just to leave a link on their site but to amplify that content through their own network via social media, e-mail etc.
That’s the kind of content that get the most social shares, the most upvotes on social news sites like Reddit and Hacker News. The stuff Moz’s Rand Fishkin refers to as 10x content.
It’s not as if you can’t ever comment on blogs again. If you think you can add serious value to the discussion on its own without resorting to link-dropping, then by all means go for it. And if there’s a particular directory or two that are perfect for your niche and actually have real users that use it on the regular, sure, go for it.
But I would shoot for at least 80% of your link building time to be spent building high quality content, even if it takes a while to produce. Because odds are, it’ll be worth it to you.
Mistake #2. You step (or ride) into black hat tactics, knowingly or unknowingly
This is similar to mistake #1, except you’re doing things that are clearly black hat, even if you don’t know it.
If you’re a seasoned SEO you sometimes forget this. But a lot of people, particular business owners, don’t know that you can’t buy links or set up link wheels, private blog networks or other automated tactics. They get an e-mail from someone who claims they’re from a “link building company” and they go for it.
But here’s another thing: tactics change over time.
Back when I first started my agency career in 2008, we used to buy links from link brokers and marketplaces without any thought whatsoever. One company who now produces enterprise SEO software used to run a “premium” marketplace for paid links with some of the most well-known sites in the world until Google took the hammer to them and they sold that part of their business.
Why did we buy links? First off, because they worked. Those links moved the needle in a considerable way. Usually it was a line item that a client requested, most likely because one of their competitors were doing it. It was a mechanical process that was easily replicable, making it easy to bill clients for it.
But buying links was still considered a standard practice in those days because Google’s standards were still thought of as mostly “guide posts” rather than hard rules.
Then the first iterations of Penguin and Panda came along. Followed by subsequent yearly tweaks that penalized thousands of web sites, many from some of the biggest brands in the world. Nobody was immune.
Maybe you did this stuff too, either yourself if you’re a small business owner or as a freelancer for clients and now you’re paying the price for it.
How do you correct it?
Secondly, you can also take a look to see what competitors in your space might be engaging in black hat tactics.
Finally, you can look at your own backlink profile and then put together a strategy to disavow the bad links or get the offending webmaster to take them down. Moz has a solid guide that will help you through it step by step.
Mistake #3: You’re not being human
Link building is a two-way conversation.
Until Google’s AI becomes self-aware or bloggers are replaced en masse by actual robots, 100% of your link building will continue to be done in conjunction with other humans for the foreseeable future.
Therefore, you have to be able to relate to someone on a human level.
Think of the last time you met someone new, be it at a meet up or in some other professional setting. Or maybe it wasn’t a professional setting. Maybe it was a wedding cocktail party. Or a club at 2AM. Whatever, it doesn’t matter.
How did you introduce yourself? Did you start off by extolling your own virtues? Probably not.
You probably, even subconsciously, looked to seek common ground:
“Oh you’re into gardening? So am I!”
“Oh you work for X Agency, I worked for Y agency, their top competitor. What are they up to these days?
“Oh you work in NYC? So did I, what part?”
“Oh you’re an Islander fan too? Are they ever going to get John Tavares a winger?”
So if link building is a human endeavor, why are you sending out e-mails and leaving comments that follow some robotic template that’s easily replicable?
Even if it’s a good link building template, it’s still going to be copied and ripped off by thousands of other people trying to do the same thing.
If you want to use a template as a guide, then fine. But instead of just using it verbatim, aim to deliver a unique message to every person you contact.
Really learn something about them as people in the space they’re in. What’s their tone or style of writing? What topics and sub-topics have they written about before? (Or perhaps more importantly, what have they not written about before?)
Find their personal Twitter or Instagram handle. What kinds of things do they like to do? What shows do they watch? What sports teams do they follow? What mutual connections or groups do you share?
Just the other day I reached out to someone with a niche blog who happened to be in Fizzle, the same entrepreneurial membership program I’m in. I was about halfway through the e-mail and clicking through his site, I happened to see a Fizzle banner ad.
The point is you just don’t know what kind of commonalities you might stumble on until you really take the time and effort to scout someone out.
Any kind of connection that you can leverage is going to be super helpful to get someone’s attention. And once you have their attention, a link usually becomes an easy, effortless task.
What are some of the mistakes you’ve made while building links?I’d love to hear them. 🙂 Let me know in the comments.
Oh and watch the video that this post image is taken from. It’s great.