Link Building Still Works, Only The Mechanics Have Changed.

the google hammer

Finally mustered up enough time to put together a post, it’s been a busy few months thanks to Mr Cutts and his team of spam hunters :). So much has changed, so many tactics have been left by the way side, link networks finally pulled and sites are being punished for unnatural links, whether they created them or not.

If Google’s aim was to create a whole load of uncertainty around SEO and the industry, then they succeeded, however the fact is, SEO is still a valid form of inbound marketing; that much hasn’t changed. In fact, the only part that has changed relates to the mechanics and specifically link building tactics/techniques/practices.

Search engine optimisation, is as it was, optimise for search engines, rank for relevant keywords, get qualified visitors and generate leads. This much is still valid; however, how we do it has changed significantly.

So, SEO is definitely not dead, but what about links?

I can categorically confirm that links still influence rankings; in fact not only do they still influence, but they are still the key driving factor, in my opinion.

Do we still see ranking improvements through link building? YES.

Does anchor text still help influence keyword rankings? YES.

Again the fundamentals haven’t changed, only the mechanics.

If you have been involved in SEO for the last 10 years, or even the last few years, you will have listened to Google and other SEO’s talk about ‘quality’ links and editorial votes, creating a quality site, post, image, tool, hub etc… and earning those awesome links! Then we head off to take a look at a competitive SERP and realise that awesome links aren’t the driving factor, the driving factor was based on large quantities of low quality links all targeting the same set of keywords.

However, we knew Google would one day kill this link spam, and by doing things right we would rule the roost! Eventually!

The problem is, year after year Google could do nothing to police what they had titled ‘link spam’, and those people practising ‘Google style SEO’ were always losing, this has happened consistently for the past decade, even up until the end of 2011.

Then, we hit 2012 and Google began to follow through on pretty much everything they have been promising for a decade, and the world of low quality SEO is turned on its head.

However, we’re SEO’s, we play to Google’s beat, there is no time to piss & moan, we have to adapt and adapt quickly. Any company, whether agency or in house, who thinks they can implement SEO activity like they have been doing historically, is in for a big shock and drops in organic traffic and revenue.

The area where mind-sets and mechanics need to change surrounds link building, below are a few of the areas, I feel link building needs to change and expand, in order to meet the current changes head on.

It’s link optimising, not just building

Historically, link building has always been about creating new links, some believed in building quality links, others just focussed on tons of anchor text, either way the emphasis was on building links.

Moving forward, the focus has to be shared, if you take on a new project you need to take a holistic look at the link profile and decide what needs doing first. It may be that more links are needed, however it may be that some need taking down, or the anchor text changing to be less aggressive.

Link profiles sending out low quality or ‘over’ optimised signals will struggle to influence the pages they target, even if you build the best links possible, they will still struggle.

You have to focus on crafting a natural profile, stop trying to build on unsteady link foundations.

Link Removals

If you have been practicing competitive SEO for any significant amount of time, then you almost certainly have a few questionable links in your profile. These need cleaning up, even if you haven’t been hit by the recent updates you need to future proof your efforts by ensuring you’re crafting a clean profile.

At the minute this process is tedious, it takes a lot of time, and the success rate through outreach can be worse than trying to build links! However, Google might have a certain webmaster tools addition that could help out significantly.

For now, make a master list of all links you consider unnatural, and make a continued effort to take them down.

More Integration!!

For the last 2 years we have been trying to fully integrate our outreach, social and online PR teams, this is needed now more than ever.

A link profile has to be justified, and the way you justify your profile is by having a reason to outreach, and for the person you develop a relationship with to have a genuine reason to link back.

Offering a nice article, a gift voucher or a little bit of cash is not good enough justification, when acquiring links it needs to be an editorial vote, why is this site linking to you? A dry article with a random anchor text in the middle is going to stand out like a sore thumb!

Have regular meetings with the PR and Social team, understand what they are working on and discuss ways you can make it work from an SEO point of view.

Link builders don’t need to create the angles; they just need to understand how to use them.

Yes, all this makes link building more time consuming, it means you can’t build thousands of links each month, it means you have to develop and manage relationships. It’s going to be a challenge, but doing it right always has been.

A positive change is that you can finally focus less on anchor text and more on pitching the right piece of content. Trying to work anchor text into an article is a pain, however it was a necessary evil to get the results you needed from search.

I am absolutely convinced that anchor text matters less, I wrote about this in 2010, then again in 2011 and again at the beginning of 2012. Gradually over the years, websites using aggressive anchor text practices have been weeded out. Sure, you may find the odd site still benefitting, but given the recent change rate, how long do you think that will last?

I’m going to make this my last post on link building for a while, for me the signs are clear and a change is needed. The current updates are based on a threshold, once you’re flagged, creating more noise won’t help. Go back to basics, remove the junk and craft a natural profile with a little SEO influence.

If you are a late comer to these changes, please check out the below articles:

Google’s view on the Penguin Update

More on unnatural link messages

The new Google algorithm

Earning Good Links

Matt Cutts lays down the law!

Hopefully I can up my blogging activity soon 🙂


Tim Grice is the CEO of Branded3, a search marketing agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

Latest posts by Tim (see all)

11 Replies to “Link Building Still Works, Only The Mechanics Have Changed.”

  1. You really think its changed that much other than google de-indexing a few dropped domains on farms? Blogstorm just had a very intresting post (cant find link) about the payday loan serp, theres barely a site more than a month old in it lol. Imho every time google turns the dial one way evil blackhats will find a way to exploit it, bring on facebook likes as a ranking factor lol!


  2. Hi Pablo,

    I’m not saying web spam won’t work, just that it won’t work as well by a long way. That particular payday loans result changes everyday, as you can see the sites from that post are dead already. There will always be ways to manipulate, but if you’re developing a genuine business and brand, taking short cuts are going to be disastrous, where as in years gone by, you could get away with it.

    If you have no interest in developing a brand, then sure go ahead and manipulate, but I am confident there is no longevity in low quality link building, and I don’t see Google u turning on recent initiatives.

  3. Your right they have definitely got much better at detecting the “wrong” type of links but it seems to me that Googles main weapon over the last few years has been the PR offensive, i.e lets scare people into doing what we want. Not saying thats not working, but if they’re calling themselves a 21st century technology company its hardly an inovation (not compared to the original algo leap in 97).

    Also is very debatable how much better the serps really are, then again us SEO types are the 1% that cares. My mother still thinks google is the internet 🙂

  4. I wouldn’t necessarily say the SERP’s are better, Google are hitting genuine websites and businesses because of their poor link building practices, that doesn’t mean they aren’t the best result.

    I have personally never seen Google take action like this, I’m not entirely sure its the right way to go, but they don’t seem to be turning back, in fact their stance on link spam seems to be getting more aggressive. If they bring out the ‘disavow’ function in WMT, I think this will go a long way to easing the current tension in the industry, as long as it doesn’t impact the sites that get disavowed….

  5. Personally I agree with the direction Google is moving in. The are trying to weed out the majority of spammy type material that can, while at the same time encouraging people to just do better content. All in all, if you but in the work to make a good site, with good content people will be more interested in what you have going on.

  6. I agree, the only issue is this unnatural links issue, Google are hitting sites that maybe did a bit of article marketing 3 years ago, since they have built trusted brands that are the best results for specific search terms. If Google are going to punish links, they need to give webmasters a better way of remedying the situation, other than a reconsideration request that gets an auto reply.

    If they bring out the ‘disavow’ tool in WMT, this will be ideal.

  7. The funniest thing is that the spammers are still sending us wordpress comments in wordpress. I see such mails everyday. Do they ever read such posts, or they are out fashioned robots.

  8. I agree that link building still works just not like it used to. It’s interesting to see sites with very few inbound links outranking sites with thousands of them. The game has definitely changed for the better and will now benefit legitimate businesses focused on building their brand online not simply anchor text links.

  9. You are absolutely right Tim. Link building is still playing a vital role to rank well over major search engines. Only way of optimization has changed. However, one should beware about over optimization.

Comments are closed.