Links for SEO. Are they still an important part of your brand strategy?

In short yes.

But the role of links in your SEO strategy has changed dramatically over the last few years.

The Timeline of Link Building and SEO

If we look at the timeline of link building for SEO activities, we can go all the back to 1999; when webmasters first discovered the power of links.

Link Exchanges were one of the first methods adopted to boost the visibility of websites within in search engines.

We then move forward to 2001.

Directories became the concentration for link building techniques.

Whilst Directories can still have their role for certain sites and sectors, webmasters took an inch and ran a mile when first introduced.

By setting up a plethora of Directories for the sole purpose of SEO link building, Google soon devalued the importance of links built using this method.

In 2003 we saw a rise in independent site owners and blogs.

With this came the opportunity to ‘game’ the SEO system with the use of comments on posts.

Google soon downgraded the effectiveness of this type of link, as it was found that they were being built using automated scraping tools – A big no-no for your authentic SEO strategy.

After self-hosted blogs came the rise of websites where users could upload their own articles to a hub site in 2004.

2005 and 2006 were the years where webmasters seemed to realise that they could pay for links on websites.

First came the Blogroll placement, which granted, could be an authentic mix of paid and natural links. As these became more and more abused by webmasters, they soon fizzled out as a trend in link building.

Another method adopted for paid link building was placement within articles. In 2005 no-follow links were also introduced to counteract manipulation of SERPs.

As knowledge and power grew, 2007 saw the rise of Link Networks and Link Farms. 

A Link Network is basically a digital stack of cards.

And what do stacks of cards ultimately do?

They fall.

By creating a group of sites that were connected, linking actively to each other, you could quickly build website authority.

Whilst this can work for certain organisations, some webmasters got greedy and that’s when Matt Cutts and gang cracked down.

A year later in 2008, we saw the increase of an unethical approach to link building, in the form of Clickbait articles.

The idea of Clickbait was to basically draw people in with a misleading title, leading to a made up, or extremely exaggerated story. This tactic still appears today, more commonly on your social media timelines in the hope to create shares and page likes.

Back in the day, it was a technique that was used to gather links.  Sharing the story and linking back to the original source. This could provide webmasters with a plethora of backlinks. However, it was soon picked up by Google and suspect sites were detected and penalised accordingly.

Not to mention the implications for customer loyalty and trust. Once it became apparent that your website was publishing false content and information, loyalty can be disrupted.

As websites evolved, SEO’s jumped on the opportunity in the late 00’s to scout out and amend broken links.

More advanced SEO tools meant that seeking out broken links, target keywords and brand mentions were becoming easier. As the content already existed and was relevant, the link juice created via this method was a great way to boost visibility.

In 2011 we saw a similar trend to the aforementioned article submission sites. This time in the form of press release portals.

Hosting thousands of press releases in one location, this is one of the first hints at the merge of SEO and PR. This was soon picked up as a ‘gamed’ technique and brought the end to link building in this format. Just like their submission site predecessors.

That’s not to say that Press Releases are dead when it comes to link building methods.

Their role has simply changed slightly.

As more bloggers also appeared on the scene, starting to be treated more and more like journalists, SEO’s also saw the opportunity in seeding their press releases out to site owners. Which gained more organic and natural links than the traditional SEO communications.

2013 saw the introduction of Google+ as a social media platform.

Google+ was not only a new way to connect with circles, but it also had the advantage of providing followed links during a short period.

This was abruptly stopped as soon as the social network realised that the followed link feature was being spammed.

It’s worth noting that Google+ is still beneficial as part of your wider SEO strategy. As it’s a Google product, the content posted can be indexed a lot quicker than on other social media platforms.

2013 also saw a spike in the trend of using infographics for link building. 

These colourful images contained facts and data that was easily digestible and easily shared.

The ability to embed keywords and links the code was also an SEO dream…. to begin with. That was until Google once again detected it as an SEO method that was being abused.

Link building took a more natural and authentic turn on the back of the Panda Algorithm update back in 2011. Panda prevented sites with poor content from ranking. Many companies adapted to this and recruited more marketing teams to introduce more ‘human’ content.

This seemed also like a natural progression to support the technical side of SEO.

Link Building for SEO in 2017

As link building continues its evolution, there are aspects of your strategy that will remain the same.

Relevant websites with high Domain Authority will still be the most beneficial to your ranking positions.

Visual content and list posts are also great tools to bring forward into your content marketing plans.

Avoid any black hat techniques in your link building and SEO strategy. What may be tempting as an initial uplift, will only require more admin and work in the long term.

As we can see from the history of link building, if something seems too ‘easy’ to begin with, it is soon identified and interrupted.

2019: The Google E.A.T Algorithm

With a focus on site quality, the E.A.T algorithm update focusses on the three key things:

  • Expertise
  • Authenticity
  • Trust

How can this benefit your efforts in the world of link building, though?

By adding guest posts and content to relevant sites your links can be seeded to trusted online locations. By taking into consideration factors such as author profiles to reinforce expertise, authenticity and trust, the new algorithm will favour this content even more than it has historically.

In conclusion

All links should be natural, authentic and above all, relevant.

As Google and other search engine algorithms become even more focussed on customer-centric experiences, marketers need to fall in line with this user first approach.

Content will continue to reign supreme. Producing articles and news pieces which are shareworthy is one of the most effective ways to build your backlink profile.

Times have changed since the sheer number of links made the difference to your site’s authority.

10000 links from irrelevant sources will soon get your site penalised.

10 links from relevant websites will have a much more beneficial impact on your site’s authority.

Remember to read Google guidelines for link building and adhere to best practise techniques.

TMC Strategic Communications Adrian Whitehurst

Adrian Whitehurst

Account Director

Adrian is a highly experienced marketer with a career focusing on the delivery of integrated solutions for retail, B2B, public sector and pharmaceutical clients such as Pfizer, Eli Lilly and ICN.

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