SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is basically made up of two parts, Onpage (keyword research, site architecture, technical aspects of the site, onpage optimisation) and Offpage work (link building, outreach, PR, events/exhibitions)
Link building is often also referred to as off page which involves getting a website link from another website back to a page on your website. Think of it as a vote from website A to Website B. The more votes you get the higher up the rankings you go. Well that’s how it used to wor
Why Does It Matter?
Businesses and Web Designers often get confused about the work it takes to be visible in the search engines. Think of the onpage work as the foundations of a house. Without strong foundations the house will fall.
Onpage work tells search engines exactly what it is you do and what you should be found for when someone does a search on Google. However, with millions of websites competing for that all important first page result, search engines need a way to rank websites in order of importance, relevancy and usefulness to the searcher, with those fulfilling the criteria rewarded with a first page result. They do this by looking at the types of websites that are linking to the target site and reward those with the most authoritative and relevant links
Link building has evolved over the years. So, first let’s take a look at the old link building methods which were widely used up to 2012 and compare this with current link building methods
Pre April 2012 Link Building Anchor Text
Anchor text refers to the text in a link so for example in this link the anchor text is “this link”. SEO’s quickly realised by putting the keywords they wanted to rank for as the anchor text, they could quickly manipulate which keywords and pages would rank in Google. You could setup a page for blue widgets, get 1,000 of other websites to link back your page with the anchor text of “blue widgets” and rapidly climb the rankings. In fact you could easily use your main keyphrase up to 60% in the anchor text of all links from other websites.
Types of Links
The types of links available to place your website on varied as website owners realised by setting up authority sites, they could charge people to place their links and in return the site buying the link would get rewarded by high rankings.
These were usually submission type websites:-
- Search Engine Friendly Directories – These were multi category directories, with topics ranging from Arts, Business to Travel and Transport. You would simply enter the keyword you wanted to rank for, put a bit of a description about your company, select a category and pay the fee. Or you could pay a link building company to build hundreds for you.
- Social Bookmarking Sites – Think of Reddit. These sites were setup to bookmark your favourite websites to share with friends and family. Again you simply entered your site details, a description and hit submit
- Article Directories – This is where guest blogging evolved from. However, you really didn’t have to spend too much time worrying about how the article sounded or even if it made sense and you could simply submit the same article to hundreds of directories
- Forum/Profile Links – For some strange reason these added a huge amount of weight to where you ranked in Google. You simply placed your keywords as a link in the forum signature and you could quickly climb through the rankings.
These are only a selection of the tactics that would have quickly seen your site reach the goal of a first page ranking for any keyword you liked and best of all you wouldn’t be punished for doing it.
How was This Measured
The most widely measured metric on how authoritative a site was in Google used to be measured by a figure called PageRank. This was number from 0-10 with the most authoritative sites getting higher page ranks. A good figure was anything between 3-6, whilst those just starting out would often have a figure between 0-1. The more page rank 4-6 sites you could get your site on, the higher up the rankings you went.
Unfortunately, this was quickly abused by SEO’s and websites were often set up to manipulate where you ranked in Google. For example, you could often buy 300-500 Page Rank 3-4 sites for less than $100. This would see you propelled to the top of Google in short period of time, often no more than 3-4 months.
When Google’s algorithm’s became more intelligent of catching web spam, Google’s Page Rank was no longer a good indicator of what a good/authoritative site looked like. In fact, the page rank figure hasn’t been publically updated since 2013.
Google Penguin – April 2012 The Day Link Building Changes Forever
With Google getting increasingly frustrated of sites easily manipulating where they ranked in Google on April 24th 2012 they launched the Penguin update. 3.1% percent of sites found themselves penalised by Google. Their first page listing became a page twenty listing in Google and along with this up to 80% of their website traffic and sales or leads. The worst part about it is that it is an “automated update”, which means you have to find and remove the unnatural links, tell Google you have done this, using a tool called a disavow file, and then wait for the next update to see if you have done enough to recover. For more information on how to recover from a Google update like penguin see our recovery guide blog post.
Submission type sites and sites which allowed keyword stuffing of phrases to be placed as their anchor text, were penalised or no longer indexed along with the sites linking to them. This became known as your “link profile”.
The industry went into turmoil and some SEO Agencies went out of business fast!! Others were left scratching their heads on exactly what do next, whilst some claimed this was then end of SEO…and it was in a sense. It was the end of manipulative SEO. Over the last couple of years, the Penguin update has gone over numerous revisions, however the last update was over 18 months ago.
Link Building 2016
So how does link building in 2016 work and is it still viable? The truth is if you want to rank highly in Google, you will need links to give your site the authority it needs to rank. Your link profile is still worth around 60% of all ranking metrics that make up where a site ends up in Google search engine result pages.
How to get and earn quality links is the topic for another blog post. However, if you are considering hiring an SEO it is best to ask the type of link earning/building they will be involved in.
If they mention:-
- SEO Friendly Directories
- Article Directories
- Social Bookmarking
- Guest Blogging in Bulk
- Keyword Rich links
Then my advice is to run to the hills as quickly as possible, these are the types of links that will see your site penalised if not straight away in the very near future.
Link building Is 2016 is quite simple. When looking at an opportunity to gain a link ask yourself one question. If Google didn’t exist would I still want to place a link on this site? If the answer is yes, then chances are Google won’t have a problem with it either.
To end this blog post I want to give just one quick tip. If you are building links i.e submitting or placing them yourself never use keyword as the anchor text, always use the company name or the website URL. If you have earned the link i.e editorial, sponsored post, PR article then it is usually wise to let the site owner decide how to link b