For enterprise SEOs, receipt of this notification is usually followed by a deep, sinking feeling in your chest.
You check your keyword head-terms in the SERPs and realize that you can’t find your website anywhere. A lump forms in your throat as the realization sets in — you’ve been penalized by Google.
The Link Building Challenge
Google’s crackdown on unnatural links over the past few years has raised the question within SEO circles: “Is link building dead?”
The reason folks might think it’s dead is because Google’s definition of what constitutes an “unnatural” or “artificial” link seems a bit…broad:
“Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme.”
Not to mention the penalty for “suspicious links” is quite severe. Whereas sports celebrities are fined or suspended from a few games for breaking the rules, businesses whose websites violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines could find themselves losing a lot more.
Some good businesses have taken major financial losses as a result of the infamous Google Penalty. Estimates suggest that costs to big box retailers and enterprise e-commerce companies could easily hit $5 million per month in lost natural search revenue.
Smaller businesses facing such penalties could end up ruined, having to close their doors. Yes, Google can put you out of business — whether you deserve it or not.
The fear Google has instilled into the hearts of SEOs over bad links is unparalleled. Is it any wonder that so many are asking, “Is link building a dying art?”
Link Building Lives!
The answer to the above question is an emphatic, “No!” Link building is not dead; in fact, link building is alive and well. But you do need to be careful.
While all the recent reports about Penguin 2.0 might lead conservative SEOs to advise against active link building, the vast majority of page 1 rankings are on page 1 because of their link profile.
Links are Google’s “weak link” in the search industry. Google still remains heavily reliant on links as its primary form of ranking websites within its search results pages.
So, how can enterprise SEOs navigate link building without getting penalized for building links? How can you rank organically, using good links, while avoiding penalties? Read on for the high road to link building, according to three link experts.
1. Perform A Link Audit
This is, hands-down, your first step. Conducting a link audit will require several phases and tools; however, if you follow Chuck’s advice here, you’ll be able to get through it.
In How To Conduct a Link Audit, Chuck Price does a great job walking readers through all the steps involved in a link audit. Whether you plan to do any link building or not, I highly recommend you do a link audit now — doing so may help you avoid potential issues down the road.
Chuck explains how to “Download Latest Links” from Google Webmaster Tools and how to get a complete backlink profile. This will allow you to determine which links need to be reviewed and considered for removal/disavowal, including:
- Links from a domain not indexed in Google
- Links from a website containing a malware or virus warning
- Links on the same page as spammy, unrelated links
- Links on a page with Google PageRank that is gray bar or zero
- Links coming from link networks
- Sitewide links – especially blogroll and footer links
- Paid links
2. Keep It Relevant
Your next important step is to ensure relevancy. Ken Lyons wrote an excellent article on how to build relevant links to your website.
Ken’s article, “Link Building: Get Relevant or Die Trying,” is a fantastic read. He includes Authoritative Guides, Infographics, Industry Spotlights, Group Interviews, Industry Awards, Guest Posts, and, yes…”Buying Links” as a relevant link tactic. This is a must-read for all SEOs.
Ken describes link relevancy as Google’s way to determine trust, decipher the topic or context of a target document, deliver relevant information in the right context (i.e., relevant query results) and sort out link spam.
Speaking of relevancy, Ken also provides tips on a few more relevant link tactics such as:
- In-Depth Reviews: noteworthy products or services
- Free Tools: prime targets for link outreach
- Curated Content: extensive articles and weekly round ups
- Broken Link Building: unearthing high-authority, relevant link opportunities
- Niche Microsites: dedicated to a specific topic or niche
3. Exploit PR Strategies
Lastly, I want to recommend something not often elaborated upon: using PR to build links. Cassie Gillette, Director Online Marketing at KoMarketing, has an excellent article written recently, “5 PR Strategies You Can Use To Build Links Now.”
Cassie reviews PR-focused tools that let you find content, post pitches and seek those looking for sources — all great ways to “make connections and discover potential link opportunities.”
She points out the fact that reporters are using social media to source stories, which has given search marketers, “a huge window of opportunity for link building.” She also offers tools for creating segmented reporter lists and gathering data.
Another great source of links can be event interviews. Cassie points out how there is always someone looking to interview attendees before, during and after the show — at some conferences, they’ll even set up interviews for you!
Lastly, she suggests monitoring editorial opportunities, which can offer several outstanding methods for building high quality inbound links to your website.
Thanks to these creative professionals above (and there are many more), link building is alive and well. Everyone knows that links are the bedrock for SEO results — so I encourage you to consider these tactics.
This isn’t the end-all answer to link building by any means; however, enterprise SEOs can’t go wrong by including the above steps in their linking strategy: 1) perform your link audit, 2) keep it relevant, and 3) exploit your PR strategies.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.