“Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later.” - Og Mandino
A few years ago I read Og Mandino’s The Greatest Miracle in the World for the first time. Among the great story and many inspirational quotes, Mr. Mandino wrote the line above, which has stuck in my memory.
I've been a link building consultant for a number of years now, and have worked in the search engine and digital marketing industry for close to a decade. My day-to-day job is to improve traffic and awareness for my clients. Nearly all of it is done through link building.
If we roll back the years to, say, 2010 or 2011, when link building was becoming more and more mainstream, many companies popped up and offered their services. More people than ever were blogging about its importance, and how the links you built — even above on-page SEO — was the most important ranking factor in Google.
As a veteran link builder, I'm here to remind you today: the links you plant now, you will harvest later.
Very quickly, link building became a quantity over quality issue. We had been using white hat techniques to get our clients to the top, or the top three positions at least, for many terms. Almost out of the blue, we were being overtaken by sites using underhand techniques. Our “quality” was no match for their sheer quantity.
There were links that seemed quite obvious they were paid for, links on article directories, banners and on unrelated websites. Think about all the “black hat techniques” you’ve read about and I guarantee you, in some form, these were being used by a couple of the sites ranking above our clients at some point.
That’s not to say we shot down off page 1, and certainly not to say that there were times when we were being beaten fair and square on a level playing field. It’s just that more often than not, spamming your way to the top seemingly yielded better results than doing things the right way.
Looking back on the link building we’ve done over the years, there’s nothing I can say I’m disappointed with or ashamed of. We remained “white hat” and our clients definitely benefited from it; judging by their Analytics (Google or Yahoo!) and, ultimately, their increased revenues.
But looking back at the competition, I’m not sure they can be so proud. Fine, they ranked number 1 for a short time. They made some money in the short term. But I wonder, “Do these black hat link builders still have a job? Are they proud of the links they built? Are their clients suffering in 2013?”
There are numerous examples on the web of big brand companies who have outsourced their link building to “SEO agencies” that have built these kind of now-harmful links. The gambling industry has been rife with this behavior, but it was only last year that I came across an SEO agency managing part of the link building for one of the mainstream gaming brands. They were almost quite open on a particular SEO forum about building links on non-related websites to their client's site. Perhaps they had given the work to an intern to do? Perhaps their link building knowledge was not all that great? Either way, it was quite an eye opener.
2013 has been the year of Penguin recovery services. I’ve stayed many an evening and come in many an hour early to work on new clients we’ve picked up who need to recover from the terrible link building work their previous agencies have carried out.
One recent client had outsourced his links to an individual in India who at the end of 2012 was still building article directory links, paid directory links and links on non-related websites. Let me repeat that to you: at the end of 2012, someone’s link building methods were the same as they were three to four years ago, and they were earning money for essentially getting a website kicked out of Google. Once we have mended that website it may be worth a case study and a blog post of its own!
If you sell yourself as a link builder and you’re being paid to link build, then there’s no excuse to rush any job and do it badly. I guess you can say that about any job you enjoy!
This post is meant to serve as a reminder. Or in some cases, to inform you that the links you build today will be attached to your website tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that (and in Majestic SEO’s Historic link Index, forever after).
So when you build that link in “that directory,” or submit an article to “that article directory,” or when you pay for a link on “that irrelevant blog,” think twice. Do you really want that associated with your website? And your brand?
Increasingly, it’s the top quality links that are becoming the only ones worth going after. Obtaining them may seem like a lot of work, and you may think it’s worth outsourcing a small sum of money abroad for cheap link building services. But, time and time again, I have come across websites that have outsourced their work ever so cheaply and it has ended up costing these businesses more money in the long run.
Here is a quick summary of what to look out when selecting your link building agency:
Quantity – Avoid anyone who says they’ll build you x amount of links for a set price.
Quality – Look at link metrics, referral traffic, social following/interactions, etc.
Relevance – A link should always be relevant to the site and content it is coming from.
Timescales – If a link takes six weeks to build then it is probably worth six weeks of work. If it takes five minutes and a PayPal transaction, then it probably isn’t worth the price of the paper you signed your contract on.
Pride – Could you live with the association of these links in six months, 12 months or two+ years down the line?
Going back to the original quote that opened this article, have pride and take time in building quality links now. Your site will flourish in the rankings, and you won't have to worry about being penalized further down the line.
Barrie Smith is an SEO consultant for Receptional Ltd. You can connect with him on Google+. His last article for SEMrush was “The Value of Referral Traffic, and Where to Get It."