In the last few days, there’s been some earth-shaking developments in the SEO world. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, announced that link building, one of the cornerstones of a solid Search Engine Optimization campaign since the beginning of the field, can do more harm to your site’s health than good.
That’s like Ford suddenly declaring that your Mustang’s oil no longer needs changing because “it can do more harm than good to your car.”
So what are we, as SEOs and Webmasters, supposed to do? I have been devaluing link building for months since Matt Cutts announced that Google temporarily tested an algorithm without links. Despite the fact that Google’s engineers threw out this link-less algorithm, one could read the tea leaves and determine that even the almighty Head of Webspam is looking for a better metric than links.
Within SEO, once we know that something works, we tend to overdo it – until Google and Bing takes us down and we move to the next trick in the book. Well, John Mueller has just announced that it’s officially time to move on to the next trick.
Where are we now?
I would argue that there are no tricks anymore and the key to a robust SEO campaign is to simply stop trying to “game the system” and start working sincerely to better serve the potential users of your website.
If you read John Mueller’s statement, you’ll find that it’s as cryptic as what usually comes out of Google’s cadre of engineers. Here’s my explanation of what he meant:
1. Stop building links purely for the sake of the number of links, because those can do more harm than good. Quantity is nothing in SEO; quality is everything.
2. Choose links carefully and disavow all that even have the slightest hint of “fishiness.” For example, if links come from sites or articles that have little or nothing to do with your site’s intended goal, disavow them and disavow them NOW. Be ruthless. Be quick.
3. Automatic or paid link building efforts need not apply. There are multiple entities that boast about hundreds of links that they can automatically build per day or that they can give you 500 links for “only an X amount.” DO NOT BE TEMPTED. You will end up disavowing each and every one in Webmaster Tools, or you WILL face the consequences.
4. If you are going to build links, pretend Google never existed and focus on building a better website experience and content that stands on its own. Educate people on products; tell people what sets your business apart from your competitors – approach your SEO campaign as if you are a journalist and you are writing an article that is waiting to be read.
5. Purely focusing on link building is, and always has been a foolhardy approach to SEO. A mixed approach is, and always will be, the best way to drive more traffic to your site. If you create links, they must be of the highest quality and serve as resources of information; only then can they be useful to your site.
6. Rather than creating links, you must instead focus on creating high-quality content on your site’s domain. Focus on the very site that you’re trying to build traffic to before you start actively seeking links. After all – this rule is essentially the crux of John Mueller’s statement – focus on yourself before you start searching for others to focus on you.
7. Focus on link earning. I know, this is MUCH easier said than done. But if you build quality content, they will come. I mentioned this approach to a fellow SEO at SMX Advanced last June and he looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.
Well friends, whether we like it or not, this is what you’ve got to do, because if you do anything else but sit back and let the links come organically, as Mr. Mueller inferred, you could be punished by Google.
So what do we do now?
A simple Google search will return several articles proclaiming that link building is dead. It’s not. Screaming from the top of the mountain that you need links and that you’ll reciprocate is.
Link earning is alive and well. If you love an article or website, freely link to it in your Social Media posts, on your website, wherever else you wish to do so. You won’t hurt that website. Why? Because they’ve successfully and organically earned your seal of approval via that link. That act fulfills Google’s end goal. That’s why they’re going to such lengths to endorse organic link building and punish artificial link building.
So what’s in an SEO’s toolbox now? Quality content. Essentially, that’s been the case all along. Now, as before, Content is King. LONG LIVE THE KING!