If you’re the owner of a website, I can guarantee that at some point you’ve received offers in your inbox for link building services. The offers usually involve people promising to improve your SEO rankings by building lots of links to your site for an incredibly reasonable price.

Before you do this you need to understand that not all links are equal.

A brief history of link building

As is well known in the SEO field, when the Googlebot crawls a website it analyses over 200 ‘signals’ to determine the ranking and position of pages/posts and sites in its search engine results pages. (SERPS).

As these are the secret sauce of the search engine world Google closely guards the details of most of its algorithms. However, at one point a Google product manager did say that links are an important part of determining the ranking of a page. This lead to a frenzy of companies offering link building services to website owners. The message was “you need links to your site, the more the better for SEO”.

Shark feeding frenzy representing SEO link building service organisations
Links, we offer link building

This certainly did help a lot of sites improve their rankings until one fateful day in 2012 Google announced a major update to its algorithms. The update (called Penguin) focused on linkspam and manipulative link building practices. As a result of this many site owners who had paid for backlinks found themselves disappearing from page one of Google and in the worst cases being banned from appearing in SERPS (search engine results pages) altogether.

What is manipulative link building?

Google webmaster guidelines clearly state than any backlinks whose purpose are to manipulate search engine results rankings are regarded as spam. Whereas previously the number of backlinks to a site was a ranking factor, the Penguin algorithm update introduced scores for the relevance and therefore the quality of links rather than just the quantity.

If for example, you have a website for a real estate agency, yet have lots of inbound contextual links from sites featuring Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol how relevant are those? The relevance to your stated market segment is likely to be very low and could get you flagged by the Google webspam algorithms.

Business marooned due to poor link building choices
Using the wrong kind of link building can leave your site stranded away from page 1 of Google

Don’t use low-cost link builders

Link building services are often inexpensive. The main reason for this is that they often have a pool of so-called link farms. Hundreds and in some cases thousands of websites whose only purpose is to link to each other and to provide backlinks for paying customers. These ‘farms’ usually contain poor quality content and will lead to your site being blacklisted by Google as a spam destination if you have too many inbound links to your site from these sources.

Do create quality informative content

Google recommends that sites are made for users, not search engines. If the content on your site adds value and is of high quality, other related sites will link to you organically.

Do reach out to relevant businesses/clients for links

There’s nothing wrong with asking people you work with to link to your site. The key is relevancy.

Do link internally

Internal links that add value to your users by linking to relevant content on the same site can improve your SEO rankings over time. Internal linking improves the usability of a site for users. It provides search engines with an overview of the structure of your site and can increase traffic to other parts of your site.

Use good quality anchor texts as in this example to help users find additional content on your site. Avoid using one-word anchor texts, or misleading ones to benefit from them. For example there’s no point having an anchor text for “mortgage advice” that links to an internal page that has nothing to do with that subject or to an external page on a completely different subject.

If used correctly, internal linking can increase the time that visitors spend on a site as well as improving the crawling and indexing of sites by search engines.

Internal links also pass page rank along between pages.

Not all links are equal, so remember that it’s important to link internally within your site and to have relevant links from good quality sources. Avoid link building schemes and instead, focus on creating high-quality content that is relevant to your users. Be proactive in reaching out for links to your site and focus on the speed and user-friendliness of your site for good organic rankings on Google.