There is much argument about link building in the SEO community, particularly now that Google seems to be clamping down on guest posting, one of the more legitimate ways to build links manually. If guest posting is out, is any form of link building safe? Does the big G just consider every sort of manual link building to be unethical?
Why Google Needs Links
When we look at a website and see a link, we see a minor portal to another piece of content. Sometimes that link is a gateway to new and interesting content. Sometimes it’s little more than an advertisement for a product. Either way, it’s often beneath your notice.
When Google looks at a page and sees a link, it sees a giant pulsing neon sign. Links are incredibly important highways to discover new content. A followed link is even more important; it’s like the host site waving a banner advertising the quality of the site on the other end of the link.
Google needs links to discover new content. If you post a website and no one ever links to it, Google is never going to find it. There are a few other ways Google finds content, like through Google+ posts and URL submission pings, but links are by far the number one source of content discovery.
Google also treats links as votes of authority. That’s what the whole PageRank system is; allowing one site to pass some of its authority on to another, bolstering the recipient’s authority in turn.
In a perfect, ideal world, all links are organic. Google would be able to trust their presence and use them to rank sites as one of several ranking factors. Unfortunately, in our world, Google needs to verify links. Too many webmasters try to play the system by including links in ways they aren’t normally used, in order to gain these votes of confidence without the host site actually believing in the vote.
What is Manual Link Building
That’s the concept, and the problem, behind manual link building. Links are important. Therefore, webmasters want to obtain links in any way possible. Posting links in comments, hiding them in code and other tricks are detrimental when Google sees them, so those methods are out. That leaves guest posts and various forms of link trades and paid links to skirt the line of legitimacy. When discovered, paid links are detrimental as well, though they can be hidden. Guest posts, now, have become risky.
Contrast to Natural Link Growth
All of this differs from natural, organic growth in one way; it’s the destination site, not the host site, that makes the call about the link. From Google’s perspective, this is a bad thing; it’s akin to a candidate in an election voting for themselves, and having multiple votes. Google wants each individual “voter” to cast their vote according to their own opinions, with those opinions uninfluenced by the candidate.
Why Manual Building is Unethical
So, arguments for manual link building being deemed unethical;
• It’s often used by spammers. Low quality sites will buy links or participate in link exchanges in order to pull in more high quality backlinks, which look to Google like legitimate votes of confidence, this artificially inflating the ranking of a spam site compared to legitimate sites.
• It sways the ranking in a way Google can’t control. If all links are treated equally, money becomes an influence in SEO. Webmasters with large budgets could buy hundreds or thousands of incoming backlinks and immediately rank higher than their more valuable but lower budget competition.
Other such arguments exist, but they come back to the same thing; swaying the rankings in a way that isn’t based in the value of the content itself.
Why Manual Building Can be Legitimate
There’s only really one remaining source of valuable manual link building, and that’s guest posting. Look at it from an outside perspective; unless the host site flags the article as a guest post, how would you be able to tell? There’s no objective difference between a guest post or an infrequent contributor to a blog.
A legitimate guest post would have the host site vet any links in the content. Advice to webmasters would be simple; only include a link you would include had you written the content yourself. Publish nothing on your blog that you wouldn’t write and publish yourself. When you follow those guidelines, you end up with legitimate, valuable posts with valuable links indistinguishable from organic links.
The key is in the use. If you’re using manual link building to sneak in links where they wouldn’t otherwise exist, it’s gaming the system. When you’re using valuable content in a guest post to promote valuable content on your site, Google is happy to include the link.
How to Manually Build Links Ethically
If Google is drawing a line in the sand regarding guest posts, you need to find a more subtle and more valuable way to build links manually. To some extent, the answer is still guest posting, but there’s more to it than what has been done in the past. As with many things in Google’s sphere, it comes down to value and legitimacy.
• Post relevant, insightful comments on blogs with links to your posts on the same subject. The links are usually nofollowed, but that doesn’t matter. The point is to get your site into the awareness of the audience and the blogger who posted the original post. Once the blogger knows about your site and your content, they are more likely to include an organic link later, when it’s valuable.
• Guest posting for value, not for links. Focus on the content quality first and only link back to your site when it’s legitimately adding value. Don’t just link to your homepage or author bio; link to valuable pages.
• Interviewing bloggers or giving interviews. This builds a relationship between two bloggers as mutual authorities. After all, you must be important if others will grant you an interview. Likewise, you must be important if others are interviewing you. Both sides of the coin tend to earn mutual backlinks.
How to Foster Organic Links
All of this comes back to the concept of legitimate value in your content. Make your content worth linking to, and others will link to it. From there, all you need to do for link building is put your content into the minds of others. Build an audience and contact other bloggers. Build a presence on social media and earn shares. Grow, and through growing, earn more links. It all grows upon the base of quality content and insight.