'Link Building is Not Illegal'
Link building is not illegal – the words spoken by Matt Cutts in a recent interview and the words many SEOs have been waiting to hear.
Of course for those who have perused Googles SEO starter guide this will not come as a shock as Google clearly states:
"While most of the links to your site will be gained gradually, as people discover your content through search or other ways and link to it, Google understands that you'd like to let others know about the hard work you've put into your content. Effectively promoting your new content will lead to faster discovery by those who are interested in the same subject."
Why do people think link building is illegal?
Illegal is a very interesting use of terminology. Link building is of course not illegal in the sense that it is not breaking any laws. However when people say illegal what they mean is that it violates Googles guidelines, which in the world of SEO is just as bad.
When you hear the term link building connotations of black hat techniques and spammy tactics can enter your head and you can quite easily convince yourself that link building in general is something that you need to stay away from. The term has been associated with blog networks and article sites, the likes of which any SEO worth their salt would run a mile from. These old ways to manipulate the SERPs together with unnatural link messages from Google have actually scared some people from attracting any sort of links to their own websites for fear of being penalised. It is important to remember that you are not going to be "punished" for good quality, natural links.
Link building – a taboo subject
Due to the bad connotations many people now believe that we should forget the term link building altogether and prefer to use terms such as link earning (you can read more about that in this post). I am not disagreeing with this – but it is worth remembering that it is the action that is important, not the semantics.
Link earning – or whatever you prefer to call it – should be the actions aimed at increasing the number of quality links rather than just building any old links. We as SEOs have to remember that link building isn't a goal. The ultimate goal is surely improved visibility and increased traffic and sales. It is simply our job to build quality, interesting websites with content that people will naturally want to link to and share.
So what is Matt Cutts talking about?
In the interview Matt Cutts (pictured) gives a very clear and detailed interpretation of what he considers to be bad links and sheds light on his stance on link building. "Any sort of link building that involves hacking and bribery is obviously against Googles guidelines" but he goes on to say that not all link building is bad.
Matt discusses how link building is perfectly fine to do as long as you are doing it in the correct way. In his own words a lot of peoples approach is backwards and SEOs should be "concentrating on making a fantastic website and having a diversified way of reaching their audience. Ultimately it all comes down to creating something great and then promoting it and if its good enough people will want to link to it. As Matt said: "It is true that a lot of SEO is now circling back around to good old fashioned marketing."
What does this mean for the future?
Anyone who works in SEO will already be aware that links need to be organic and not artificial in order for them to both adhere to Googles guidelines and to be useful to the reader. The old days of cheap link building are well and truly dead and Google should not be treated as merely a link counter.
Create content for the user and the links will follow and make sure that your strategy doesn't involve any of the black hat techniques Matt mentioned in the interview. Think of it this way, if you wouldn't tell your client what you have done, the chances are you shouldn't have done it.
Link building is perfectly fine to do as long as you are using the correct method and remember that it is a process. Your aim should not be to just build links to a site in order to increase rankings – not only is this not sustainable but it probably wont stand you in good stead with Google. However if you aim to create a great website with interesting/useful content and promote this through various social media channels the links should naturally follow.
For more information on earning links watch Search Laboratorys Head of Content and Online PR Freia Muehlenbein's presentation at our recent client conference.