Howdy Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Cyrus. Today we’re going to be talking about The Rules of Link Building. Now, this is really important because we see a lot of people out there in the marketing world getting scared of link building. Past actions coming back to haunt them. People saying that link building is dead. Links losing value in Google’s algorithm. Rand did a great Whiteboard Friday a few weeks ago about that. But what’s really disturbing is some people are giving up completely on link building, when it’s still a really huge part of Google’s algorithm. They’re giving up because they don’t know rules. They don’t understand that when you play by the rules, for the most part, you can really win.
I like to think about this as like a basketball game, going back to the days of the ancient Aztecs, when they started playing and there weren’t a lot of rules. What’s happening now is we have Google, the referee in the black and white shirt, and they’re coming down, they’re saying, “Hey guys, this isn’t working. We need to install some order here.” So they start giving out fouls and penalties to people. Some of these people are getting frustrated. They’re leaving the game, but the people who aren’t getting fouled, who aren’t getting the penalties, they are winning the score. That’s where we want to be. We want to be the people who are still playing the game instead of walking off the court, because these people aren’t going to win.
If we understand what the rules are, and these rules I see get violated all the time, even people trying to do what they can get away with. It’s not worth it. Playing the rules is something that we want to strive for. One thing I’ve heard internet marketers talk about for years is the idea of doing what works. For a long time, there was no referee on the court. Google was just absent and people were doing whatever they wanted.
People would say, “I don’t really care what the rules are, because I’m going to do what works today for my client.” People like Rand Fishkin and Will Reynolds, they were saying, “Guys, you got to follow the rules because the rules are coming. Don’t do what works today, do what works tomorrow.” That’s the advice. These rules are based on not only what works today, but what works tomorrow. Not only that you win today’s game, but that you keep winning game after game after game and you win that NCAA tournament.
First of all, I want to start off with some things that we want to avoid when link building. If we look at what Google’s been targeting, there’s usually two common factors in links that they target. They are first of all, links that you control. When we see Google crack down on guest blogging networks, on widget links, signature profile links, they all have that one element in common that you control, the anchor text. That’s exactly what Google is not looking. I predict any new link penalties that happen in the future will also follow this pattern. It will be links where you control the anchor text.
We’re always going to have situations where we do control the anchor text, beware and be very careful with those links, because those are the links that are subject to devaluation and penalization. The same thing goes for links that scale. Again, we’re talking about widget links, author bio boxes. When you combine these two together, those are exactly the kind of links you need to be extra special careful with and not scale, not do too much anchor text manipulation, because they will always be subject to those penalties.
One rule that I’ve been following for years. I got this from Eric Ward, the very famous link builder. Never ask for anchor text. When you’re doing outreach, when you’re talking to other people, when you’re guest posting, asking for the anchor text is going to raise a lot of red flags. That’s what kills it for you, because when you start asking for anchor text your brain starts working. You think, “Well, I need this keyword. I need this keyword. You create patterns. You create over-optimization. No matter what the temptation is, if you don’t ask for anchor text, you’re going to get a much more natural link profile. In all the years that I’ve been doing link building, I have never asked for anchor text once. Whoever is linking to me can link to me however they want. Sometimes it’s a no followed link, sometimes it’s not exactly what I want, but it’s natural and it comes off so much more natural.
Couple of other rules that I see people violate all the time that Google has made painfully clear in the past few months. Don’t link externally in the footer. Just don’t. Not going to go into the reasons, just don’t do that. By the same token, except for navigation avoid site-wide links. This is something that we’ve known for years. If someone links to you externally site-wide in the sidebar, that’s ripe for paying 1 style links. Again, this are best practices. There’s always exceptions to the rules, but generally following these rules is going to help you out, even if you have to break them sometimes.
On the do side of things, one thing that I want to emphasize is do link building. Don’t give up just because Google is imposing these rules and penalizing people. Link building is still important even to the best SEO company and we still need the people who are actively out there building still have a huge opportunity to win, so don’t give up on this as a part of your practice. One thing that I would emphasize doing is shifting from actively building links to more of a focus on distribution, because the more eyeballs that are on your content, the more of the natural links you’re going to earn. That’s something we do here at Moz. Huge emphasis on social distribution, distribution through our partners. We just want to get the eyeballs on the content, because that’s the end goal anyway. There’s a huge correlation between getting eyeballs on good content and link building. It’s one of the best kind of link building you can do is just getting your content out there on the right eyeballs.
Along those same lines, outreach is still okay. Writing those emails, finding those influencers. Our friends at BuzzStream just wrote a really excellent guide on how to do outreach. I’ll link to it in the comments below in the transcript below. Really worth a read. But the idea is, along with distribution, you want to get the right eyeballs on your content, so that they have those opportunities to build those natural links that you don’t control the anchor text. Where it’s not scalable, it’s a real human being putting a real link in their content and endorsing you.
One thing to always keep in mind that when we’re looking at links and how we judge them, the value of the link equals the quality of the traffic that it can drive you, meaning that this is kind of Google judges links. It’s not necessarily the quantity of the traffic that the link can drive, but the quality. If you run a mechanics shop and you want good leads from those links, you’d want other mechanic shops or auto parts stores to link to you. A link from an SEO company Vancouver blog probably doesn’t have a lot of value, because it’s not very relevant. When you build links, that’s one of the golden rules is look at the quality of the traffic that it’s going to drive you. That’s going to help you a lot in those relevancy signals that Google is looking at.
Finally, in this new age of link building, we need to start embracing the no follow and not be as scared of it as we have been, because those links that we are considering no following probably weren’t helping you that much anyway. Embracing them kind of cuts those signals off that Google doesn’t want those to pass page rank. They don’t want them to pass anchor text. Keep in mind that even no followed links, Google still looks at those. We have evidence that Google uses no follow links for crawling and discovery purposes and there’s some evidence, some evidence, that Google may use no follow links for signals other than that. Not every link has to pass page rank or anchor text to be valuable.
One final thought that I want to leave with to keep in mind. When you practice these good dues, these good link building practices, you start to take your marketing to a higher level. At its best, good link building is indistinguishable from good marketing. When you’re doing link building right, you don’t even need the links, because you’re doing good marketing. You’re pushing your content out there. You’re talking to those influencers. You’re getting traffic to your site. Those just happen to be the signals that Google wants to reward.
Let’s do that. Let’s win the link building game. Happy Friday everybody. Thank you.