(SEO Link Building in 5 posts)
Important! This thread is 4 years old. It is chiefly focused on high-quality, white-hat link development, so most of the information here is still correct and valuable. However, you should be aware that link building has changed radically in some respects in 2012-13. Please read the latest update first before the rest this thread.
The Web is a vehicle for content, and links are its fuel. They push content up the search engines toward the busy searchers. Admittedly, SEO Link Building forms a major part of search engine optimization as we know it. This post's emphasis is on quality links, but with the understanding that links of "lesser quality" can still bring some value too, just not as much as they used to. I do my best here to collect the best recent and up-to-date SEO Link Building information. I welcome any feedback (which I'll monitor) and I will make any necessary (selected) corrections, additions and/or improvements directly to this and the following four posts and on an ongoing basis, so that readers won't have to trudge through the entire thread (if it turns out longish) to find good information.
I am doing all this partly in an effort to become a better link-builder myself: this is an area where one must constantly stay on top of the latest information, trends and ideas. My hope is that we can make this thread the best existing resource on link building for everyone from beginners and to us professionals.
Here are the main sections:
Benefits of Link Building
Major Current Trends in SEO Link Building
Link Value Assessment
SEO Link Building Strategy
SEO Link Building Tactics
Internal SEO Link Building
Local Search and Geo-Specific Rankings
How Do Pros Do SEO Link Building?
Recommended Link Analysis Tools
Useful SEO Link Building Blogs
Not Recommended: Questionable Methods
Gray Areas: Obsolescent Link Building Techniques
Benefits of Link Building
When performed correctly, link building can help accomplish these goals:
• Increase search rankings for targeted keywords
• Enable the success of a broader keyword strategy
• Increase targeted referral traffic
• Stabilize rankings subject to Google Dance (the fluctuation of rankings caused by the periodic updating of Google's servers)
• Strengthen branding
• Speed up page indexing and re-indexing
• Strengthen local and geo-specific rankings
Major Current Trends in SEO Link Building
How may one summarize today's most important trends in Link Building? Here is my considered take on this.
• Formerly, before the major search engines (chiefly Google) became as sophisticated and choosy as they are now, the main SEO strategy was to simply build more links. You could employ an army of link monkeys (often called "linktards" in this forum) to do it for you. This old approach was essentially quantitative: the more links the better. Furthermore, backlinks were the single most decisive ranking factor: their impact on search positioning was overwhelming. What has happened since is that Google has deprecated many types of links, and today backlinks that are not recognized as "quality links" have lost most of their weight. Therefore, today successful link building is mostly quality link building (discussed in detail below). The chief approach is now qualitative, and this trend continues and becomes ever more dominant.
• The findings of SEOmoz.org, among others, strongly suggest that the cumulative power of backlinks has declined somewhat and continues to decline (giving greater prominence to such an increasingly important ranking factor as trust, a.k.a. authority, meaning the confidence that your website is of high quality and contains no spam). How trust is measured is not exactly clear, but one factor appears to be the site's linking distance (degree of separation) from Google's "seed sites," selected by human editors, which Google trusts to contain 0% of spam. Google's algo is manually adjusted to place a vote of trust on the seed sites and to use them as standards to distinguish useful pages from spam. The big thing to realize here is that trust is much more important than PageRank (PR) and is, in terms of SEO, the single most valuable thing a link can provide for a website.
• In spite of the fact that various kinds of links have been devalued, Link Building will continue as the decisive ranking factor. Ultimately, links remain the only indefinitely scalable SEO parameter (apart from the website's content). Site popularity and search engine trust both flow through links. Links are of great value to the search engines because they radically simplify the problem of computing relevance and status. There is simply no good alternative to them in this regard, even as other factors (such as user behavior) are playing an increasing role.
• Increasing importance seems to be attached to having a natural, diversified and well-rounded link profile that includes (1) relevant links from a wide variety of pages (for example, from authority sites, academic sites, forums, blogs, directories, discussion groups, fan pages, social media, consumer information and review sites -- the list goes on and on), as well as (2) different types of link (for example, a mix of nofollow and "do follow" links), (3) links to the same page with diversified anchor text, including long-tail keywords, (4) "deep" links to existing pages using longer tail anchor text and (5) genuine natural links resulting from successful link-bait. Additionally, it is supposed best if your link profile develops at an even-paced, randomized, "natural" tempo without obvious major spikes or long interruptions.
• Nofollow. In 2009 Google changed how the rel="nowfollow" attribute of links is being used. Before this change, nofollow simply prevented Page Rank from flowing through a link. Under the original implementation, nofollow conserved the PR for the linking site and therefore enabled what was known as PR-sculpting. After the change, nofollow still prevents PR from passing through the link; however, the amount of PR that would have passed though the link if it were not nofollow, is now simply discarded (i.e. lost to the linking page). What nofollow does not do is prevent the search bots from following the link. They do, and discover and index new pages that way (through nofollowed links from social websites, for example). Nofollow has legitimate uses (choosing not to "vote" or "vouch" for certain websites), but it no longer saves PR or supports PR sculpting.
The most highly trustworthy and trust-transferring link is one that
• comes from the most trusted (human-edited) source
• represents a genuine "vote"
• is freely given (no "paid inclusions" or "paid listings" of any kind)
• is editorially selected (editorial consideration fees are OK)
• is contextual, not separate from the main text content
(For a summary of link trust factors and background info see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TrustRank. A note for SEO pros. The most seminal and compelling early (2004) formulation of the idea of Trust is found here: http://www.vldb.org/conf/2004/RS15P3.PDF. This is not necessarily in all important respects how trust is handled by the current search engine algos, but the fundamental concepts and factors are well presented in these sources.)
Assumptions about Trust
• Good pages will link only to good pages. (Bad pages can also link to good pages, but may link to other bad pages as well.)
• Fewer outbound links mean more rigorous editorial selection.
• Like PR, trust diminishes as it is passed via a link.
• Trust flows from the seed sites outward. (The seed sites are selected from those backed by the governmental and educational establishments and by corporate entities.)
Trust issues sometimes entail manual review of sites. Most such reviews happen "at the head," that is, at the highest Page Rank level, starting with sites that have top PR but are flagged as potentially spammy. (If you ever hope to get up there, worry about how spammy your site is right now: Google keeps track of everything.) "The long tail," by contrast, would be too costly to monitor manually and is for the most part handled automatically, except for special cases.
[Continued in the following 4 posts]