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6 link-building myths and truths
Avoid these common link-building mistakes to be successful in the long-term.
Link building is one of the most misunderstood aspects of an effective digital marketing strategy. Being difficult to properly scale, some avoid it altogether while others outsource the work and hope for the best. Getting it right either internally or with a link-building partner can catapult your SEO performance. Still, in doing so, you must avoid these common link-building myths and mistakes to succeed in the long term.
Myth 1: Links must meet a minimum DA or other score in order to pass value.
A common mistake webmasters make is relying on third-party metrics like Domain Authority, Domain Rating, or Citation Flow when deciding on link opportunities.
It’s important to understand what these numbers represent – and what they don’t.
As an example, Domain Authority is Moz’s best guess at a website’s ability to rank itself and has no bearing on a website’s ability to pass link equity to other sites.
Domain scores from various data providers often vary from one to the next, so who should you rely on? We’d argue none of them.
These solutions have a fraction of the crawl Google has. Their datasets and algorithms all differ from one another, and there’s a lot they miss when determining a site’s score.
Obviously, Google does not use any of these scores when deciding how to rank websites or treat links from them.
A link from a low-scoring domain like a town library or relevant resource site can not only pass link equity. It can drive direct traffic as well.
Rather than tossing link opportunities due to low DA, use common sense. Would the site link to you in a natural way because your content compliments theirs? Is the site authentic, meaning without SEO or commercial intent? If so, it’s likely an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up – even with a low score.
Myth 2: Links must be from relevant websites or they won’t count.
In an ideal world, other websites within your vertical would link to you – it’s a natural fit. For many of you, these are often your competitors and unlikely links to achieve.
Stretching the relevancy gap when looking for link opportunities is often needed in competitive verticals in order to achieve high-quality links on a consistent basis.
When considering websites to earn links from, think outside your core business and look for opportunities a step or two away.
In doing so, the quantity and quality of link prospects can increase tenfold and help you discover link-earning opportunities you would have otherwise missed.
Pretend you sell life insurance. Rather than trying to solely get links from other life insurance websites, you could search for websites in supplementary niches like healthy living and family planning, which are generally more resource-heavy.
This will also allow you to find powerful domains to source links from (ones with a lot of high-quality backlinks pointing to them), therefore passing more link equity to you.
To accomplish this, you’ll need to develop a robust linkable content plan focused on these audiences, giving them something worthy of linking to—more on this in the above-linked video.
Myth 3: Relying on guest blogging or link networks is worth the effort.
Google has been clear on this for many years – guest blogging and link buying as link-building tactics violate their webmaster guidelines.
You can find their messaging regarding this here and here; they also rolled out a link spam update last year detailed here. Some more guidance on this from Search Engine Roundtable is here and here.
TLDR: If you are currently obtaining these types of links, especially in large numbers or as a large percentage of your backlink profile, it’s time to stop.
It’s understandable why many folks lean into these tactics. They’re cost-effective and easy to scale. They can even provide a short-term boost, but it’s only a matter of time before Google discounts them, and you’re back to square one.
The good news is Google’s default for the past couple of years has just been to ignore these types of links in your backlink profile rather than penalize you for them. However, penalties are still imposed in certain cases, so why take the risk when there are alternative options?
At best, you’ve wasted time, dollars, and other resources obtaining them. At worst, they can cause a link penalty if they remain a cornerstone of your link-building efforts.
Myth 4: Internal linking isn’t as important.
One area we find a lot of webmasters ignore is their internal linking optimization.
It can be difficult to manage and keep up with, especially for large ecommerce websites and other very large websites with pages that come and go on a regular basis.
The truth is internal linking optimization is one of the quickest ways to boost your SERP visibility, especially for mid & long-tail keyword phrases.
Internal linking gives you an opportunity to vary internal link anchor text to individual pages, boosting their rankings for a larger volume of keywords.
We optimize internal linking early on in most SEO campaigns, and it almost always produces a measurable lift in a site’s share of search – that is, the number of keywords ranking in Google, the average ranking of those phrases as a whole, and the total non-paid Google organic traffic coming to the site. And this often times happens within 30 days after optimization.
It also allows you to control where links appear throughout your website and provide a secondary navigation path for users and Googlebot.
Not sure where to start? We’ve put together an internal linking guide here, but one of the first things to do is link like-minded content and commercial pages together throughout your website, especially if any of those pages have backlinks to them. Not only will that help establish thematic authority, but it will also pass link equity through to the pages that matter most.
Myth 5: Link building alone will get the job done.
While links are often a necessity to rank in most competitive verticals, they’re not the only piece of the puzzle.
People often view links as the “magic answer” to help them rank better. And in some circumstances, it is links that they need most. But the ability for links to pass maximum value has a lot of assumptions associated with it.
While they can be the biggest needle mover, you won’t get their full benefit if your website is full of technical errors, has poor content, or has a poor user experience.
The latter is especially true once your site begins to rank on Page 1. If you provide a poor user-experience, you’ll unlikely remain there for long.
It’s also important to realize Page 1 of Google continues to move further away from the “10 blue links” of days past. If you’re not optimizing for a variety of search features – images, videos, People Also Ask, carousels, and so on then, you’re leaving a lot of traffic opportunities on the table.
Often, there are dozens of results to click on before reaching the #1 organic result, especially on mobile. And links alone won’t help you capture many of these placements.
While organic rankings remain a top priority, don’t ignore all of the other real estate opportunities on Page 1. You’ll need an optimized content, image, video and schema plan in place to maximize your SERP visibility.
Myth 6: Link building is dead!
We’ve heard this shouted time and time again over the years.
Just last week, John Mueller suggested that links may become less important as time goes on. It’s important to notice the language used: “I imagine,” “my guess,” “over time,” and so on.
In reality, Google has been saying this for nearly a decade. One of the things that historically sets Google apart from every other search engine is its link data and reliance on it to determine search engine rankings. That remains true to this day.
Yes, there are more ranking considerations now than 10 years ago. And as mentioned previously, Page 1 of Google looks much different now than it did then. These present additional optimization opportunities that links alone won’t help with, and in that sense, Mueller is correct.
It’s also likely Google wants to continuously discourage artificial link building through their communications just as they always have, so it’s not surprising to see this messaging as we close out the year.
Interestingly enough, we do find consistent quality link building to produce stronger results as time goes on, likely as Google continues to discount low-quality link-building tactics. The cream always rises to the top.
But ranking a website for high-value keywords in a competitive vertical without strategic linking will remain difficult for the foreseeable future.
Wrapping it up
Link building is an evolving but important ranking factor. If your business relies on SEO traffic, ongoing link earning should be a cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy.
Read (or watch) more about how to approach link building heading into 2023 on the Internet Marketing Ninjas blog.