Link building (also know as backlinks) is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own.

Link building is considered as the area 51 in search engine optimisation (SEO). It’s seen to be a dark art that has much speculation and comes with a number of unanswered questions as to whether it does indeed improve search position. With strict Webmaster Guidelines and stringent search engine rules in place for link building, there is no wonder that if badly executed, bad SEO backlinks can and will damage a pages’ authority.

“The amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) that a web page/website has is very important. Main content quality and amount, website information, and website reputation all inform the E-A-T of a website.” – Google, 2014. (You can read the full document on benedict.)

The E-A-T of any website is based on a lot of aspects including content quality, click-through rate, traffic of the site, keywords and backlinks. In fact, Google’s John Mueller stated that: “We do use links as part of our algorithm but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your website that actually helps.”

It is true, Link building on its own can have a great short-term effect on your site. But what about the long-term consequences? Being part of the SEO team at Rooster, I’ve seen a lot of sites that have been promised great SEO through backlinks, but, in reality, they have delivered very little success. On the back of this, I have decided to create this article to outline best practices for link building for SEO results and return on investment (ROI).

Are Backlinks Important For SEO?

Think about it this way, would you trust a major news article online if the BBC hadn’t picked up on it or if it hasn’t appeared in the local paper? Would you pay for a new product worth £100 on Amazon with no reviews? It is true that yes, some people would, however, most of us would do a little research into it before investing.

This is what Google is re-enacting with backlinks. They are receiving the recognition from another source that the information on your page is trustworthy. Therefore, the more trustworthy the domain that is linking to that page, the more Google will trust it too.

Google states that they don’t use links to help determine how well a page will rank in their results, they use it to discover new web pages. Some sites do not manually upload a sitemap to Webmaster Tools which notifies Google and Bing that new pages that hold information need to be indexed. If that notification hasn’t been given, search engines are still able to find your site through backlinks from web pages that have been indexed.

Google is claimed to have previously ranked a large majority of indexed pages on how many links pointed to your page: The more links, the more your page was seen to be endorsed. Nevertheless, Google soon realised that this method was easy to manipulate and therefore Google’s Penguin update was released, seeing the end to worthless, spam links that offered no value to the user.

Types of SEO Backlinks

There are many ways to build links pointing to your website, the quality and effect of that link having on her search engine position in search engines solely depends on the domain the link has come from. The high-quality links that are accredited by search engines are those that are not seen to improve SEO rather than improve the user experience.

“The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.” – Google, 2016.

The white-hat approach that is being described here by Google is called natural backlinking.

The Natural Link

Natural backlinks are links that are created to your site without you doing anything to request or buy them. They could be in content, in the sidebar or anywhere on the linking site. Natural links are usually high quality and positively impact your search engine rankings.

High-quality links typically provide large volumes of organic traffic. They can be a result from high PR activity that relevant sites are talking about or an informative blog post being shared on other blogs.

As being most favoured by the likes of Google and Bing, most SEO strategists point towards an overarching content marketing strategy for a client’s SEO package. Even though this is the best potential for quality links, no one ever said it was easy.
Good examples of natural SEO backlinks:

  • Information pieces shared via social media
  • Current news articles
  • Infographics

Bad examples of natural SEO backlinks:

  • Duplicating previous content already published on another website.
  • Keyword stuffed content that is hard to read.

The Manual Link

Whilst natural links are the top ranked links, manual links are still the most common method used within search engine optimisation. Manual links are created for the purpose of improving a site’s organic listings typically by emailing bloggers for links, submitting sites to directories, or paying for listings of any kind. This method of SEO linking works by creating a value proposition through explaining to the link target the benefit of creating the link.

Although still recognised as a white-hat approach to SEO, this method has a higher probability of being flagged as spam if done incorrectly, which will damage your website’s reputation. Manual linking takes a lot of time and resource to gain high-quality links that have both a reason for linking to your site and abides by Google’s Penguin update.

Good examples of manual SEO backlinks:

  • Linking to collaborative pages such as “our work” or “our clients.”
  • Backlinking to an original source from an opinion piece of yours.

Bad examples of manual SEO backlinks:

  • Emailing everyone and anyone who could potentially link to you.
  • Paying to appear on a list/directories.

The Self-Created SEO Link

A less common and worthless backlinking strategy is the self-created link. This is where someone creates a link to a guestbook signing, forum signature, blog comment or a through user profile. These self-created links normally have little relevance to the user and therefore, can often result in the lowest value and often be ignored.

In rare cases, links like this can still have a small impact on listings but in general, they are devalued and sometimes penalised. In today’s SEO world, these types of links are often considered spam and should only be used if it the person creating these links knows what they are doing.

Good examples of created SEO backlinks:

  • Linking to informative pages, giving an answer to a question. An example: Google Answers.
  • Guest bloggers

Bad examples of created SEO backlinks:

  • Everything else.

Link building has been proven that it can be extremely successful for SEO, if done correctly. Link building with authentic links rather than self-created links works hand in hand with content marketing. Just keep in mind that your site can just as easily be penalised if the proposed backlink is thought to be deceiving users.

If you’re thinking that a link building strategy may benefit your site’s SEO, carry out extensive research and talk to an SEO specialist. SEO agencies can talk you through which combination of SEO methods will benefit your website and more importantly how to avoid damaging penalties.