Many "Top X list of easy link building tips" articles have been written, and it's done nothing more than promote lazy and uninspired SEO. The worst part is that some of the tactics actually work, prolonging their general acceptance as a standard practice or what some might consider foundational link building.
The following three tactics should sound familiar to every SEO, and with a little bit of analysis it should be clear why the tactics are short-sighted and potentially a huge waste of time.
Tactic: Creating profiles on social media sites you never plan to be active on
Your everyday SEO is sold at "Get do follow links from sites with domain authority 40+ quick," so any social media site that meets this minimum criteria will seem like an obvious opportunity. Worse yet, there are services that automatically populate company information and the all-important back link to hundreds of social media sites. SEO is easy!
If you dedicated weeks to updating and connecting with other users on these sites and increasing the page authority, at best, the links would fall into the low quality bucket. Why? Because it's likely that no one is linking to your profile page, and even less likely that the link is coming from a source that search engines find credible. And if you happen to be able to get links from quality sites, is a social media profile really the best place to link to?
The amount of time spent creating and maintaining these accounts versus the potential link value alone should detract SEOs from this tactic. But if that's not enough, think about how the company will look to users once you abandon this tactic and the page is no longer being updated.
Tactic: Submitting your site to any and every directory that's marginally related to your industry
Directory submissions are usually at the top of the list of easy link building tactics. It's not hard to see why. It takes a minimal amount of thought and effort and will quickly boost the total number of inbound links that you can include in your client reports.
Are all directory links bad? No. Is there a better way you can be spending your time? Probably.
Directory link building is a problem when it becomes more than a baseline effort and is passed off as an effective means of increasing rankings. There's definitely some merit to getting links from high-quality, trusted directories that actually have an audience, because if it doesn't provide link value it can at least help drive traffic to the site. But if the strategy relies on this tactic, there needs to be a serious reevaluation. Consider that Google's patent for information retrieval based on historical data explicitly states that links from "free-for-all pages that let anyone add a link to a document" may be a sign of link spam. Directories fit this description all too well.
Tactic: Syndicating articles across a network of "relevant" sites
In general, the word "syndication" in any link building tactic should raise a few questions. Among the many obvious problems, article syndication inherently creates a duplicate content issue. Companies that advertise article syndication across a network of sites as a method of gaining quality backlinks operate under the premise that search engines have not evolved in the last few years.
Search engines have become substantially more sophisticated in the last year alone, continually working to remove irrelevant pages and sites from search results. As part of a continued effort to reduce clutter and improve relevancy in results, search engines are filtering out pages that have a significant amount of matching content, with the goal of having one primary version of a particular piece of content. Given this fact, duplicate pages (e.g., articles replicated across multiple domains) will be filtered out of search results and ignored by search engines. If the pages are removed from search results, it stands to reason that the search engines do not see use for it and will likely devalue all links associated with the page.
Article syndication has its place in internet marketing, but as a link building tactic it is quickly becoming useless. While there may be short term success, it's clear that search engines are dedicated to removing duplicate content, and they'll only get better at identifying these pages in the future.
When it comes down to it, links shouldn't come easy. If links are so easy for you to get, it's probably easy for everyone else too. This is the fundamental problem with low quality link building -- if everyone has the link, no one is getting any relative value out of the link. You'd be much better off going after quality links that take a reasonable amount of effort to get, because your competitors are probably not willing to put in the work.
In addition to cancelling each other out and being a poor use of your time, low quality link building can actually hurt your rankings if search engines identify the links as spam. This is especially true for tactics advertised as large-scale link building because search engines use rate of link growth as a signal for identifying link spam. And ultimately, if a tactic is too effective in influencing search results, search engines will work to negate its effects despite the initial intention.
Search engine algorithms will evolve over time, but it will always be in their best interest to provide a great user experience by delivering the most relevant content for any given query. Align your link building tactics and overall SEO strategy with this to mitigate the risks that come with the ever-changing nature of search engines.
Trung Ngo is an SEO specialist for Red Door Interactive.
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