A brief history of Link Building

Ever since the early days of search engines, link building has played some role in determining which sites rank at the top for keyword searches. When the first search engines were finally implementing an algorithm to determine rankings (back in the good ol’ days of Excite, Galaxy, Yahoo, Lycos, Altavista!) they first started by crawling web content, reading meta information, and determining what each website was about. This surface-level learning was pretty simple – if a website said they were about car reviews, and they mentioned it more than the other website, they would rank better. The problem with relying solely on website content is that webmasters could easily exploit the algorithm since they were in full control over the content written on their side. As such, came the rise of keyword stuffing, hidden text, and other nasty blackhat techniques.

When Google came along, their advanced search algorithm placed importance on incoming links to determine how successful a website was. On top of what a website said via their content, how their websites mentioned them also played a part. Think of it as a popularity contest, the more websites pointing to another website, the more credibility that the website had. This external influence was harder to control, so it became a strong factor in rankings.

As a result, the process of link building was born. As SEOs looked to have the edge in ranking dominance, techniques such as reciprocal linking (giving a link to a partner website in exchange for one back), editorial links (getting mentioned as a source in an external article, resource links, among other link building processes became standard in campaigns.

However, just like anything in the SEO world, link building was quickly exploited. The introduction of link directories and subsidiary micro-sites made way for SEOs spamming the web with fake links designed specifically to trick Google into thinking sites had authority and relevance. If you hired an SEO agency to create 10,000 spammy links that said ‘car reviews’ that pointed back at your site, you probably ranked high in search results for keyword ‘car reviews’. Naturally, everyone did it, why put effort into something that could achieve better results with minimal effort?

The Introduction of Google Panda & Penguin

To combat the increasing use of black hat link building, Google introduced major algorithm updates in 2011 and 2012 to penalize low quality, spammy links. With Google Penguin, Google finally laid the hammer down on very popular, low-quality link building schemes.

If your site had a history of links that were obviously designed to manipulate search results (for example, thousands of link directories or spammy blog comments with keyword-stuffed links) you saw a massive penalization on your rankings. Overnight, massive brands such as BMW, Overstock.com, J/C Penney, among others saw a severe drop in organic rankings. No rankings meant no traffic. For online-based businesses, this meant a major crisis (and in some cases, businesses closed down).

Online businesses were forced to either switch to Google Ad marketing (meaning extra money spent) or to clean up their act. As Penguin has evolved throughout the years, Google continues to refine what bad link building is, and reward sites that implement authentic, high-quality link building as part of their marketing mix.

How Modern Link Building should work

Nowadays, classic link building techniques such as blog commenting, forum postings, sidebar links, resource links, and generic link directory submissions have no place in a solid SEO strategy. While there have been big pushes on proper on-page optimization and content strategies, websites that engage in content & editorial marketing are being rewarded with higher quality, stable rankings.

In Google’s perspective, websites that have excellent content will naturally be linked to by relevant websites that use that content as a source of information. Think of links as a recommendation or referral, if your content is great, others will want to talk about it. The more websites engage in this type of ‘link earning’, the stronger your domain authority and relevance is for your target keywords.

While it might be tempting to engage in inexpensive link schemes that could temporarily see you rank high in Google, the risk is definitely not worth it. You will eventually get caught, and when you do you’ll either see a massive drop in organic rankings or a penalization from Google (meaning you’re gone from results into you show them it’s been fixed). Don’t risk it. From our experience, reversing Google penalities and suspicious link profiles takes much longer than you want to afford.

Want to learn more about how Motoza employs link building in our campaign? Reach out to us for a free consultation.