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Link Building for SEO isn’t Dead; It’s Just Mostly Dead

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The classic tongue-in-cheek movie Princess Bride has a scene that could easily apply to the life and death of link building for SEO.

Miracle Max: He probably owes you money huh? I’ll ask him.

Inigo Montoya: He’s dead. He can’t talk.

Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: What’s that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

If you believe Google and Bing, link building for the sake of SEO is dead. Their search engine experts keep saying in public that sites should focus on building great content and forget about building backlinks.

It’s more accurate to say that link building is mostly dead or maybe even just partly dead depending on who you believe.

It also would be accurate to say that they still have value, but that value is declining over time for two important reasons:

  1. The search engines are punishing sites that use “unnatural” linking.
  2. The continued growth of the “nofollow” tag.

Unnatural Linking

S

ites including Expedia have reportedly seen a big drop in search traffic from Google as a punishment for allegedly using paid links to improve their SEO results.

Google and Bing have also made it clear in public that other forms of unnatural linking will draw penalties including:

  1. Links from low-quality sites, especially directory or bookmarking sites
  2. Over-optimized keyword text
  3. Keyword stuffing
  4. Excessive link exchanges
  5. Guest blogging
  6. Using automation to create links
  7. Large-scale article marketing

Google emphasizes that sites should focus on content rather than backlinking:

“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.”

Matt Cutts, the head of search spam, threw more confusion into the debate with a recent announcement:

“It turns out backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really, really big win in terms of quality for search results,” Cutts said.

Nofollow Makes It Worse

T

he rel=nofollow tag was invented to prevent spammers from posting junk comments on Web sites and getting backlinks to low-quality sites.

The tag tells search engines simply that they shouldn’t follow the link and send any link value to the landing page on the other site.

In other words, a dofollow link is like casting a vote in favor of the site at the other end. A nofollow link prevents any vote at all.

There has been a steep rise in sites using the nofollow link, which makes the value of SEO and link building decline even more.

The only remaining value of backlinking at that point is any traffic from people who click on the link.

In my experience, the majority of useful sites that allow any kind of backlinks are now nofollow, and many of the ones that are still dofollow are smaller and appear to be losing rank with Google as a result.

How Link Building Still Matters

L
ink building still has two primary benefits for Web sites. It’s just a matter of pursuing them carefully.

Some worthwhile sites still allow backlinking without the nofollow tag. Finding them is the hard part.

Some big sites with nofollow generate meaningful traffic from people clicking on links. But they are few and far between.

The amount of time that goes into each one should match their return on the effort. Otherwise, spend more time on other marketing efforts.

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