One of the most common questions marketers have when it comes to search engine optimization is whether or not efforts to build backlinks are still worth the trouble. After all, Google has regularly devalued websites with too many backlinks through a number of their more controversial algorithm updates over the last few years.

Even so, Google's Matt Cutts has made it crystal clear on multiple occasions that the Google search engine would only be a shadow of itself if it stopped valuing backlinks altogether. In one of Cutts' more recent videos addressing the state of Google and the calculation that goes into SERP rankings, he said, "backlink relevance still really, really helps in making sure we return the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results...we will continue to use links in order to assess the basic reputation of pages and websites."

Dissecting Cutts' Comments

To get to the bottom of what Cutts has said and continues to say about backlinks, you need only look at one word in that quote: "relevance." Building backlinks in 2014 has continued to be among the most important of advertising techniques, but it's had to shift away from black hat SEO techniques, like link-farming, toward practices that earn backlinks through relevancy and quality of content. The ability to build backlinks is just one of the many reasons 92% of marketers say that high quality content is "valuable" or "very valuable" to SEO.

The question, then, is how you make your links seem relevant and legitimately earned. Here's what we know right now:

  1. There is a Big Difference Between Scheming and Building
  2. Search Engine Watch recently published a great piece diving into the difference between what Google sees as link-scheming and link-building. Buying or selling links and other black hat practices fit into the former. Co-citations that support your articles and thereby earn you a link are an example of link-building. You'll obviously want to make sure your efforts fall into the latter category.

  3. Using Links to Further Conversation is Crucial
  4. Dropping links on related articles, videos, and social media statuses can generate a lot of quality traffic, but if done incorrectly, it can also cost you. Rare is the web user who hasn't seen a comment like "Check out my video" with a link attached. It says something that YouTube now automatically flags those types of comments as spam. Responding to the video with a thoughtful comment followed by a link, without overtly plugging it, generally doesn't result in a spam flagging. More often than not, you'll get clicks and traffic from those types of posts, helping to demonstrate relevancy to Google.

  5. Guest Blogging Continues to Get the Thumbs Down
  6. If there is one thing Google has made clear, it hates guest blogging and associated blogging networks. That's not to say guest blogging can't be a good thing -- it can. Guest blogging crap content just to get a link, however, is going to earn you a rather rapid demotion. Remember, relevance in all things is the name of the game.

Links remain a crucial part of building your presence online, but if you're still using black hat methods of getting them, it's only a matter of time before Google smites you with its mighty banhammer. Focusing on relevant content, relevant placement -- there's a trend here -- that's the only way to build backlinks and see your rankings improve as a result.

What sort of approach do you take to building your links for the benefit of your business or your clients' businesses? We'd love to read some your thoughts in the comments below.

By: Charles Hayward