The term “link building” has become a fraught one in the search engine optimization world. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either a black-hat SEO technique that needs to be forever abandoned, or it’s an integral part of a great SEO strategy. What this discussion really comes down to is what link building is or should be.

Here’s what you need to know:

Understanding Google Penguin

Let’s start with a little background, in case you’re not familiar with link building. Most generally, the term refers to accumulating links from other websites that point to your website in order to improve its placement on search engine results pages. This works because Google and the other search engines see links as signs of trust and approval, indicating that your site should be ranked highly. But SEOs sometimes used to accomplish the task through buying links from spammy, low-quality sites.

In order to combat this trend, Google introduced in 2012 an algorithm referred to as Penguin. The algorithm is aimed at sites violating the Google Webmaster guidelines by engaging in link-building schemes. This means that people using "unnatural" links -- those that have no value for end users -- put their websites at risk of being penalized.

Why Links Still Matter

The release of Penguin forced SEOs to re-think link building. But link building is still part of a great SEO strategy as long as it is focused on getting quality links. It can be useful to think of links as handshakes, indicating relationship and endorsement. When a business owner is seen shaking hands with another prominent and respected businessperson in the field, then you’d expect that business to look more trustworthy; if that business owner were caught shaking hands with someone more nefarious, the business would likely suffer as well.

That, essentially, is what SEOs need to consider when building links in a post-Penguin world. It’s no longer about getting many low-quality endorsements from as many sites as possible. Rather, it’s about getting prominently placed endorsements in the form of links from high-quality and reputable websites.

How to Build High-Quality Links

So what does this high-quality link building look like? Here are some tips:

  • Set Goals for Your Links

    Instead of just brainstorming where you might be able to get inbound links from, brainstorm where you’d like your endorsements to come from and then create plans to get the people behind those sites to post links.

  • Constantly Monitor Links

    Links need to be monitored. This will allow you both to see whether you’re reaching your goals of placing links on sites with high authority, and also screen for any links from spammy sites that could hurt your rankings.

  • Rethink Your Link Builders

    Whether you outsource SEO or are working with an in-house team, it’s important to have the right link builders. Figuring out which sites will be most beneficial when it comes to placing links requires some technical expertise, but creating the vehicle for most high-quality links (most often in the form of content marketing) requires a team of skilled writers.

In Summary

Discussions over whether SEO programs are dead usually come to one conclusion: SEO isn’t dead, but SEO as it existed even five years ago is. The same can be said of link building. That’s why it’s so important to build high-quality links as part of a great SEO strategy.

Do you put energy into building links for your business or businesses for which you oversee SEO? Leave feedback and discuss your strategies in the comments.

By: Karleanne Matthews