The Realities of Link Building in 2015

Link Building has been one of the major tenants of SEO from the very beginning of the digital era. It continues to be an important ranking factor today. But there’s no doubt that as the search engines have changed so has the process of building valuable links.

We recently had a long conversation about the nature of link building with Alan K’necht, founding partner of Digital Always Media. Alan is a digital marketer with a penchant for analytics. It is his eye for detail and value that enables him to find the path to ROI.

Alan K'necht

AuthorityLabs: How has the process of link building changed over the years?

Alan K’necht: Years ago it was a race for many to grab as many links as possible. No thought was given to what the site giving the link was about or the quality of the site. The total number of links was the only thing that mattered. Then Google and the other search engines started looking at the quality of the linking site. Even with that change we were still only thinking SEO, how site quality affected rank and not about if the link itself would drive traffic.

Now, for the most part, sites should be cultivating natural links that have a realistic chance of driving human traffic. Playing by the rules of an older game will cause you to risk being penalized by the search engines.
AL: How does link building differ from more general influencer outreach?

AK: Influencer outreach is a subset of link building. With it, you hope an influencer will talk about your brand/product in many different ways, most likely via Twitter, G+, and Facebook, when talking to people. If you’re lucky, they might create either a blog post or published article with a link to you in it. When on a purely Link Building assignment, your goal is to find existing web pages where it’s appropriate to have a link to your site or product and get people to publish reviews of the same.

AL: How do link building KPIs and budgets need to reflect the changes in link building strategy?

AK: The old KPI was basic how many links were you able to obtain with X hours of effort. The it became, using page rank how many links on pages of page rank Y were you able to get in X hours of effort. Now link building success should be based on how much traffic, sales, leads were generated from the links you were able to obtain in X hours of effort. There is a far less emphasis on the SEO factor, of course, you can’t judge the quality of link until you get it, so Hours Spent/Link is still a critical KPI.

Bugeting also has to change. Obviously, the amount of time to gain one quality link takes much longer, but you can’t just offer to pay for the other writer’s efforts. Expenses involved in link building would have to include advertising on the right sites, event sponsorships, cost of samples, and other things that actually fall under the marketing heading rather than pure SEO.

AL: How does content marketing play a role in link building efforts?

AK: Content marketing plays a role, but it’s not a direct way of obtaining long term high quality links to a site. What it does achieve are many short term links (Twitter) that drive initial traffic. On social sites similar to Facebook, Reddit, G+ etc. they generate links, shares, pluses that give the content a temporary boost within the social application and thereby drive traffic to the content. While not providing specific long term benefit from an SEO perspective, content that resonates with a community creates the conditions to gain a permanent public link on a quality long term application that a search engine values.

AL: How do you see SEO, link building, influencer outreach, and content marketing continuing to morph in the next 5 to 10 years?

AK: I think we’re already seeing the future today but it will become more refined. Services like Klout which provide the opportunity to put product into the hands of influences (both on Social and the web) will become more critical for big brands reach out to an ever growing number of unpaid brand advocates, who’ll be thrilled to receive the sample and will chat it up thereby spewing links across many channels and when the dust settles, with a bit of good fortune a few extremely high quality and long lasting links will exist.

Also, as mobile becomes the major way people access information, obtaining links on appropriate mobile applications at the right time has become critical. For this work, these will have to be paid links that are targeted by geolocation data plus the users previous expressed interests as  recorded by the app or the device.

Time for you to weigh in on the debate. How do you feel about the questions we put to Alan? How are you adapting your link building campaigns to the much more complicated world of search today?

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