Where are they building links?

If you’re paying someone to help you improve your site’s visibility in organic search results, one of the most important questions you can ask them is, “Where are you building links?”

By now, you should know:

When a user enters a query, our machines search the index for matching pages and return the results we believe are the most relevant to the user. Relevancy is determined by over 200 factors, one of which is the PageRank for a given page. PageRank is the measure of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other pages. In simple terms, each link to a page on your site from another site adds to your site’s PageRank. Not all links are equal: Google works hard to improve the user experience by identifying spam links and other practices that negatively impact search results. The best types of links are those that are given based on the quality of your content.

And while I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the other two-hundred plus search signals that Google uses to rank sites, experiences teaches that links remain among the most important.

But as noted above, not all links are equal.

Editorial links, those created because your pages have earned them, can help improve your pages’ visibility in organic results. Spam links, or links created to artificially improve your pages’ visibility won’t help, and in some instances, may even hurt, your pages’ visibility.

Of course, Google isn’t perfect. So, sometimes you’ll see that spam links actually improve a page’s visibility, at least until Google pushes an update or receives a spam report from your competitor.

There’s really no magic here. And if your SEO is telling you that their tactics are proprietary, I would encourage you to find a new one.

Today, most search shops should be willing to explain to you where they intend to build links. Of course, there are no bright-line rules about from where you should acquire links. Generally speaking, you should work to earn relevant links.

That’s not to totally dismiss link building. There are plenty of sites where link building still makes sense. For example, for attorneys, creating and completing profiles in reputable attorney directories is a fine way to build links. However, creating profiles on sites and general directories that exist for the sole purpose of improving rankings won’t help and may even hurt.

So how can you tell if a site is a good candidate for building a link? Here’s a quick cheat sheet:

  • Does it pass the smell test? – Does the site look reputable? Or does it look sketchy? Does the domain contain several hyphens and end in an odd TLD (top-level domain) extension? Is it overrun with ads? Does it appear not to be regularly maintained? Does it look like its design has been updated since the 90’s? These may all be signs that you should avoid creating a link there.
  • PageRank 0 – Not necessarily dispositive of the issue, but if the toolbar PageRank is 0, it might be an indication that Google is already discount links from the site.
  • Moz Authority – Another way to vet sites is with the Moz Toolbar. Sites that have very low authority in the Moz Toolbar may not be worth pursuing.
  • Paid Links – If a site is openly selling links, I strongly encourage you to avoid building links there.

Again, these are just guidelines. I’m sure that many of you have examples of sites that are exceptions to these general guidelines.

How are they building links?

Perhaps just as important to where are links are being created, is how they are being created.

Some SEOs will attempt to use software to automate the link building process. With very few exceptions, this won’t work long-term. Sure, they might be able to temporarily improve your visibility. However, as Google continues to push updates to combat these tactics, and as more webmasters begin to report these efforts, the likelihood of successfully maintaining positions over the long-run are very slim.

In addition to merely “building links,” your SEO should be talking about how they are going to help you earn links.

While there are countless ways to earn quality links, the mindset needs to be creating pages that people will want to link to. Of course, there are countless reasons that someone might link to your pages. Maybe they’re inspired. Maybe they’re entertained. Maybe you’ve created such an excellent resource that they just need to share it with people who visit their sites.

Don’t turn a blind eye to where and how your SEO is building links. It might harm your site’s visibility and in some situations, your reputation.