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Is the Riskiness of Link Building Too High? Experts Are Divided

riskiness of link building

John Mueller recently announced that Google's Penguin 3.0 update is likely to launch sometime this year. Webmasters won't really be able to evaluate its effect until after it's put into place of course, but the repercussions of the update shouldn't be all that surprising.

SEOs hopefully learned some lessons about spammy linking after Panda 2.0 ended up wreaking havoc with the traffic and rankings for some sites. Despite all the chatter over Penguin, however, nobody can seem to definitively assess the riskiness of link building. Experts disagree about even some of the most "dangerous" tactics.

Old Link Building Strategies Are Bad! Or Are They?

SEOs know that link building strategies used even two or three years ago can now lead to serious penalties from Google, mostly because of Penguin. Just to name a few, these tactics included:

  • Getting links from article directories
  • Reciprocal link schemes
  • Submitting to directory sites
  • Creating low-quality press releases
  • Paying for links
  • Guest blogging

But it's not that black and white. For example, despite Google's Matt Cutts declaring guest blogging "dead" at the beginning of the year, many SEO bloggers and experts maintain that it can still be a useful strategy when done right. In fact, Cutts himself went on to say that there are many good reasons to guest blog, including exposure, branding, increased reach, and community building. The problem was that guest blogging was being abused. Too many people were sending spammy, "Dear Webmaster"-type emails in an attempt to place a low-quality piece of content on a blog. The main goal was getting a backlink in the byline. On the other hand, the riskiness of link building using guest blogs could be pretty low when done with the intention of providing actual value. So, massive guest blogging "campaigns" are definitely dead. But writing an insightful, expert piece to be featured on a blog whose audience will truly benefit from it should not be penalized by Google. If the risk still seems too high, you can even try posting the content without a link. Links could end up being built solely due to the exposure that the post generates.

What about press releases? As we've stated in the past, spammy press releases of low quality are definitely out. Tactics like keyword stuffing, clearly optimized anchor texts, submitting to many different sites and inserting multiple links make press releases look spammy and will definitely be targeted by Google. At the same time, an honest, well-written press release that actually has news to announce probably couldn't hurt.

The riskiness of link building is definitely highest when it comes to paying for links and getting involved with unnatural link schemes. Those tactics should definitely be avoided. However, while many would lump directory submissions into this category, some bloggers and SEOs disagree. According to some, web directories can be useful if approached with extreme caution. Check out this thread where an expert from Moz helps a user decide which directory to choose.

Content Marketing is the Way Forward! Or Is It?

As we've stated before, content marketing is the safest, most effective trend in link building right now. The riskiness of link building is very low when you consider it to be synonymous with "content marketing." In fact, the latest version of Moz's beginner's guide to link building is pretty much all about content marketing - there's basically no mention of any old strategies. At the same time, there are many experts who point out that even the greatest content cannot rise to the top without some help. Some excellent content will go unnoticed without some promotion, and it's up to SEOs to not just wait passively hoping for links to come in. There are countless ways to promote content, some of which include good old link building.

Also, content marketing will get harder and harder. The constantly increasing amount of content on the Internet means that it will just get more and more difficult to stand out. Over time, content marketing could become too time-consuming and costly for some small businesses. So, the riskiness of link building using content marketing isn't necessarily high, but the strategy could eventually become futile.

Looking Differently at Link Building

Links are important for ranking, and organic links are best. This starts with great content and ethical, effective promotion. When SEOs talk about "link building," this general strategy must now be the definition. The reason we're even still talking about the old strategies is because they were easier (though not exactly easy). So, the riskiness of link building is low when you do it the right way. Unless Google tells everyone exactly how Penguin works, experts may never fully agree on which tactics to use. However, the best thing to remember is that spam will always lose. If it seems to good to be true, it definitely is.

T.J. Anderson

Posted on 16th September, 2014 by T.J. Anderson

About T.J. Anderson

T.J. is a Chicago-based content editor and writer, as well as an SEO and marketing specialist.

View all posts by T.J. Anderson

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