Embrace the New Reality of Link Building

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It’s always fascinating to me to see what captures the interest of the SEO community. A recent post on Search Engine Land recommending webmasters avoid link building did the trick this time.

Based on the comments, it was clear that Google continues to be a lightening rod for the search industry. It’s easy to misinterpret advice given, even by Google’s evangelist, John Mueller, if you don’t have a solid understanding of the purpose and value of links.

The truth is his words were taken out of context. So for a moment, let’s focus on life before Google.

Because before Google, the Internet consisted of:

  • Websites
  • People
  • Connections

Twenty years ago, the Internet gave us content for users to consume. If people liked what they read, they would reach out to others and share via links.

Fast forward 20 years. The Internet now revolves around:

  • Content
  • Users
  • Outreach

It’s wild to think not much has changed in two decades. There are subtle differences, but the core components of the Internet remain very much the same. People are still looking for stuff to consume online and tell their friends about.

Link building will always be important for your website. You just have to keep it in perspective with how consumer search habits change over time and continue to adapt.

What Does Link Building Look Like in 2015?

What will separate your agency from your competitors in 2015 and beyond is your ability to answer and deliver on three key areas:

  1. Content
  2. User experience (UX)
  3. Online authority

Developing a strategy that converts more visitors to buyers and more customers into brand advocates is the only approach that will sustain an online business today. Link building in 2015 is a business philosophy that says, I want to give customers what they want when they want it and do so in a meaningful, rewarding way.

In this context, think of links as content. Links connect one web page to another, one web document to another with the goal of educating, informing, or inspiring your visitors.

Links help users navigate through your website and serve to improve the customer experience.

Finally, incoming links not only drive traffic, but also increase your online authority when they come from trusted, editorially vetted websites or citation sources.

What Content Drives Rankings and Conversions?

Whether you choose to follow a PPC or SEO strategy, you must begin within the framework of what problems you can solve for your customers. Google Adwords provides insight with impressions and advertising competitiveness. But any business with an Adwords account has access to this data.

What you and you alone have that no one else does is access to your own web analytics. Why is this important for content development? Because you can choose the content that makes sense based on the unique needs of your customers.

What Kind of User Experience Can You Deliver?

The term usability often serves as a catch-all for easy to use. For our purposes, usability means user-centered design.

“Users are satisfied when an interface is user-centered – when their goals, mental models, tasks and requirements are all met. The combination of analysis, design and evaluation all approached starting from the user’s point of view creates usable products.”  ~Whitney Quesenbery, What Does Usability Mean


Web usability and SEO go hand-in-hand because the design represents an efficient and natural path for the user to follow. Remember, keywords and links serve as guideposts throughout your website.

This is why it’s essential that the web designer and SEO work together from the very beginning. I can’t tell you how many times I was called in to optimize a website after the design was final. It was disheartening to tell a potential client they had to redo their website if they wanted any hope of being found on Google.

While enhancing the user experience is critical to achieving more clicks and conversions, accessibility, semantic structure and site speed are all important elements to search visibility because they represent trust signals.

Once you’ve addressed any SEO technical issues, you can focus on using your own data to increase your website’s authority. You can even manufacture serendipity.

As Seth Godin wrote recently, “language is at the heart of communication.” Taking this to heart, we can create serendipity. How? By using the language of your customer.

How Do You Establish Authority?

Raven Tools can help guide you.

The All Traffic report in Google Analytics will give you an idea of traffic coming from organic search results. Looking at the data for a one-year time frame will show whether your website traffic is trending up or not.

Demonstrating an upward trend in organic search results suggests that your website has established some trust and authority — your SEO appears to be working…for now.

Your real SEO opportunity comes from the data within Google Webmaster Tools. Here’s where Google shows you which search terms they associate with your website in its search results.

You want to look for keywords with high impressions but low click through rates (CTRs). These are the keywords where you want to focus your SEO efforts. These represent your keyword opportunities.

When you’re looking to boost your authority, look for content ideas that already resonate with a sizable audience. Ask yourself, How might I create evergreen content around that keyword/phrase?

What is the SEO’s New Reality?

Gaining traction with both consumers and search engines requires performing this type of due diligence and adopting the long view. I bet your competitors aren’t digging deeply into their own data, which means you have an opportunity to surpass them.

Following a trail of data points isn’t as sexy as a quick win in the SERPs, but this is the search optimizer’s reality today.

Are you embracing the practical reality of link building in 2015?

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