Link Building: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Backlinks

What to and what not to of link building

What did they tell you about link building?

You must have heard it’s the blood of blogging or content marketing. You must have heard it's the main yardstick that Google and other search engines used to measure the authority of your domain and give you the deserved ranking.

You must have also read a few contradictions about linking building.

How about similar complaints such as excessive link building is spammy? What of do-follow and no-follow backlink issues? You must have been told you would be penalized if you got or gave backlinks wrongly.

This post is going to save you from the headaches many SEO experts and content marketers had caused you and me.

I will approach the matters arising on backlinks, do-follow, no-follow, link exchange, spammy links, organic backlinks from the professional points of view. I won’t forget to back my views up with a series of available research and authoritative sources.

Before we dabble into things, let’s familiarise ourselves with some basics.

Basics and Termiloggies of Backlinks

  1. Backlinks: This is a term used to describe a reference, in the form of URL, to your website or specific content on the website.
  2. Dofollow Backlink: This link is given back to your website or content with full authority from the source website. The website giving the link is taking responsibility for the quality and authority of your website or the specific content
  3. Nofollow Backlink: This link does not vouch for the quality and authenticity of your website or the specific content. 
  4. Link Exchange: Also called Link schemes, is an illegal act among content publishers where one agrees to give a link to the other in exchange for the other to link back. This is illegal because such links are artificially generated.
  5. Spammy Links: These are links resulting from excessive link-generating activities a publisher may engage in. They may come from the distribution of the same or several posts across various platforms which eventually lead to spams.
  6. On-page SEO/Links: This practice may include interlinking related posts on the same website/blog with one another. It helps to optimize individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines
  7. Off-page SEO/Links: This is synonymous with backlinks coming from other websites be it through artificial or natural efforts of the publishers.
  8. Organic Backlinks: This is best called Natural backlinks. These links naturally come from other publishers, usually from the same niche, to vouch for the correctness and quality of the linked source and as a reference for their audience. More of such links are do-follow.

Having pointed out a few terminologies related to link building, and obviously what I will be referring to, all through this post, you should make reference back to this section if you get confused along the way.

The Need for Backlinks to Rank

Must you get backlinks before your content can rank?

The answer is YES.

But not in all cases.

Backlinks help you to rank faster but the quality of that links helps to rank the fastest. This conforms with what Neil Patel opined in his post.

Though the author didn't give a final verdict as wether to chase backlinks in quantity (number) or the quality (valuable sources), Google itself had warned against massive link building strategies, rather, quality should be committed to in forms of content and backlinks.

I respect getting backlinks but NOT just backlinks for the sake of it. You need quality backlinks. You must avoid buying, exchanging, spammy backlinks by all means.

Search engines see the quality and do-follow backlinks as “vote of confidence” from other publishers. In turn, they reward the source content in ranking.

Getting Quality Backlinks

Here, let’s talk about how to get backlinks and how not to get them.

Google and other search engines are conscious of how you’re getting links from other sources. They know and their systems reward or penalize you accordingly. As a result, they don’t joke with it.

So, how do they expect you to get the real quality backlinks? What sources of backlink do they count quality?

  1. Free Sources: They expect you to concentrate on producing quality content and forget backlinks. Yes! They’re aware off-page links will come in time if you keep the good work going. This is what I call natural backlinks in my post, “Increase Organic Traffic FREE With These 4 Techniques”. There, I recommended this source of links and guided you through 4 approaches to getting them free.
  2. Copyright Respect: They expect you to get references (in links) back to your content if you own the copyright for it when the other publishers intend to use it in their work. Normally, people should contact you, by writing, asking for your permission to use part of your work, image, videos, podcasts, etc in their work and in return, link back to the sources. If they use your work, without permission, you’re expected to get back to them and demand what is yours.
  3. Deserved External Efforts: They expect, if you contribute to a topic on a forum, group or wiki, to give back in links to your related content too. Quora is a popular platform where many professionals contribute and link back to their main website.
  4. Respectful and Quality Link Request: A few industry leaders such as Patel had suggested asking for links back to your content if you can find a related post online which you can commemorate or associate with. You can also give links to another person in the same or similar niche. This doesn’t have to be mistaken for link exchange as this is not abused in any way and more importantly, it’s done only for original and quality content.

Types of Backlinks You Shouldn’t Chase

There is a list of backlinks that can cost your reputation, ranking and earn you graver punishment from Big G and other search engines.

Google is factual about this.

The following are examples of link strategies which can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results:

  1. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank: This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links, or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
  2. Excessive link exchanges: ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  3. Large-scale article marketing: This includes article mass distribution and guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  4. Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
  5. Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of qualifying the outbound link, should they wish.

Google doesn’t only punish you for any of the listed link scheme activities, they do penalize the other publishers involved with you.

In order to claim alibi, Google had warned those linking - to either link back and take responsibility or link following the “rel” attributes as detailed below.

For certain links on your site, you might want to tell Google your relationship with the linked page. In order to do that, you should use one of the following rel attribute values in the <a> tag.

For regular links that you expect Google to follow without any qualifications, you don't need to add a rel attribute. 

Example: "My favorite horse is the <a href="https://horses.example.com/Palomino">palomino</a>."

For other links, use one or more of the following values:

rel="sponsored” used to mark links that are advertisements or paid placements (commonly called paid links) as sponsored. You can as well tag this with nofollow.

rel="ugc" used to mark user-generated content (UGC) links, such as comments and forum posts, as ugc. This is common on social networks, groups and forums.

rel="nofollow" used to inform Google not to associate your site with, or crawl the linked page from, your site.

  • I love <a href="https://cheese.example.com/Appenzeller_cheese" rel="ugc nofollow">Appenzeller</a> cheese.
  • I hate <a href="https://cheese.example.com//blue_cheese" rel="ugc,nofollow">Blue</a> cheese.

NOTE: Using no-follow or similar "ref" tags above may not affect much of your ranking. Getting one of such still counts in the ranking of your content or the overall website.

The Need For On-Page SEO (Backlinks) to Rank

This is better-called interlinks or on-site hyperlinks. The linking of one article to another on the same website is a factor for ranking as well. Though not as important as external backlinks, it helps more indirectly as discussed below.

Where well executed and followed by readers, it sends a good signal to the search engines that the audience loves the linked content as well. As a result, they will be rewarded with rankings.

This was one of the tactics I suggested to increase your page views in my post, "How to Increase Blog Page-Views With a Few Visits" It doesn't only increase the page views but also earnings.

Where you have a good amount of these on-page links, with none wrongly pointing, you’re likely to be ranked faster even if it’s hard to have any natural external backlinks. This is because the more the on-site links, the better Google is aware you’d qualitatively written better for your niche.

When I started out blogging, I was penalized for spammy and fewer quality backlinks. Then, I lost my ranking and the website.

I later started another project and closed my eyes to external backlinks of any nature.

With time, my on-site links helped my ranking. The higher one of my content ranked, the faster the posts linked on it ranked.

I must have written more than a hundred posts and cross one year before a few unsolicited links emerged. I've been doing great, in the search results, even before this.

That’s how to know how important on-site links can be, especially at the early stage of your writing.

Using Dofollow and Nofollow on Your Website

Just as taking links from others is good for the health of your blog, the same happens to those you give links to.

In the same vein, it hurts you getting bad ones just as it will hurt you and other parties if you give bad links.

So, how do you know how to give and take links without facing the wraths of the search engines?

  1. Don’t get involved in the link schemes or exchange as earlier detailed.
  2. Concentrate on quality content only and leave it to getting quality and natural backlinks except you merit other sources for other sources as covered under the “Getting Back Quality Backlinks” section above.
  3. When giving links, strictly use “no-follow”. This doesn’t mean it won’t help in the ranking of the other publishers. Yet, it saves you from being flagged for giving back to bad works if things backfire at the other publishers.
  4. With time, you’ll be receiving a few untrusted backlinks that are spammy. No need to worry as Google is aware this will happen within the life of your website.
  5. Do link the same content more than once in a post if you're using either do-follow or no-follow (i.e either on-page linking or off-page linking). If you must repeat the same links twice or more, for your own content, do-follow the first one and let others be no-follow. Repeating the same links more than once per post is spammy. Hence, save yourself with no-follow.
  6. Avoid overuse of internal linking (on-page links) in the same content. Limit the number of related links form your old post to about 5 or at a maximum, 10. Going beyond that can be spammy except you consider marking others with no-follow.

Conclusion

There are, obviously, a lot to cover on link building. Yet, we're save with just three things:
  • what you should do, 
  • what you should avoid, and 
  • how you be doing it

Once, you're able to stick to that, your success in ranking, is guaranteed through available link building strategies.

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