Every six months or so, someone pops up and asks, "Is backlinking dead yet?" No. The answer is always no: Link building can still help your SEO ranking. But the way that backlinking – the practice of getting other sites to link to your content – is seen is changing. Here's what you need to know.
Backlinking: Natural vs. Unnatural
Google and the various algorithms that decide if backlinking is right or wrong tend to look at how "natural" links back to your content are. This measure of natural vs. unnatural is very important, because it's how search engines grade the quality of your overall linking – which of course has a major impact on your page ranking.
- Unnatural link building
Unnatural linking is any type of behavior that tries to 'game' the system, exploiting page ranking loopholes by piling up certain types of links. Google hates that, almost viciously: The problem is that after a couple years of early SEO practitioners using these cheap strategies (hey, anything to get to the top), the search engine began updating algorithms to permanently deal with linking problems. As a result, the entire strategies of some companies – involving up to hundreds of different links – swiftly became not only obsolete but downright toxic for their SEO. This type of linking and backlinking is certainly dead. Backlinking as a healthy SEO practice for native advertising is very much alive and well.
- Natural Linking
So in a nutshell – yes, backlinking is important, and yes, it should be part of your strategy. But it should always feel natural, not like a forced steroid for your content. It's also smart to remember that the role of backlinking isn't set in stone, even now: The way that backlinking is treated continues to evolve and shift, so keeping up with best practices is always a good idea.
New PR: Modern Backlinking Practices
Do you want to practice good, easy backlinking? Think of it as a PR exercise. This is often a successful strategy when trying to get more traditional marketing and PR departments to embrace effective online behavior (or you could use a game hunter analogy). When seeking out backlinking partners and opportunities, think of it like negotiating for ad space with a newspaper or similar publication. This will help find the right tone while avoiding any unethical, low-ranking pitfalls. Here are several tips for more precision in this matter.
- Polite Requests: If you want backlinking, ask for it politely and at the right time. Approaching strange bloggers and companies to ask for links out of the blue is possible…but a little strange and will probably be a turn off. A better strategy is to reach out to blogs and sites that are connected to your company or industry, introduce yourself, highlight the connection, and then provide a quick idea or URL that can be used for backlinking. Do not offer free embeds or content with a hidden link back to your site, that's very impolite.
- Avoid Required Trades: "Sure, you can use this content, but only if you backlink," is a slippery slope. It's a better idea to request backlinking, make it easily available, but still provide the content anyway.
- Form Community: Great backlinking takes place in an active online community where everyone is truly interested in each other's work and happy to link for good reason. Work to find or create this type of community.
- Don't Overthink It: Backlinking is only one part of today's SEO practices – and if you do a great job on content and keywords, then good backlinking naturally follows.
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