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It is loved. It is hated. He is promoted and criticized. And in my opinion, it is misrepresented and misunderstood.
Link building, in a general sense, is a marketing tactic closely associated with search engine optimization (SEO). The idea is simple. Build links pointing to specific pages on your website, using external domains (and preferably high authority ones). Allow these links to immediately funnel traffic to your pages. Over time, benefit from the increase in “domain authority” that these links give you and increase your chances of ranking well in the search engines.
It’s simple and easy to understand, even for a non-SEO expert.
So why is this so controversial?
A turbulent past
You could say that bonding has a checkered past. Since its inception, Google’s search engine algorithm has preferentially ranked sites that have demonstrated high levels of reliability, using a system known as PageRank. In its early days, PageRank simply calculated the authority of a website based on the number of links pointing to it and the authority levels of referring sources.
Aggressive practitioners worked quickly to take advantage of it, essentially spamming links to quickly improve their rankings. At that time, it would have been appropriate to label link building as the bane of the web.
Related: 7 best SEO tools to help you rank higher in Google
But since then Google has taken evasive and protective measures. The search engine is now equipped with changes and improvements in algorithms capable of detecting link quality and penalizing anyone who pollutes links or compromises the experience of the average user. Nowadays, only “good” links are rewarded.
Schemers and the Modern Black Hat Ring
Of course, that hasn’t stopped link schemers and other “black hats”, unethical SEO professionals from using bad links to improve rankings. Google describes a variety of linking schemes that it considers violations of its terms of service, such as directly exchanging money for links or using automated systems to blindly link.
It doesn’t take a lot of research to find businesses that are willing to link aggressively and cheaply, regardless of content, context, or overall link quality. For this reason, many people have left with the misconception that all link building companies – and maybe all SEO pros – engage in link building this way.
Related: 7 reasons why SEO is important for every startup
This is not the case. Most modern SEO professionals are extremely careful with link building, preserving the user experience as much as possible. And all link spammers and schemers end up getting caught and penalized.
The debate over link gains and link building
There is also controversy due to a lingering debate over link gain versus link building – even with the ethical constraints of “white hat” SEO as a priority on both camps.
The modern approach to white hat linking is to rely on editorial links and other links that are a natural by-product of well-written, user-oriented content. In other words, writing content and making users happy is number one priority – and links are number two priority.
Link winners suggest that these measures are still not enough and instead prefer to cultivate links only through passive earnings. Typically, that means writing great content on the site, promoting it, and building relationships so people connect with it naturally.
In fact, both approaches are natural, ethical and effective.
Is the controversy deserved?
So is the controversy deserved?
Here is my position. In some ways, the controversy is undeserved because link building isn’t always a bad strategy. But because there are so many different ways to approach link building, and because there is always some ambiguity when it comes to the ethics of digital marketing, there is certainly room for criticism and debate.
Consider the facts:
- The ethics of bonding can be ambiguous. For starters, it is difficult to claim what is ethical and what is not. If it provides something of value to a user, is that ethical by default? Are ethics determined solely by what qualifies for a Google penalty?
- There is a big gap between the best and the worst link building tactics. All bonding tactics fall somewhere on the ethical spectrum. Some deserve a bad reputation, while others should be promoted more. The gap between the dirtiest spam tactics and the best, most passive spam tactics is wider than most people realize.
- Links are valuable to everyone when built correctly. If done right, link building can be good for everyone involved. The websites get more visibility and traffic. Editors look better. Users get more information. Everybody wins.
- Links remain a practical necessity in SEO. It is almost impossible to rank without a strong backlink profile – so in some ways link building is a must.
As far as I’m concerned, link building is anything but a requirement if you want your site to have any chance of increasing its visibility and inbound traffic in the modern age. And because there are “good” and “bad” ways to approach bonding, bonding itself shouldn’t be the target of one-sided resentment. When done correctly, link building has the potential to be genuine and beneficial to all parties involved.