Should you still be building links in 2020?

Anyone who has ever so much as dipped their toes into the world of SEO will know that the fundamentals of this important (yet somewhat mysterious) digital marketing practice are changing by the day.

If SEO consultants like us aren’t grappling with Google’s algorithm changes or battling unexpected drops in positions, we’re constantly researching the latest and greatest website optimisation techniques to make sure our strategies continue to achieve the results our clients expect.

We know that content is king, and that well-optimised pages and posts are more likely to rank well in organic search. We understand that the technical aspects of a website contribute a great deal to the overall rank-ability of a domain. But where do we stand when it comes to the art of offsite SEO – and, more specifically, link building?

What is link building?

Link building is a search engine optimisation technique that involves linking one webpage back to another.

Not only can these kinds of interlinks help users navigate between two or more useful sources of information, they can also ‘signal’ to Google and the other search engines that a webpage is trustworthy and it provides useful information to its readers.

Broadly speaking, the more ‘signals’ you can generate to your pages (and your domain as a whole), the more likely Google is to rank your website well. Each ‘signal’ is a vote of confidence for what you have produced; a marker that your content is valuable. And Google likes valuable.

It sounds straightforward enough, but in recent years, Google has changed its idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ link many times, which means many SEO marketers have had to adapt their link building strategies to meet its ever-evolving best practice guidelines.

Back in the 2000s, backlinks were easy to come by.

Many of those asking whether we should still be building links in 2020 remember the glory days of the early- to mid- noughties, when all you needed to do to reach page 1 of Google was stuff your page text and meta data full of your targeted keywords and set up as many backlinks as you could find.

It didn’t matter if your link partners were irrelevant to your business, or if they had a pretty shocking PageRank – it was truly quantity over quality at this point. Unfair? Yes. Effective? Also, yes.

Google cottoned on to these manipulative techniques, though. In 2011, the search giant released its infamous Panda update, which penalised and sandboxed websites with thin, low value content. Shortly afterwards in April 2012 came Penguin, an algorithmic shift that has had arguably the biggest impact on search strategy to date.

Penguin aimed to downrank websites that were engaging in overly aggressive SEO techniques, including keyword stuffing, over-optimised anchor text and – crucially – unnatural link building practices.

Suddenly, many of the sites that were relying on a high volume of backlinks from irrelevant or low quality domains were losing positions overnight. Webmasters could no longer rely on sprawling link profiles to guarantee rankings; they needed to reassess their link building methods and start to seek out sensible connections with publishers that meant something to their business or brand. In many cases, they also had to go back and disavow old links that were no longer serving them.

(If you’re not too familiar with the history or meaning of Google’s algorithm updates, check out this handy timeline from Search Engine Land).

Fast forward to 2020, and a decent link is like gold dust.

Google’s engineers are continuing to refresh the search platforms’ algorithm in a bid to squeeze out the search manipulators and provide a better platform for quality websites. As a result, webmasters have become increasingly wary of linking to less-established sites in case these associations cost them positions.

For businesses, this means meaningful connections are harder to come by. But the search marketing community still believes they are worth the time and effort.

Links still matter.

Though it’s harder than ever to build worthwhile links to your domain, these kinds of digital ‘votes’ for your website are still considered to be a ranking factor, which means you should still be using some sort of link building strategy as part of your wider SEO efforts. You just need to generate backlinks from websites that are relevant to what you offer, using techniques that won’t damage your site’s credibility in the long term.

How to build links the right way in 2020

Grow your profile naturally and ethically (and keep your website out of Google’s bad books!) by following these top five tips from our team.

Aim to generate links from domains with good authority

As we mentioned previously, you want to make sure your backlinks are coming from websites that Google deems to be legitimate and of value to visitors.

There are a number of ways you can check the authority of your link host. Tools such as MozBar will assess the quality of any domain in a matter of seconds. For more in-depth analysis, use a specialist software like MajesticSEO or Moz Pro. The higher the website’s Domain Authority (DA) score, the higher it’s likely to rank in search – and the more valuable link juice it’s going to pass on to your own platform.

Aim to generate links from a variety of domains

Google isn’t impressed by sites that have hundreds of links from the same domain. What its algorithm wants to see mentions from a variety of websites (although these links ideally need to be from domains that are in a similar niche, and of a good quality themselves).

For the best results, seek out link partnerships with as many different quality sites as possible.

Keep your keyword anchor text varied

Anchor text is the clickable text section of a link.

Historically, SEOs have used a relevant or targeted keyword within their anchor text to make the theme of the page they’re linking to crystal clear to Google - and improve its likelihood of ranking well for that particular search phrase. But these days, using too much exact-match anchor text within a link profile will have the opposite effect. It will alert Google to the fact you’re trying hard to manipulate your own search engine ranking positions (SERPs).

Wherever you can, make sure that the anchor text you use is short, useful, descriptive and relevant. This applies to links between your own website’s pages, too.

Avoid buying sponsored links

For some time, SEOs got away with purchasing backlinks from sites with great authority metrics. Nowadays, however, this method is frowned upon by Google as a way to simply manipulate rankings. Try to generate links organically wherever possible – and if you really can’t resist a paid placement, tell Google that you’ve gone down this route by using the rel=”sponsored” value in the tag.

Choose instead to generate editorially placed links

Google favours web pages that are linked to naturally within articles as a source of supporting information.

One of the most effective ways to guarantee these kinds of natural backlinks is to create content that is accurate, credible and shareable. Get this part of the process right, and you’ll be generating votes from a range of sources without having to lift a finger!

Convinced your website could be ranking better?

Talk to our Essex-based search engine optimisation consultants today to arrange your FREE SEO audit and get clear, actionable advice.

Posted By
Aaron Suleyman