What Is Link-Building, and Why Does It Matter in 2015?

I’ve spent the last three years of my life professionally obsessed with links.

My agency’s primary specialization is link-building, but it’s often impossible to build links if the site itself isn’t well optimized, and furthermore less likely to have the desired impact. Link-building is the majority of what we do, but we have to do everything in between in order to really make the link-building shine.

My day-to-day job is 100 percent content marketing, but I work for a link-building agency. I very much have a foot in both worlds, which I’d like to think gives me a unique perspective. Today, I want to share with you my perspective on link-building and why I think links will continue to matter for real businesses in 2015.

The Evolution of Link-Building and My Definition

Despite having the job title of “link builder” for longer than a year, explaining the term “link-building” is surprisingly hard.

I’ve had to do it for friends, family, acquaintances, marketers, and even other SEOs. The problem is context – how much do they already know? Are they fully aware of SEO and best practices, and do they fully appreciate the impact Penguin has had on the link-building community?

My own description, explanation, and reasoning has evolved over time. The truth is, it had to. Although my company has always operated within Google’s Guidelines and worked to build links the right way, the fact of the matter is the SEO industry itself has changed dramatically from when I first started building links back in early 2012.

Since you’re on Search Engine Watch, I’m going to assume no beginner explanations are needed.

Let’s just jump right into definitions, and how mine have evolved overtime so you can better understand where I’m coming from today.

Defining Link-Building as an SEO Building Links

My boss, Jon Ball, likes to say link-building is actually really simple, and that everyone overcomplicates the explanation. Sure, the process itself can be and often is quite complex, but it all boils down to:

  1. Find a website you want a link from
  2. Figure out how to get the person behind the site to link

It really is that simple: that’s the most basic description of a link builder’s activities, depending upon tactics, strategies, linkable assets, target audience, etc. etc.

That’s how I first learned link-building. We used to huddle in the office every morning and talk about a single client’s website and brainstorm. We’d discuss which other types of sites would be both relevant and authoritative, which would have a captive audience within our target demographic, and then try and slam our heads against the wall until a creative idea fell out. Every morning we’d work to think of a new, creative way to engage our client’s target audiences, and the websites they frequented, in such a way they’d be compelled to link to us (our clients).

It made for surprisingly fun and energetic mornings, with plenty of collaboration and lateral thinking.

Defining Link-Building as a Project Manager

Later, as we grew in size we had to become more systematic in our activities. Processes were put in place for onboarding a client, researching and understanding their website, niche, and target audience, and then launching the beginning of a campaign.

This is when I began to think of link-building as a scientific process: determine a company’s intrinsic value, their unique selling proposition, target audience, industry presence, and linkable assets. Add them all together and create a formula most likely to generate leads. Measure results and adjust accordingly.


Author Note: Please note that graph was just for fun – I don’t actually mean it to be a scientific representation of how to build links.

As you can tell, this is largely when I was first managing small teams of link builders, then later managing both teams and clients. I was beginning to develop a larger view of what it took to secure links across a variety of websites, industries, and audiences.

Defining Link-Building as a Content Marketer

Eventually I moved to our marketing department, as the second-ever content marketing specialist. It became my job to write about links, and explain link-building.

Suddenly I wasn’t as head-down-in-the-trenches, working day-in, day-out with clients. I was allowed to interact more within the SEO community, and had to specifically write copy and content designed to either market our link-building services, or educate various audiences about the importance of links.

As with taking on any new role, I was forced to challenge my assumptions, learn, and grow. I wasn’t so pressed up against the painting – I was able to step back and gain a little perspective. Rather than be furiously concerned about individual clients, I was able to sit back and think about our entire agency, what we were achieving, why it mattered, and study the results. I was able to take the time to think about our entire business model – not just what results am I achieving for which client, and when.

This was mid to late 2013, right when content marketing became the buzzword across the online community. Suddenly there was a new marketing channel to consider, and I was right in the heart of it, living it everyday.

All of this allowed me to see link building from a marketer’s perspective. Which led me to realize that link-building is all about promotion.

Link-building is the intelligent promotion of a website, page, or asset with the primary intention of building a link.

Link-building is about understanding the website you’re representing. You know why they’re valuable, and why they’re worth linking to. You also know and understand the target website, and their audience. You know why it’s valuable for them to link to your client. Then you contact them and specifically outline both why your client’s website has value, and why it helps their site or audience to link to your client.

That’s the secret of link-building: fully understanding your client and target audience leads to persuasive outreach.

A Real World Explanation

Not long ago our marketing department hired an events coordinator named Mike Bryant. Mike comes from a family of farmers, and shared with us the story of explaining his new company and our service to his father, a man who hardly (if at all) uses the Internet.

Mike said it like this:

“My father deals in the business of handshakes. Every deal he’s ever made, every partnership he’s ever grown, every business he’s ever dealt with has been through a handshake. So what I told my father is that my company works to build handshakes between websites. Links are a digital handshake.”

Forgive me Mike for butchering that slightly, but the gist is there. The point of all this is that Mike captured the spirit of why links are so important, both as a signal of relevance and authority to Google, as well as that website’s audience.

Anytime a website willingly, knowingly, editorially links to another website, it’s a signal of trust and authority. This is the concept with which Google established their search engine, and it holds truer today than ever before. Google has algorithmically (Penguin) improved its ability to detect manipulative, low-quality links – not to mention website owners and Web users alike are more savvy to Web and link spam.

Why Link-Building Matters in 2015

Link-building is about getting the links you deserve. About going out, finding specific opportunities, and capitalizing on those opportunities.

Links will continue to matter in 2015, as more and more the digital world permeates into our very culture.

Not so long ago consumers questioned whether it was safe to make purchases on the Internet; whether it was safe to have any personal information online; whether it was safe to even reveal your real name on the Web.

Fast-forward to 2015, businesses need to be online to compete. Very, very few industries are left that wouldn’t be aided by a visible, authoritative, online presence.

Websites are the digital representation of your business. For many industries websites are more important than a physical location. More customers will be served by their websites. And search is often the go-to method of finding information and businesses. According to a study from BrightEdge, 51 percent of all traffic came from search. If you include paid search, search accounts for 61 percent of all traffic, across billions of pieces of content.


Image source.

Search is one of the most dominant channels online. Whether you’re concerned about branding, revenue, reputation management, or just more traffic, search visibility needs to be in your marketing plan.

To grow your search visibility, you need to be concerned about links. You need to have either a member of staff, or a partnering business whose job it is to optimize your link acquisition. You need to have someone involved in your online marketing efforts whose job it is to recognize and help develop link opportunities.

In 2015, if you want to grow your search presence, authority, and visibility, you need a link builder. Someone whose job it is to be concerned with links.

And that’s this content marketer’s perspective on what link-building is, and why link-building matters moving in to 2015.

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