: 07th Jun 2021 : Lovetto Nazareth
Evolution of Link Building Over the Years – What Used to Work & What Works Now
Table of Content
- What is the importance of link building?
- What are some early link-building strategies?
- How did reciprocal links work?
- What is the difference between webrings and reciprocal links?
- Why did reciprocal linking strategy lose its effectiveness?
- What are directory Links?
- What is DMOZ?
- Is paid link building effective?
- What is Black Hat Link Building?
- What was Google’s campaign against deceptive link building?
- Is link building still a viable option?
- What is Digital PR?
Backlinks remain a significant aspect of Google's main algorithm, effectively establishing legitimacy for your content, making it one of the most successful SEO techniques for helping rank content organically and increasing a website's referral traffic.
Backlinks allow one domain to convey authority to another. Obtaining a backlink to your website from a highly rated domain, especially one in a relevant sector, will increase your domain authority. Although authoritative backlinks are more difficult to obtain, they may result in a higher organic ranking for your website owing to a greater Page and Domain Authority.
In the realm of SEO, link building is a constantly evolving subspecialty. it has been used by SEO agencies for years now. Because we all know that links are an important element of current SEO and will continue to be so in the future, it's important to understand not only where we are now, but how we got here. This strengthens our decision-making foundation and enables us to see through the Nonsense when someone promotes a fringe viewpoint.
Let's take a look at how link building has changed over time, from before Google even existed to now.
We usually think about Google when we think of link building. With the creation of Backrub, Google's link-based algorithm, link building became a search engine optimization method. But, even before Google became the dominating force it is today, link building existed — it simply didn't play a part in SEO at the time.
At the time, link building was mostly used to lead traffic to your website rather than to manipulate search results. Marketers utilized a strategy known as webrings back then, in which website owners published pages of connections to other linked websites.
They did this for a variety of reasons, including to benefit themselves, people in their sector, and even visitors because search engines at the time were rather lousy. People would come to these pages to find more interesting and useful websites to visit.
There wasn't much link building at the time that might be considered spam or black hat. There were no Webmaster Guidelines, and there was no motive to develop such kinds of links because they would have had no effect.
It would have been ridiculous regardless from a technological standpoint because domains and hosting were quite costly by today's standards, and websites were developed manually in Notepad. It would have been virtually hard to automate. Because that was all that mattered at the time, people took a user-centric approach.
It's amazing to think about it now, but Google was once merely a research project begun by two college students. It soon developed from there, consuming market share and eventually becoming the giant it is today.
When marketers realized that inbound links affected Google ranking, they went all out to generate or acquire them in every way they could. Link building went from a technique with direct long-term rewards to a method with mostly indirect rewards almost overnight.
People misused it as they do with every approach. We researched every feasible link-building strategy and then implemented it at scale. This eventually led to Google's disastrous Penguin algorithm upgrade, which we'll talk about later.
Let's take a look at some of the early SEO link-building strategies.
Early SEO link-building strategies
1. Reciprocal Links
Reciprocal link building, an adaption of the earlier web rings idea, was one of the first widely utilized link-building strategies for SEO purposes.
How did reciprocal linkswork?
Initially, website owners would simply create a page on which they would connect to other sites in exchange for other sites connecting back to them.It gradually expanded into a mini-directory with classified connections and paginated listings.
To manage this strategy, specialized software was created, which automated the core of the operation.A website owner would have to first connect to your site with their own, then fill out a form on your site requesting that you connect to them.
A bot would analyze their contribution on the backend, check that their website links to yours, and then provide the information to you to evaluate and publish.
Many of these systems had an email component, allowing you to search for websites on a specific topic and mass-email the proprietors of those websites, requesting that they link to your site in return for you connecting to theirs.
What is the difference between webrings and reciprocal links?
The primary distinction between webrings and reciprocal links is that webrings are usually always linked to other highly relevant websites, but reciprocal connections are frequently connected to any websites willing to link back to them.
Why did reciprocal linking strategy lose its effectiveness?
Whenever the website owners refused to link out, this strategy began to lose effectiveness. They assumed that connecting to other websites would reduce their link equity, so they attempted to get people to connect to their site without connecting back to them. Some of them were open about it, simply declaring that they would not connect to your site. Others linked to a link partner's website at first, only to delete the outbound connection afterward.
2. Directory Links
We had encyclopedias, dictionaries, and phone books when I was a youngster. We now have search engines that can instantly produce the proper answer to practically any question.
We had a period of time in between these two eras when these sources of knowledge were mixed. We had search engines, but they weren't effective. We also had classified directories that were akin to old-fashioned phone books in many aspects.As we saw with Yahoo, AOL, AltaVista, and a slew of other portals, both were frequently integrated into one.
Website owners could submit their website to be included in a directory, or the owner of the directory could add specific websites simply because they offer useful information.
You could use these portals to search. If you just want to look around, you can browse to a certain category and start clicking on links. At 4 a.m., it was not uncommon to find oneself deep down a rabbit hole after a long night of browsing
During this period, a slew of directories sprang up. At the time, DMOZ was one of the most popular nonprofit directories. They didn't charge a fee to be listed, but you had to wait in a long line to be authorized by a moderator.
In reality, some people had to wait years to be included, and in other cases, moderators would just reject any applications from rivals.
4. Yahoo directory
Yahoo! had a directory as well, although it cost a fee to be evaluated. They did not guarantee a listing, but they did promise to return your money if you were not listed. The Yahoo Directory is no longer in existence.
Thousands upon thousands of directories appeared in various ways. Some were hyper-targeted, focused on a very narrow specialty, while others were generic directories that would connect to anyone willing to pay the cost. This rapidly became a self-feeding business model, with people starting new directories submitting their URLs to existing directories to improve their link equity, which was assessed back then by Google's PageRank, or PR.
Once a directory had a decent PR score, additional individuals with fresh directories would submit theirs for inclusion. That was in addition to the regular company owners who paid to have their website listed.
5. Guestbook Links
In the early days of the internet, everything was new, so we did a lot of things that people now would consider strange. One of those things was guestbooks.
Guestbooks, as the name implies, were places where visitors may leave a note to the world indicating they had visited that particular site. Visitors filled out a form, and their responses were publicly displayed in the website's visitor book. It was a charming notion at first, but marketers immediately exploited it. This was one of the first link-building strategies to go out, owing to the amount of junk it attracted.
6. Paid-Link Building - The timeless approach
Paid link building is one strategy that has lasted the test of time simply because it works. It's also a lot more effective than cold outreach for getting free connections. It's also worth remembering that, regardless of how great your content is, many websites now charge a fee to link to your site. People used to buy links from other highly relevant websites since they were more concerned with attracting users than with manipulating rankings. However, as time went on, they began purchasing links from any website with a high Page Rank score. The higher the score, the more expensive it was.
After Google ceased disclosing this score to the public, link buyers and sellers were forced to rely on ratings from tool providers who attempted to replicate the Page Rank formula. While other tool provider ratings were not the same as Page Rank and don't imply anything on their own, they did give a relative statistic for comparing the authority of different websites.
Although Google is opposed to link purchasing and has been loud about it, the fact is that none of this matters in the real world. While purchasing links is against Google's webmaster rules, every other technique of link development is as well.
To put it another way, unless you're kneeling by the side of your bed and begging for people to connect to your website, whatever you do to get links is a breach of their rules.
Google, despite its assertions, is unable to "identify and ignore" bought connections on a broad or consistent basis. On the contrary, there is simply too much proof.
Paid links today come in several different forms. Some marketers concentrate on purchasing links from just relevant, authoritative websites with significant traffic, while others will purchase links from any website that appears to have the potential to shift the needle in terms of ranking.
While I feel that purchasing links may be a productive and safe strategy nowadays, there are a few restrictions.
First and foremost, any links you purchase should have the ability to generate real human traffic to your website. You won't gain as much influence if you buy a link just for the aim of influencing ranking.
Second, you must be picky about where you buy links.You should delete any silly emails in which some stranger offers to sell you links since they do it to everyone, and you can be sure that Google is aware of them as well.
You should also dismiss any website that appears to connect to a slew of odd sites that make no sense in context. It is completely permissible, for example, to link to third-party data that supports a view or assertion in an article.
However, discussing a specific topic and arbitrarily linking to a firm's home page – even if that firm is pertinent to the issue – is a clue that they are most likely selling links on such a large scale that they will have no beneficial influence on you.
7. Comment/Forum Spam
Websites were primarily static at the dawn of the internet. People's capacity to engage in real-time communication was transformed by blogs and forums.
It also gave marketers the chance to generate large numbers of links that, in many cases, remained unnoticed by website owners.
8. Blog Comments
Most blogs used to feature a comment box where readers could leave their opinions at the bottom of an article, however, you don't see them as often these days.
Most sites now don't allow comments because it's just not worth the time and effort to deal with spam and angry trolls. When marketers realized how easy it was to get a link by simply leaving a comment on a blog post, they devised this strategy.
In most cases, the comment form includes fields for a name, email address, and website URL. The name became the anchor text when the comment was published, linking to the URL from that field.However, personally selecting and commenting on enough blogs to have an impact on rankings was a huge undertaking that was not cost-effective.
The software was invented by smart individuals who aspired to be more productive.By placing spinning comments on hundreds of sites in a single day, this program allowed marketers to swiftly create large numbers of links.
This was really effective for a while, right up to Google's Penguin upgrade. Later, Google's algorithm messed up, and this method was no longer effective.
9. Forum Links
People used to congregate on forums to exchange updates, ask questions, network, and argue before social media became as popular as it is now.
There were two types of forums when it comes to link building.
➣ style 1 - Forum Links
The simplest and most apparent method was to use the forum to publish links. The trick here was to incorporate some social engineering with these posts.
Short-sighted link builders would use a fly-by approach, dropping their link and then fleeing. On any somewhat busy forum, they would almost certainly be purged nearly immediately. Smarter link builders would write their pieces in such a manner that included a link that was not only sensible but frequently required. These tended to linger for a long time, if not indefinitely.
➣ Style 2 - Forum Links
Create an account on a forum, add a URL to your profile, and move on was a more subtle approach. This usually went unnoticed because most forum owners didn't have time to look at every new user.
Unsurprisingly, software was created to automate this at scale, allowing link builders to spend less time on these forums because the program would perform 99 % of the labor.
Both styles were extremely effective at the time, but as social media has taken over the role that forums once filled, there are far fewer forums available today, and they are less effective.
10. Guest Posting
This strategy has always appealed to me since it is a sound, all-encompassing marketing strategy.
It has existed since the inception of the internet. More significantly, guest posting is still in use today since it is a very successful strategy that is a major aspect of SEO services in Dubai. You're not only increasing brand recognition but also gaining vital connections to your website by sharing your knowledge on a wider platform with an established audience.
These links can be found in your bio at the bottom of the article, or in the body of the piece. The fact that you had to write well and have decent people skills in order to pitch your topic to the website owner or editor created a natural barrier to entry. In reality, it resembles traditional public relations much more than link building.
The key is to find websites that have a steady stream of visitors and are relevant to your products or services, and pitch them on you writing about a topic that their audience would be interested in reading.
When I say relevant, I don't mean tangentially relevant. “Their website is about vehicles, and mine is about vehicles,” isn't enough. “Their website is about cars, and mine is about cars” isn't enough, either. You must get more specific.
It is doubtful that their audience would care about your post titled "9 Reasons the Honda Civic is the Best Car Ever" if their website is about classic muscle cars while yours is about little import vehicles. They would most likely despise it, and the website owner would very certainly be chastised forever publishing it.
Guest posting was only beneficial if the article was well-written, interesting, and, most crucially, relevant to the target audience. Guest posting became a great tool for not just creating high-quality links, but also visibility, a strong personal brand, and, in many cases, a strong corporate brand, once certain conditions were satisfied. Many marketers, however, believed that if a bit of anything is good, then a lot must be better. As a result, article directories proliferated.
11. Article Directories
When marketers understood how powerful guest posting was, it was only a matter of time before they began to expand the strategy. Article directories arose as a result of this. They went on to become one of the most controversial and effective link-building strategies ever.
Indeed, the impact of this strategy was so significant that it led Google to take extraordinary action against link building with the Penguin update.
Consider article directories to be a more comprehensive version of blog comments when it comes to building links. You're not simply leaving a remark on someone else's blog; you're writing a whole piece.
Article directories, like link directories, exploded into their own business. Site owners were able to build their own article directory with no time or effort thanks to dedicated software. They were able to add this functionality to an existing website using new WordPress plugins. It didn'ttake long for a vast network of article directories to emerge, eager for other link builders to contribute masses of material to them. And they did succumb.
What is Black Hat Link Building?
Most SEO specialists like to categorize themselves as either white hat or black hat, although the majority of those who claim to be white hat are either dishonest or incorrect. So, how can you tell the difference between a white and a black hat?
White hat SEO is supposed to indicate that you follow all of the search engines' webmaster standards, whereas black hat SEO is supposed to indicate that you don't. Doesn't it appear to be rather simple? It does in my opinion. This is a controversial view, but it implies that everything you do to get connections to your website falls into the black hat category.
The second bullet point on Google's Webmaster Guidelines lists "engaging in link schemes" as a tactic to avoid. So, what does Google consider a link scheme to be?
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered a link scheme and a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, according to Google. Any conduct that manipulates links to your site or outbound links from your site falls under this category.
To put it another way, everything you do to get links. Spam in blog comments and forums? Yes, indeed. That is something we can all agree on. But what about a public relations campaign? Surely that's fair because your company is being recognized for anything it's doing or has done, right?
So, did you specifically ask the journalist to connect to your site, or did you simply provide them your URL in the hopes that they would? You then broke Google's Webmaster Guidelines by manipulating links to your site, making you a black hat.
When the majority of reasonable people (who aren't Google spokesmen) think of black hat link building, they generally think of strategies like Forum links, Reciprocal links, Hacked website links, Buying links, Widget links, Blog comment links, Profile links, Private blog networks (PBNs) and Guest posting with spun content, etc
In most cases, they're referring to low-quality, readily automated connections. What most sensible people consider a black hat and what Google considers a black hat are two very different things.
In the end, Google has complete control over this choice, and the rest of us must decide where we stand in terms of risk vs. benefit.
If you want to follow their rules to the letter, you'll have to stop establishing links totally. Just keep in mind that by doing so, you're providing your competitors a huge edge. If you're prepared to take a chance and play in the gray area, you must do it with the understanding that Google's response may one day ruin your company. When Google issued their Penguin update in 2012, this is what company owners and marketers learned.
Google’s campaign against deceptive link building
In 2012, Google launched a huge campaign to counteract what is regarded to be deceptive link-building practices.
Google effectively ruined countless thousands of companies overnight with the deployment of their Penguin algorithm upgrade. This update was more of a "burn the crops and salt the ground" type of thing. Not only was the punishment severe — many businesses were not even appearing in searches for their own names — but it was also frequently baseless due to the algorithm's proclivity for false positives.
When a firm got caught in the crossfire of the Penguins, the only option was to start anew with a completely new domain.Many folks discovered this the hard way after being penalized.While they could spend a lot of money to get the bad links removed, there was no assurance that they would be reinstated in the SERPs.Even if you were, you'd have to start from scratch.
Countless business entrepreneurs have done just that, only to wait often for years for results. There was no response. There was no answer at all.Then, throughout the following few years, Google ruined its own algorithm by promoting the nofollow campaign.
This is a simple HTML property that allows website owners to inform search engines that any links containing the attribute should be ignored. It was designed to aid Google in identifying and ignoring non-editorial connections.
In other words, it was a warning to Google and other search engines that a link marked with the property should not be used to boost the ranking of the site to which it was connected. Doesn't it appear to be rather simple?
Most blogs, forums, and other web-based platforms included the nofollow property into their software very immediately, rendering many black hats approaches obsolete. But then publishers, from small blogs to tier-one publications like The Wall Street Journal, began applying it to all outbound connections.
While the nofollow feature largely disabled Google's capacity to recognize contextual links, it also completely ruined the effectiveness of some spammy link-building strategies.
This spawned a brand-new issue that had to be dealt with secretly behind the scene. So, how did Google accomplish this? They were able to do this by disregarding the nofollow property. This returned us to where we were before the Penguin upgrade, only this time most people were unaware that practically every black hat link-building strategy was back in play.
You may have heard SEO experts and even Google personnel suggest that these approaches are no longer effective. Perhaps their allegations are true. But, in reality, they are entirely incorrect.
The SEO experts who declare that these approaches don't work do so for one of two reasons, and I'm not sure which is the more serious.
One of the reasons is that they have no understanding of what they're talking about when it comes to this subject. This argument, I believe, applies to the majority of persons who make that assertion.
Another explanation is because they know these methods work and employ them, but they disguise themselves as "white hats" in order to continue repeating Google's talking points. This rationale, I believe, applies to a relatively tiny fraction of those who make that assertion.
Is link building still a viable option?
Every few years, someone proclaims link building to be dead. Despite these assertions, link building is as robust as it has ever been. Many of these folks, I understand, make these ludicrous assertions only for the sake of getting attention. That's PR 101: say something controversial or surprising, and people will talk about it.
There are thousands of examples of this, both in the SEO sector and in general, if you dig hard enough. But, in my opinion, there's another side to this coin that's considerably more insidious: wacky notions about how link building will progress.
One such belief is that search engines will soon be able to deduce meaning from a piece of material and use it as a ranking criterion instead of real links. This is the type of stupidity that leads to SEO myths being generated and perpetuated by untrained SEO practitioners and small company owners, as proposed by Rand Fishkin.
Most analysts think that link building is far from dead. While the agreement does not always imply truth, I am convinced that link building will not go away in our lifetimes, mostly because links are required for online usability. The only rational method to deduce a "vote" for a certain page is to use links.
Enter the world of Digital PR.
Digital PR is the most effective form of link building from a holistic standpoint, as it provides the most long-term value. Because it is not gameable and scalable through automated methods, this is the future of link building.
Consider this scenario: You have a fantastic product and you want a blogger or journalist to write about it. They agree and compose a story about your product, your business, and you. Their viewers will now be able to discover more about your product, your company, and you as a result of that piece.
PR can become a self-feeding machine if you gain enough traction and establish yourself as an authority in your field. But it doesn't imply you should let up on the throttle pedal if this happens.
Someone will always want to eat your lunch, therefore no matter how strong your position appears to be, you must continue to push. This can be a zero-sum game since if a media covers your company, they are unlikely to cover one of your competitors for a long. The media attention and links you lose out on today may be the ones that allow your rivals to catch up to you in the future.
The first and most critical need is that you must have a compelling narrative to tell. The majority of individuals don't, and many of those who do are terrible storytellers.
You must understand both your audience and the audience of the newspaper to whom you are pitching while conveying your tale. Understanding your target audience is essential for having your message picked up and resonating with people. After that, you'll need to cultivate relationships with journalists, bloggers, editors, producers, and others involved in online content distribution.Yes, a cold pitch may produce results, but it's uncommon and tough.
You don’t have to do everything on your own. If you have a lot on your plate or simply want the maximum outcome to your input, you can always opt to consult an expert in the field. Prism, the BestSEO agency in Dubai, is working day and night to make sure your goals are achieved and your business is getting the maximum exposure.
This is it for today. I hope you liked the blog and if you have any questions or comments, write in the comments section and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you and Goodbye.