Link Building is Unnatural!
by Ethan Glover, Fri, Mar 27, 2015 - (Edited) Thu, Oct 20, 2016
Last month, in a Google Webmaster's Hangout, in response to a question John Mueller said the following about link building, "In general, I try to avoid that..." and boy did the earth stop spinning.
I thought the controversy was over, I thought we figured out the context of what he was saying and could finally move on. Not so much. I've started frequenting the Google Webmaster Forums and multiple times a day I see comments like these from regulars. (Who also tend to be very rude and insulting to almost anyone with a question.)
I do not do any link building that would not be organic... Should I stop that?"
"A) link building is unnatural. b) yes. Knock it off. If you want to build a link somewhere - that's fine as long as it's nofollowed. Then it becomes advertisement/marketing and not an effort to manipulate ranking."
Granted, given the full context of that sentence, it could be interpreted appropriately, that there is a such thing as organic link building. But of course, that would contradict the first two points.
One of my more popular posts on building quality backlinks has earned accusations of "copying content" and "poaching links." However, there's nothing in that article that's not about helping others out.
Does a similar site have a broken link because they deleted some old content? Rewrite something on the topic for them. Did you find a two-year old article on SEO? It's outdated. Use it as inspiration and do better.
On the topic of reaching out and asking people to link to you? Some say, "Shame on you! Google Webmaster Guidelines explicitly forbid such a thing!"
Except they don't.
What are Link Schemes?
A "link scheme" is not reaching out to local businesses and asking for a link, or even paying to have a link on their "Partners" or "Local Friends" page. A link scheme isn't filling out an application to be included on a Chamber of Commerce website.
The people over at the Webmasters Forum understand the difference between organic link building and link schemes. However, that doesn't stop them from presuming everyone is 'scheming,' and accusing them of doing so, and that's a problem.
Typically if you're going to pay to have a link on someone's website, it should be marked as nofollow, that's clear by the guidelines. But that doesn't mean if a business owner doesn't know how to do so, or doesn't even know what "nofollow" means, your site will be harmed by that.
The only thing you as a website owner needs to worry about is the massive linking schemes that involve using software to constantly submit your link, or joining large "link-exchanges."
To put this into perspective, I recently came across an issue in which a news site was suspended from their Google Adsense account because of some pictures of Abu Gharib prisoner abuse posted 11 years ago.
It's clear that those pictures were violent and not an appropriate thing to put advertising on. The news site should have put the pictures on a separate page with no ads. But the question is, why did it take so long?
This site has not been clear about their conversations with Google support due to accusations of political conspiracy. Instead of waving a flag, I suggested that the page was low-priority because of the political nature and importance but eventually someone (probably an advertiser) complained.
My point of all this is to say that Google guidelines are just that, guidelines. Their goal is not to set a bunch of arbitrary rules on everything. Their goal is to improve the search experience for the user.
As you're "link building," ask yourself, "If I submit my site to supergoodlinkdirectoryallovergoogleyeah!.com, does it do anyone any good? Or am I doing so just to have the link?" If you're doing it for the link, don't.
On the other hand, what if you pay to be included in the Yahoo! Business Directory? What if you trade links with Angie's List? Do these break "Google's guidelines?" Sort of. Do they harm your site? Of course not, don't be crazy.
And what about the issue of leaving "optimized links in the post or signature," of a comment or forum? Google really only prefers these to be nofollow and I don't know of any social network, comment system, or forum that does dofollow. Saying it's wrong to link your site on any of these is like saying you can't share your site on social networks.
Stop Worrying and Run Your Business
Here's the point. When it comes to "building links" it might be best to stop listening to SEO's altogether. They tend to get caught up in irrelevant details and the holy word of Google. (Bible's tend to be misinterpreted.)
Instead, do what you would normally do with real, physical advertising. If someone asks if you want to pay to put an ad on a pinboard or front window, go ahead. If someone asks you to pay to put an ad in a dark alleyway, or on the front door of their private home, tell them to kick rocks.
If you come across a "web directory" that you've never heard of, ignore it. There are a lot of scammers out there who will collect any link for a bit of money and not do anything valuable with it. Associating with those scammers won't help your reputation. Just like putting your store poster next to some graffiti in an alleyway won't.
As a business owner, use your business head. Advertise where it makes sense to advertise and you'll be fine. Google isn't in the business of destroying search rankings because you put your business on Yahoo or left the link to your website in a comment or forum signature. You'll be OK, you're smarter than the average forum poster.