The evolution of link building

Link building has been an essential part of search engine optimization since day one. A quality backlink profile for a website is one of the main factors involved in ranking a website on a search engine. Think of backlinks as one website recommending another. The more something is recommended, the better, right?

In the beginning, it didn’t matter where or who you got a backlink from, it was purely a numbers game.

Early SEO professionals loved this because they could easily acquire hundreds, if not thousands, of backlinks without much effort or time.

So what happened?

As search engines began to improve their algorithms to ensure the user could find the best websites for what they were looking for, they realized they needed to rethink how backlinks affected rankings. Websites that lacked quality, as well as useful information, could easily rank well using link schemes. For example, going to several unrelated forum websites and posting keyword-stuffed comments and linking to your site could lead to high rankings even though it offers no value.

There had been many algorithm updates in the 2000s that slowly improved the way links affected its rankings, differentiating quality backlinks from spammy links. But the big boost was the Google Penguin update in 2012. Today, let’s see how backlinks have evolved over time.

Penguins Update

The Penguin update completely changed link building in the SEO world. The fundamental changes to Google’s algorithm were that they would penalize keyword stuffing and link schemes. We’ll be focusing on the link aspect of this update, but for more on why you should avoid keyword stuffing and best practices for optimizing your homepage for SEO, read more here. .

Google has started analyzing domain authority, which is affected by a variety of different factors, one of which includes the number of irrelevant outbound links a site has. Once a site is deemed spam or is caught participating in a link scheme, all websites that hyperlink to that domain are at risk of being penalized. (See the complete list of Google penalties and how to recover from SEJ for more information on Google penalties.)

As a result, websites that relied on link schemes to achieve high rankings began to crumble. Some of the worst offenders have even been de-indexed overnight, meaning your website is no longer ranked at all for search queries. Luckily, however, there was a way to fix the situation – either by asking the site owners to remove your link on their (preferred) website, or by disavowing those backlinks. While there is no guarantee that your rankings will rebound, you could have mitigated the damage from penalties received from spam backlinks. While a new iteration of the update, Penguin 4.0, changed things up in 2016 by devaluing these links rather than imposing penalties, there is still evidence that these links continue to have a negative impact (see Michael Cottam’s article on this subject here). These are still recommended practices today if your website contains unnatural links pointing to it.

After this update, many websites started to use “Nofollow” links more frequently to avoid harming their own website when linking to dubious links.

No Track Links

While Nofollow links had been around for a few years already, they quickly became much more prevalent after the Penguin update. Essentially, when a backlink has a Nofollow tag, Googlebot won’t register it as a link when crawling, which means it won’t pass any link juice. So if you have a website that has a lot of seemingly weak links, you would want to use a Nofollow tag to make sure you don’t get penalized.

Does this mean that all websites should automatically attach a Nofollow tag to every link? Absolutely not. Google wants you to link to other websites with outbound links, which will also help your own website’s SEO. But these backlinks must be relevant to the page they are on. You also don’t want to overload a single page with too many outbound links, as this could be considered spam.

Add nofollow attribute to HTML links

A good way to tell if you have too many links, or even not enough, is to think about user experience. Will they find valuable information on the linked web page? Does it flow with the rest of the content on the page? Is it visually pleasing or intrusive? These are questions you should always ask when adding a backlink, both inbound and outbound.

Sponsored Links and User Generated Content Links

In September 2019, two new link attributions were created so that search engines could better understand the nature of the backlink in question; sponsored and user-generated content (UGC) links. These attributions help define their intent on the webpage and are intended to replace the nofollow tag where applicable.

The sponsored link tag helps differentiate a link for the purpose of advertising a product or website from a regular organic link. The UGC tag is for anything created outside of the website’s own editorial team (such as comment sections on forum pages).

While these two new tags do not pass link juice and are essentially subcategories of a nofollow backlink, they are the preferred tag to use when appropriate. Plus, you’re more transparent with your website’s backlinks that search engines will appreciate. Because of this, it’s possible they play a bigger role than we currently realize in SEO, but we’ll need to investigate more about the effect they have before making a definitive guess.

How to get quality links

With black hat SEO tactics penalized, SEOs had to start rethinking their link building strategy. The main lesson we learned from Penguin is that quality will beat quantity every time. Keep your efforts genuine and acquire backlinks in ways that can provide useful information to the websites you are trying to get a backlink from as well as their users. There are many ways to do this (check out this article on how you can use guest blogging to earn quality backlinks). A great way to get backlinks is to use public relations (PR) strategies.

If you can get yourself, your business, or your website mentioned in media, that opens the door to a backlink. Connecting with journalists and bloggers who are working on an article related to your area of ​​expertise presents a great way to get a backlink to a reputable site. Not only that, but if you manage to get a backlink in the article, chances are the webpage will be filled with keywords related to your business, which will result in an even more impactful backlink. Use your industry knowledge to provide insight the writer can use. You will usually be credited as a source, or even cited, in the published article and will likely get a link back to your website in your credential.

In conclusion, Google wants the best websites that can provide information to its users to rank well for their specific search queries. Building backlinks from domains/pages related to your domain is one of the best ways to show Google that your website is authoritative in your industry. It is time consuming and difficult at times, yes, but the benefits of your efforts are worth it. Plus, isn’t it nice that brand mentions in popular news outlets like Forbes also count as backlinks? You can learn the value of strong digital PR efforts here. And if you need legitimate backlinks to strengthen your site, do not hesitate to contact us.


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