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Link Building: Why They’re Critical – How to Get Them

Before Google, link building wasn’t that important for SEO. The most critical factors for search engines were what we call onsite SEO factors: did you have the right words in the right places on your pages. The problem was that since you control your own website, this was very easy for webmasters to manipulate.

Some search engines started to look at how many links from other websites pointed to your website. Backlinks from other sites could be considered a vote of confidence, so the most backlinks means the best site, right? Unfortunately, this was also pretty easy to manipulate. Among other tactics, webmasters could easily trade links (reciprocal linking) or create more websites and link them together.

Google changed the game when they started in 1997. Their PageRank formula actually looked at the quality of a website’s backlinks. Quality backlinks were not near as easy to manipulate as earlier search engine link building factors.

Even today, Google lets us know that they need links (and other off-site signals) to understand how to rank your site appropriately.

“It’s one thing to have a fantastic website, but search engines generally need a bit more to be able to confirm that, and to rank your site – your content – appropriately.”

To rank your site, Google looks at your entire backlink profile: all your links. They look at the total number of links, how quickly/steadily you’ve acquired those link and they look at the diversity of those links.

For each individual link, some of the things they look at are:

  • quality of the link
  • anchor text of the link
  • number of links on the linking page
  • relevancy of the linking page
  • content and other links on the linking page
  • age of the link

Roger Monti at Martinibuster.com also says

one of the yardsticks search quality engineers use to determine whether a link is spam or not is to identify whether the link is freely given and that an editorial decision has been made to grant the link.

In the past, some tactics that have been effective for getting links are:

  • Reciprocal Links
  • Guest Books
  • Setup More Sites
  • Free Directories
  • Blog Commenting
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Forum Profiles & Signatures
  • Article Directories

Most of these tactics are now either ineffective or carry a risk of getting you penalized by search engines.

Jon Cooper of Point Blank SEO has a tremendously comprehensive list of link building tactics along with his opinions on the value of links gained from each tactic. If you’re risk averse, stay with the tactics that Jon classifies as High Value and you’re more likely to be safe from future Google penalties.

A big part of High Value linking tactics depends upon your site having a blog. My friend John Ellis wrote a great article on Why Search Engines Love Blogs. If you don’t have an active blog, take a minute to read it. I hope it inspires you to create some great content on your blog.

And I can’t talk about links without mentioning the godfather of linking: Eric Ward. Not only is he arguably the world’s top expert on linking, he’s also a Knoxville, Tennessee native. Read everything you can that Eric writes and you’ll be on your path to getting and using links the right way to promote your website.

Photo credit: prantanti



  1. Thanks for the recap. Not only for giving the information, but love the fact that you have shown what you mean by having links to others in the SEO arena that know there stuff. Can’t wait to use this on my site.

  2. Thanks Ross for mentioning my list post!! This is a fantastic breakdown, really like how straight & to the point this post is.

    • Hi Jon, your link tactics list is the most comprehensive list I’ve ever seen. Really appreciate you providing that resource since link building gets more interesting every day. Thanks for chiming in!