The SEO grapevine has been abuzz with rumors that link building is dead. Before we arrive at a verdict, let’s look at the facts and learn why some people believe building links is dead in the first place.
The New York Times reports that Gen Z uses TikTok instead of search engines to find the hottest restaurants, chart-topping songs, or trendiest pair of shoes.
Even a Google senior vice president, Prabhakar Raghavan, noted, “In our studies, something like almost 40 percent of young people when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”
Along with this, an analysis by Semrush found that users are unsatisfied with Google results, with up to 30% needing to refine their search query to find what they were actually looking for.
As if that wasn’t enough, one viral tweet likened Google to a dying mall, saying, “You can remember when it was a useful place to visit, but now it's weirdly hollow, and you leave without getting what you came for.”
But before we rush to announce that link building is dead, let’s not forget that Google is still the world’s biggest search engine, and they have its finger on the pulse of user search trends.
Google’s recent algorithm updates show that they are trying to respond to users’ changing needs–but does this put the final nail in the coffin of link building?
In this article, we’ll explore the following:
What is link building?
The history of link building
Why some people think link building is dead
Why link building is still alive and well
Link building strategies for 2024
The importance of high-quality backlinks
What Is Link Building and Why Is It So Powerful?
Link building has been around since the very beginning of search engines and is a critical process in search engine optimization (SEO). It involves driving more traffic to your website by getting other websites to link to it.
These links are “votes of confidence” that show Google and other search engines that your web pages are of high quality and provide relevant content.
The more high-quality links you have pointing to your website, the better your website is likely to rank in search engine results. This, in turn, further increases your visibility and drives more website traffic.
The early days of backlinking were open to abuse. Website owners realized that having more links meant they would perform better in search engine rankings, even if their content were poor.
In response, Google began implementing various algorithms to ensure that high-quality, expert-written content would rank higher than low-quality, spammy sites.
It started to favor backlinks from authoritative, relevant sites that had been placed naturally rather than those from poor-quality sites that existed solely for building links.
This new approach from Google formed the basis of link building campaigns and contributed to the best practices we know today.
Backlinks 101: A Short History of Link-Building Strategies
The keyword is king era
Like the Internet itself, the practice of link building has evolved through several stages.
In the 1990s, there was a strong focus on keyword research, which was the earliest form of SEO. Websites would be filled with keywords in an attempt to rank higher in search results and drive organic traffic.
It wasn’t long before some website owners began stuffing as many keywords into their web pages as possible.
What Is Keyword Stuffing?
Keyword stuffing is an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings by using as many keywords as possible on a web page. In the early days of SEO, this was a widely used technique.
Some website owners would even change the color of their keywords to match their website’s background. This made them invisible to users, but search engines could still pick them up.
While these techniques are ineffective today, the early days of the Internet were the Wild West, and spammy websites abound.
Keyword stuffing resulted in low-quality, unhelpful content and a poor user experience.
In 1996, inbound links were introduced through a search engine called BackRub. The quality of inbound links from relevant sites soon became an important ranking factor, and by 1997 BackRub changed its name to Google.
Despite their algorithm, spammy websites still dominated search engine rankings. Google needed to take action to prevent these techniques from being rewarded.
An algorithm update that took the Internet by Storm
To combat keyword stuffing, Google rolled out what is widely considered to be its first significant algorithm update in 2003. This was the Florida update, and it changed the way searches worked overnight.
The Florida update was given its name because of the hurricane-like manner in which it took websites off the front page of Google search results.
The concept of links became a more important factor in ranking websites, and those with a high number of backlinks were considered to have high-quality content.
This marked the introduction of building links as a critical component of a successful SEO strategy. While this was initially effective, Google soon learned that not all links are created equal.
A new focus on high-quality content
As time passed and search engine algorithms became more sophisticated, they started identifying manipulative and spammy link building techniques.
In 2011, Google rolled out the Panda update. This update penalized websites that used black hat link building techniques, such as low-quality posts, spamming comments, and buying low-quality backlinks.
Like the Florida update before it, it immediately changed the SEO industry. The focus shifted to acquiring high-quality links from websites with high domain authority rather than acquiring a high number of low-quality links.
Where We Are Today: Why Do People Think Link Building Is Dead?
Hot on the heels of Panda, Google began rolling out the Penguin update in 2012. This was done in response to the growing number of ‘content farms’ that produced unprecedented amounts of poor-quality content.
Following this, one of the hardest-hit areas of SEO was article marketing—the practice of publishing low-quality articles as a way of building links.
In September 2022, Google finished rolling out its next major update, the helpful content update. This update began prioritizing people-friendly (as opposed to search engine-friendly) content.
But what exactly does that mean? According to Google, a people-first approach means creating high-quality content that, first and foremost, answers users’ questions while using SEO principles to bring additional value to searches.
Google found that content created primarily for search engines is, unsurprisingly, unsatisfying for the people using them.
Remember we mentioned that Semrush’s survey found 30% of people were unsatisfied with their search results? Search engine-first content is likely the culprit.
This update means that the following types of content will be penalized:
Content that doesn’t add value
Content written purely for SEO
Conversely, people-first content will get pushed to the top of Google search results and reap the rewards of organic traffic.
What Did Google’s Helpful Content Update Say about Link Building?
Despite the uproar surrounding link building, Google didn’t actually mention anything about link building as part of their update—it simply notes that people-first content will be rewarded.
However, Google's Search Advocate, John Mueller, did talk about link building as part of a live session at Brighton SEO in November 2022. He said:
“It’s something where I imagine, over time, the weight on the links at some point will drop off a little bit as we can figure out a little bit better how the content fits within the context of the whole web.”
While that may sound like backlinks will no longer be valuable, he also went on to say:
“To some extent, links will always be something that we care about because we have to find pages somehow. It’s like, how do you find a page on the web without some reference to it?”
Is Link Building Still Relevant in 2024?
If you’ve been keeping up with digital news, you’ll know 2023 was a busy year for Google.
The release of ChatGPT prompted them to enact a code red, and younger users flocked to TikTok and Instagram for search queries. As a result, Google was pushed to curb low-quality content in order to bring users back to the platform.
But, as we’ve seen time and again, the Internet is constantly evolving. A crucial part of optimizing your SEO efforts means keeping up with the changes.
While no one can predict what the future of Google—or the Internet in general—will look like, there is strong evidence that link building is still relevant in 2024 and for the foreseeable future.
It's Still Relevant Because:
1) Google hasn’t said link building is ineffective
While Google keeps the details of its algorithms under lock and key, they have thus far been forthcoming in guiding marketers and SEO experts in implementing best practices.
In all of their previous major updates—Florida, Penguin, and Panda—they have clearly laid out which spammy practices they are penalizing.
While their helpful content update emphasizes the need for relevant, quality content, it does not specifically discourage SEO specialists from continuing to build links.
2) Link building in general is being given slightly less weight
Backlinks indeed have less of an impact on search engine rankings than they did in the past.
Google notes that they have robust ranking signals—hundreds of them—that influence how a web page performs in search results.
While there is no clear answer to the question, “How much weight do backlinks hold?” it is clear that their recent update is focused primarily on penalizing spammy, low-quality AI-generated content.
3) Link building forms part of a comprehensive SEO strategy
SEO has many aspects to consider, including some of these essentials:
Link building isn’t—and has never been—a standalone shortcut to rising through the search engine ranks. In addition to link building.
You’ll also need to work on:
High-quality content creation
The true importance of link building lies in its power as part of a comprehensive SEO strategy. So far, it remains a critical factor in how Google separates low-quality content from high-quality content.
The Ultimate Link-Building Strategies for 2024
There is a wide range of strategies you can begin implementing to build links and boost your website’s ranking on search engines.
We will focus on the most natural, effective way to create a link-building campaign that’s aligned with search engine best practices.
Infographic link building
Infographic link building is a powerful link-building strategy that leverages the power of visual storytelling to drive traffic and boost search engine rankings.
It involves creating an infographic that communicates essential information in an engaging way, then using it to build links to your website. The process starts with crafting an infographic that is both informative and visually appealing.
This could be a simple bar chart, pie chart, or a more complex data visualization that uses illustrations, animations, and other creative elements.
This strategy can be highly effective, as infographics have the ability to generate a lot of interest and engagement online. They can be shared on social media, and their eye-catching visuals capture people's attention and encourage them to click through to the website.
High-quality backlinks you receive can help improve your search engine rankings.
Broken link building
The broken link building process involves finding broken links on websites that are relevant to your niche or industry, and offering to replace those links with a link to your website.
By acquiring high-quality backlinks by fixing broken links, you can increase your website's authority.
In addition, when you replace a broken link with a link to your website, you help improve the user experience for visitors to the other website.
Guest blogging is a link-building strategy where you write an article or blog post for other websites or blogs that are related to your niche or industry.
The idea is to contribute valuable content to these websites and establish yourself as an authority in your field, while also acquiring links to your own website.
Guest blogging is a mutually beneficial strategy. The website you are writing for gets high-quality content, and you get a backlink to your website and the opportunity to reach a wider audience.
Remember, guest blogging should be done as part of a comprehensive link-building strategy. It should not be used solely for the purpose of acquiring backlinks.
With Google’s stronger emphasis on high-quality content, your content should be created with human readers in mind—not just search engines.
Resource page link building
Resource page link building involves creating a resource page on your website that lists valuable resources, tools, or articles related to your industry. The goal is to supply a comprehensive resource page that other websites in your industry will want to link to.
The backlinks you acquire through resource page link building are typically high quality and relevant.
To get started, create a resource page on your website that lists valuable resources, tools, or articles related to your niche. Make sure the page is well-designed, easy to navigate, and provides real value to users.
Then, reach out to other websites in your industry and ask them to add a link to your resource page on their website. In exchange, you can offer to add a link to their website on your resource page.
Once you have received quality backlinks, it’s essential to update and maintain your resource page regularly. This ensures it will remain a valuable resource for your users and other websites in your industry.
Remember, Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal
As mentioned, backlinks from other websites serve as a "vote of confidence" to search engines, showing them that your content is valuable and relevant to users.
However, not all backlinks are equal. Link quality has always been favored over link quantity.
It's always better to have a few high-quality backlinks from authoritative websites than to have many poor-quality links from spammy sites.
These factors still remain important in creating high-quality backlinks:
Why Relevance Is Key
In the world of backlink building, relevance is critical.
For example, a backlink from a nutrition website to a fitness website makes sense, because someone interested in nutrition is likely to be interested in fitness topics.
Google and other search engines will penalize websites that utilize irrelevant links. So, one of the features of a high-quality backlink is that it connects two pages with similar or related content.
Here are some methods you can implement to identify websites relevant to your niche:
Have a look at the backlinks of websites in your industry that rank well on search engines. You can use tools like Ahrefs or Moz to analyze your competitors' backlinks.
Use keyword research tools to identify which websites rank highly for keywords related to your industry.
Utilize social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to search for industry leaders and influencers in your industry. Then, check their websites to see if they could be relevant sources of backlinks for your niche.
Earn Your Backlinks The Right Way
According to Google's guidelines, paying for links or manipulating website owners to insert them is a big no-no.
This kind of manipulation tries to deceive search engines into thinking your content is more valuable than it actually is, and the consequences of going against these guidelines can be severe.
Google often ignores links that it perceives as purchased. In some cases, it may even penalize your website's ranking. So, how do you acquire quality backlinks the right way?
The answer lies in organic link building using the strategies we’ve described. The only time you should ever pay for backlinks is if you use a link building service like ours.
While you are paying for someone to find backlinks for you, this is not a direct payment for the links themselves.
Instead, you're paying for the expertise and resources necessary to find and secure high-quality backlinks that truly add value to your content.
High authority, high rankings
One of the most critical tools you can use to navigate the complex landscape of SEO is authority scores.
SEO tools like Semrush, Moz, and Ahrefs use these scores to evaluate a website's reputation and credibility in its industry. These scores range from 1 to 100 and provide valuable insight into the power of a website's backlinks.
Having a high authority score and a lot of backlinks from high-authority websites can significantly boost your website's search engine ranking. This is because backlinks from these sources tell Google that your website is trusted.
On the other hand, a low authority score doesn’t automatically mean a poor-quality backlink.
If the backlinks are earned, relevant, and from high-quality websites, they can still have a positive impact on your website's ranking.
While the impact of this backlink won’t be as significant as one from a high authority site, it can still help move your ranking in the right direction.
The Final Verdict: Is Link Building Alive and Kicking or on Its Last Legs?
Digital marketing encompasses a diverse and constantly-changing range of techniques. Over the past few years, mobile marketing, video marketing, and social media have all added to its complexity.
However, SEO has proven to be highly effective since the Internet's earliest days and has consistently evolved alongside it.
In the case of SEO, search engines have always emphasized the need for original, valuable content and high-quality backlinks from trusted and authoritative sites. That hasn’t changed, and it doesn’t look like it will anytime soon.
Implementing a link-building campaign that’s aligned with best practices remains an effective way to boost your search engine ranking, especially when used in conjunction with a comprehensive SEO strategy.
Good SEO work only gets better over time. It's only search engine tricks that need to keep changing when the ranking algorithms change