Links have been the hottest SEO topic for years, and there’s a good reason for that. Google started with an innovative algorithm that used “links” as “votes,” the more backlinks a page had, the more people voted for it. It was the only signal of quality.

Google engineers were inspired by the system scientists were using to rank scientific papers: The more other scientists were referencing that paper, the more weight it had.

Only the world wide web isn’t the scientific community. Google would soon realize that more quality signals would be needed because backlinks were easy to buy and sell.

There followed a series of updates, manual penalties and ever-changing rules in Google’s efforts to regulate the link building market.

And that fight has been quite successful: Manipulating link signals is not only risky these days, it is often useless. Google is now much better at identifying real quality links from those that were manipulated.

So should we still be building links and if so, how do we do it right?

Are Links Still Important for SEO?


Google is very transparent in this matter. They tried to get rid of backlinks as a ranking signal but they failed.

Multiple SEO studies (including this one) have proved that links play a major role in rankings.

Link building is equally important for small and big sites:


Plus, backlinks can bring customers and win influencers to your side. There’s much more to links than just rankings.

Link building remains the most important (and the most challenging) search engine optimization tactic.

What Are Google’s Link Building Guidelines

Years of Google’s on-going fight with low-quality link building methods have taught us one important thing: Backlinks can be risky.

Too many websites have completely vanished from Google SERPs due to manipulating link signals. And it may be very difficult to revive your rankings. I’ve seen lots of businesses having to start from scratch after months and even years of trying to get their penalized website rank again.

Messing with Google’s link building guidelines (whether you agree with them or not) is too risky.

Luckily, those guidelines are pretty clear: Any link that you can control (i.e. you can edit, put yourself, use a particular anchor text, etc.) is self-serving links.

Self-serving links are ok as long as you label them with a nofollow attribute to let Google know you put that link to your site yourself. There are several SEO plugins that make it very easy.

Google will choose how they want to treat nofollow. If you want to help Google even more, you can use rel=”sponsored” or rel=”ugc” to point out the exact source of that self-serving link.

Which Links Building Mistakes Should We Avoid?

While the fundamental link building guidelines are pretty clear: Just nofollow links you put there yourself, there are still a few common mistakes that need to be listed here, just in case:

  • Don’t buy links: I know it is pretty clear by now but just as a reminder. This is still something Google frowns upon.
  • If you are doing a PR campaign, do it for publicity, not for links. Some marketing tactics can really be ruined by the link building aspect of them. If you start doing PR for links, you will start releasing low-quality press releases in no time.
  • Don’t just copy your competitors’ links. Just because they haven’t suffered a link building penalty yet, it doesn’t mean all their links are great.

How to Build Real Backlinks?

So now that we know what not to do, how do we go about building links?

Content development + outreach

Creating high-quality content that attracts links as well as reaching out to bloggers or journalists is the most powerful and perfectly legit link building method.

In this case, you cannot control who and how will link to you, and all those links will come only if your content is truly great.

Google is still ok with this method and I cannot see why they would change their minds.

John Mueller,Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, has just recently confirmed as much in his video:

“That’s essentially the idea behind … natural linking.

From our point of view it’s fine to contact people and tell them [that] I have this great content and… maybe it’s something that you would appreciate for your website.

That’s generally fine.”

Of course, as more content is being created, it is getting more and more difficult to get people amazed enough to give you a link, so it is by no means an easy way to get links.

You will need to research topics thoroughly and experiment with different content types and formats to finally arrive at something that will get you links:

Linkable Assets

Text Optimizer will help you come up with unique ideas for your linkable content, so make sure to run it a few times when brainstorming:

Text Optimizer

Your outreach tactics should also evolve beyond what you were previously doing. Getting people to respond or even notice your email is very challenging. Tools like Email Hunter will be handy as it helps find multiple emails and get through to more people. The tool also offers Email Verifier feature that you can use to verify your existing or old email lists:

Email Verifier

Competitive audit: How are competitors acquiring backlinks?

While copying competitors’ backlinks is not a good idea as I stated previously, knowing your competitors’ tactics is always a good idea.

You will need to learn to spot low-quality link building tactics your competitors are using while focusing on things that may help you make more progress with your link building strategy.

Look out for:

  • Content that brings your competitors backlinks;
  • Bloggers and journalists that link to your competitors.

Monitoring your backlinks

Monitoring your backlinks is important because you need to know which of your tactics have worked. Using Google Search Console is a must because it will also alert you of any possible errors, like unnatural links or malware attacks. It is also free.

There are more backlinks checkers, both free and paid, to set up, so choose a few based on your budget.

Additionally, make sure link monitoring is integrated into your marketing analytics dashboard as well.


Backlink building is key to organic search visibility, regardless of the size or the age of the website.

Link building is one of the most complicated marketing areas you are likely to have to come across. But the good news is good links bring higher rankings and referral traffic, so it is well worth the effort.

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty is the brand NINJA at Internet Marketing Ninjas and the founder of numerous startups including MyBlogGuest, MyBlogU, ViralContentBee, and TwChat. Her content marketing ideas have been featured in The New York Times, Mashable, Entrepreneur, Search Engine Land and many more.