Don’t build links – build traffic!

Traffic Light Tree near Canary Wharf, LondonTraditionally, many people have treated link building as being synonymous with SEO. In ye olden days, Google ranked sites according to how many inbound links (IBL) they had. When this fact was discovered and made public, everyone went on a link building frenzy. Needless to say, Google changed its algorithm to place less value on IBL. Indeed, the Google Penguin update penalised sites for “unnatural links”. Even so, for some reason the myth continues that link building is where it’s at.

On the other hand, post-Penguin, some people have been freaked out and don’t want any more links. No siree.

But there is a middle ground and if no one linked anywhere then the whole Internet would collapse. Hyperlinking underlies the whole structure of how the Web works. So, what link building is good and what’s bad?

Building links is a means, not an end in itself

First of all, forget link building for its own sake. Instead of thinking about how to get more links, you should be thinking along the lines of how to get more traffic. More links will occur naturally as a result of building traffic.

But it’s amazing how many people still cling to the old ways of believing that link building is desirable for its own sake. That’s why you see so many pointless posts on blogs and forums. The people doing it are there to get their signatures as an extra link to their site. There are still some link-building companies, often located in India, which pay their workers a pittance to post x rubbish postings per hour, so that the client can be charged for 1,000s of links placed. Crazy, huh? Even crazier is that some hapless people are still signing up for these so-called link building campaigns and paying them to do it.

Some links are more equal than others

In any case, not all links are equal. There are some easy ways to get backlinks, such as blog commenting and forum signatures. Sure, you’ll get links back to your site but they don’t count for much. It’s much more valuable to get links from authority sites, but even then they might not necessarily get you more traffic. One of my sites was mentioned, and linked to, on a highly relevant article in The Guardian‘s business section, but it only attracted about a dozen visitors. So, whilst some might say that it was a great thing to get a link from such an authority site, I would say that the link was of little value because it didn’t bring traffic.

Also remember that traffic doesn’t always equal money. You want targeted traffic that converts. Some people suggest that visitors coming in to your site from relevant links are more likely to convert into customers than those coming in from search engines. (Note to self – must find some evidence!) This is because the people have been pre-sold the concept or product and are actively seeking more information about it or a way to purchase it.

Keep it real

The main thing these days is to keep your links looking natural. It’s just like building good content. Keep adding new fresh content and it shows your site is alive and growing. New links can do the same for you, but the emphasis is on the natural look now. Most people these days agree that buying links is a bad idea. Not only does it look unnatural, it can also get you into bad company if your links are coming from dodgy places such as link farms. Google is very likely to penalise your site if you participate in these kind of schemes.

Don’t be afraid to link

The main message which I want to end with here is not to be afraid of linking completely. I’ve heard people say that they won’t build another link until the dust settles from Penguin. I think that’s taking things too far. Organic, naturally grown links still seem to be fine. Again, it’s a case of trying to grow traffic, not links. Why is the link there? Is it to impress the search engines or is it because it’s genuinely useful for the website visitors who might see it and click on it?

I would also suggest creating strategies of building traffic without any over-reliance on Google or any other search engine. Easier said than done, but if you keep chipping away at it, you can make progress. Don’t let any search engine dictate how you run your business. You can build everything up around them and it could all come tumbling down tomorrow from a simple algorithm change. Concentrate on other ways of building traffic. You should find plenty of ideas for that on this blog.


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