We all know that backlinks are a key ranking factor and that without them you’ll often struggle to rank. However, there are an awful lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to how you build and measure links, and the importance of certain types of backlinks to your SEO strategy.
Here are 5 of the most common link building myths:
1) ‘No follow links are worthless’
For those who don’t know, a ‘no follow’ link is where the site author sets a ‘no follow’ tag on a link in the HTML. In layman’s terms a no follow link has essentially been seen as an instruction for Google to ignore that link from an SEO standpoint. So logically no follow links are essentially worthless to your SEO strategy, right? Well, not quite.
It’s certainly true that because ‘follow’ links tend to carry more ‘SEO weight’ that they are also more likely to create more tangible movements in rankings and traffic. But that doesn’t make no follow links worthless. Back in 2019, Google announced that they’d be changing how they see no follow links; from an instruction to a hint. In a nutshell, this means that Google has decided that it’ll be assessing whether a no follow link should carry any SEO weight itself, rather simply obeying a no follow tag as an instruction to ignore the link. As a result, that no follow link you’ve secured on a high quality site may have direct SEO value. What’s more, it will likely have indirect value too. If the no follow link is placed on a high authority site, there’s always strong potential that it could drive direct referral traffic to your site. In some cases it’s also true that if your content is linked to on a high traffic source (even if it’s a no follow link), it’s more likely to be found by third parties and therefore linked to (follow or otherwise) naturally by other third party sites.
Not only that, but you’ll also likely want no follow links as part of your overall backlink profile; backlink profiles made up entirely of only follow links may look ‘unnatural’ at best, and sometimes even fishy, to algorithms.
2) ‘It’s all about domain authority when it comes to link building’
Metrics such as Moz’s Domain Authority and Majestic’s Trust Flow are hugely useful tools when it comes to making the authority of any given site tangible. They’ll give you a number – a score from 1 to 100 – which essentially ranks how authoritative Google might see your site. However, while these metrics carry a lot of weight, it is important to understand that these scores are estimated – and not always full proof. What they really do is give you a good indication of how authoritative your site likely is – but you’ll run into problems if you follow Domain Authority religiously, look at only Domain Authority and place huge amounts of meaning on incremental movements.
It is important to understand that these metrics provide indications – so you’ll need to look at them within context. For example, you’ll want to look at Trust Flow and Domain Authority together alongside other measures such as:
- how spammy a site looks and feels
- the number of referring domains and backlinks (lost and gained over time)
- the number of follow vs no follow links going into your backlink profile
- the number of high domain authority and relevant links going into your backlink profile
- your scores and backlinks vs your competitors over time
- potentially search ranking changes
3) ‘Link building is pointless unless you get hundreds of links for every campaign’
There is no denying that more good links the better when it comes to building site authority, however, it’s certainly not the case that a campaign has failed to have an SEO impact just because it hasn’t amassed hundreds or thousands of links. Its a common perception among out of date SEOs and old school marketers who often think about link building as if we are still living in decades gone by; a simpler time when there were fewer restrictions, penalties, and stipulations around what Google’s algorithms counted as a good link and when journalists and site authors unwittingly gave out links like lollipops.
The truth is that things have moved on quite a lot and quality now matters a lot more than just quantity alone. Everything from the site and anchor text surrounding the link to how you’ve secured the link, whether it is editorially placed and whether it’s follow or no follow now matters more than it ever has done. And long gone are the days where you can just place links on forums or directories and expect dramatic movements in your site authority.
At the same time, journalists and site authors have long caught on; they’ve been taking steps for years now to protect their own sites (often by linking out more selectively) and everyone now knows that links are valuable and why you’re asking for one – making tasks like link reclamation more challenging. Now more than ever it’s important to understand that quality matters just as much as quantity does; hundreds of no follow links or links from spammy sites aren’t going to do very much for you.
4) ‘Link building is easy; you just build them!’
Wrong. Again, this may harp back to a bygone era when placing links in forums, directories and guest blogs was at the cutting of ‘link building’ – and it can be a surprisingly common misconception among some marketers and SEOs until they actually have to try and ‘build’ links for themselves. The truth is that context is hugely important when it comes to how easy link ‘building’ is likely to be for you. You may be lucky, in that your company is a big fish (to which people will tend to link to naturally) and operates in a pond full of media that link out often. Or you may be unlucky, in that your brand has no presence and most naturally achieves coverage in a pool of media that never links back.
Either way, Google places most weight on natural, editorially placed links, making digital PR your best friend when it comes to securing high quality links. But one thing is certain when it comes to building links via digital PR; links are not ‘easy’ to acquire. They’re earned. To get the link it is important think and act like a PR with some SEO knowledge, not just like an SEO. That means being tenacious and skilled with pitching to the media, but also having a very strong nose for what actually is and is not considered a strong story from the perspective of a journalist. After all, they’re the gatekeepers to getting that media placement and the link.
5) ‘You just need good content; digital PR isn’t necessary’
There is no denying that great content is a very important ranking factor. It is also true that great (and sometimes even average) content can acquire backlinks naturally. Most often, this happens when site authors research a topic they’re writing about. If your content is a comprehensive resource that carries the most weight among their search results, chances are they’ll include a link to that content.
However, this isn’t a full-proof method to building quality backlinks that will positively impact your site’s authority and rankings. Relying on the stars aligning and your content to get the very best backlinks naturally can be a pretty risky and slow strategy. First off, third party authors need to decide to write about your topic, then they’ll need to require a source to back up an argument that your content perfectly illustrates – and when they search, it’ll be you they’ll need to find. You may be waiting quite a while for that happen, and the chances of them finding and using your content over others depends highly on how well you already rank for those keywords and how relevant and authoritative your content is.
It is also the case that many of the high quality journalists that write for the highest quality publications that you want links from aren’t going to operate in this way very often. Typically they’ll already have in depth knowledge of their sector, or will reach out to known and trusted contacts or digital PRs for comment when they need to add third party weight to their story. To build better links more quickly, you’ll need to be proactive about outreaching to these journalists and creating stories that they’ll want to publish.