9 Link Building Myths That Kill Your Campaigns
Here’s the biggest problem you face as a link builder in 2019: Google doesn’t acknowledge that link building works. Even though it very clearly does.
This means there is no official rulebook for link building. Link building strategists and SEO consultants get almost zero guidance from Google as to what will boost your clients up the SERPs. You pretty much have to base your decision on observed industry trends, as well as your own data and results.
The absence of proven and approved guidelines from Google means that there is an absolutely incredible amount of misinformation floating around out there about link building. In fact, it’s not just floating around, it’s being taken as gospel and influencing high-level SEO decisions. This is leading to a lot of disappointing campaigns, wasted budgets, and frustrated marketers.
With that in mind, here are 9 of the most popular and perilous myths in the world of link building today.
1. Your Links Need to Be in the First Paragraph
Many myths gain traction because they’re wrapped in a soft outer shell of solid SEOing. However, the center is pure poison. This myth is the perfect example. The fact that it is based on so much proven SEO is what makes it so dangerous and so popular.
Let’s start with the truth. Yes, the higher a link appears in the article or page, the more SEO weight it is likely going to have. So, ideally, you’d love your link to appear in the first couple of paragraphs, versus buried at the bottom of an article.
However, most of this data is not factoring in what would happen if you aggressively pursued and settled for absolutely nothing but links in the first paragraph. You may see some early short-term gains…
… Before your trail sets off alarm bells at Google that scream, “These guys are trying to manipulate.” Now, you’re facing a penalty, which means:
- All of the links and content you worked hard to create is devalued or useless
- You’re going to have to work hard to get back in Google’s good books
A few links early on high DA pages are fantastic. But this is not a diet that your SEO success can sustain itself on. You need diversity to protect the integrity of your link profile, or Google is going to notice you for all of the wrong reasons.
2. Nofollows Have No Value
This is somewhat related to the previous point.
On the surface, a nofollow link would have no link building value. This link is actively telling the Google bots not to follow it. So, why bother, right? Well, that’s not exactly true for two key reasons.
A) The Recent Changes to NoFollow
Google recently announced two changes to nofollow attribution:
1. You can now use the classic nofollow attribution, or use UGC for user-generated content (comments or forums), or sponsored for paid links (advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation )
2. Google may take these links as “hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”
That second part is particularly important. In the past, these links were not followed, end of story and end of the crawl. Now, however, it may be a “hint” for Google.
What does “hint” mean? Basically, if Google notices something noteworthy about this link, like it’s getting a fair number of clicks, they may take a peek at it to see what’s going on.
This means that if you get a nofollow link on a major site and that link earns the attention of their readers, it could also earn Google’s attention; even as a nofollow.
B) Your Overall Link Profile
As we covered in the previous section, if your link building efforts are too aggressive, you’re going to be a giant red flag for Google. Thus, building nothing but dofollow links could be construed as too much.
We’ve found it helpful to pepper in some nofollow links to keep a clean and diverse link profile. We call it a PH balancer to maintain a healthy link profile. So, there absolutely is some value in nofollow links, when you make them a part of your grander scheme of things.
A bit of restraint in your link building can go a long way.
3. Guest Posting is Dead
This myth is very popular, mainly because Google’s Matt Cutts famously said:
“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”
“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.”
That seems pretty definitive. Matt Cutts flat our declared a time of death on guest posting 5 years ago. However, you often need to decode Google’s messaging.
Guest posting, as it existed at the time in 2015 is dead, yes. Which is to say, crappy guest posting is dead.
Guest posting in 2015 was pure rubbish. Guest posts and links were being exchanged (and sold) with no regard for quality or relevance
Things had to change because it was pure nonsense. I say this as a link builder and an SEO expert, really crappy content was depreciating the value of quality content and really just creating a messy internet.
However, both the Possum and the Penguin updates did their jobs to clean up the entire internet, and we’re all actually much better off for it.
Crappy guest posting died, but quality guest posting is very much alive and has never been more important!
I can tell you firsthand that quality guest posts (high-quality content on relevant sites) still earn major SEO wins. There is nothing but data to support this. The most important part is that these wins are also sustainable. They’re not going to disappear with the next Google algo update because you’ve done the work to do things the right way.
4. High Domain Authority = Automatic High Results
As link builders, we love Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) and we spend a lot of time looking at it. However, is this the only metric I look at? Oh my good lord no.
DA is fantastic. As a metric, it is incredibly predictive of success with Google. However, it is very relative.
DA scores may max out at 100, but these are not scores out of 100. A DA 30 is not a 30% or a fail, like you would get on an exam. It’s far more complex than that. In some cases, a DA 30 could be a great site for you. In some cases, that DA 30 could be better than a DA 50.
It comes back to what we said earlier about relevance. Google’s algo isn’t simply looking at how popular that domain is, it’s also looking at how closely related that domain is to your industry.
Even Moz has said in their blog that, “When you focus solely on metrics, you will lose out on highly relevant opportunities. A link that sends trust signals is more valuable than a link that has been deemed important by metrics devised by entities other than Google.”
For example, let’s say you were looking at a link from the outdoors megastore, Cabela’s. Look at that nice DA of 77 in their blog. This would be a huge win, right? Maybe, maybe not. Don’t forget about relevance. Is your business related to the outdoor goods space?
If you’re a plumber, it’s very possible that Google’s algo may not see a direct connection between camping gear and plumbing. They may not see this link as relevant. This means getting a link here may not help your SEO as much as you hoped, despite the site’s high traffic and high DA.
A plumber might be better off pursuing a link at a more industry-relevant site like RotoRooter.com.
As you can see, the DA score here is a bit lower than Cabela’s at 59. However, 59 is still very high and this site is a natural fit for your business. Google’s algo will most likely see that and reward you with more of a boost than you would get from Cabela’s.
Of course, any content managers or writers out there read that section while trying to think of a plumbing story for Cabela’s. We can’t turn that mechanism off. Yes, you could write a relevant story like “How to Fix the Most Common Plumbing Problems at Your Cottage or Cabin.” That is more relevant, and Google will likely reward it.
However, the Roto link is probably better because their readers are your target audience. These readers are more likely to actually click the link and go to your site. They may also click around your page and click one of your calls-to-action.
The point is that DA is incredible, but it is not the only factor or metric you should look at in your link building campaigns.
Can a Low DA Be a Good Thing?
Absolutely, yes it can.
Much like the nofollow link example we talked about earlier, a low DA link can give you some diversity in your link profile. There is something pretty fishy about a link profile made up of nothing but DA 90 scores. That’s too aggressive and Google’s algo will likely notice.
At the same time, maybe this site has a low DA because they’re just starting out. They’re going to grow. This gives you the chance to get your link in on the ground floor of a growing site, which could help you build an ongoing relationship with this site, which means more links and more SEO juice down the line.
5. Google Factors DA Into Their Algorithm
As I said, we love Moz’s Domain Authority. It has become such a widely-used metric in the world of link building it’s led a few people to think that Google uses it in their algo. DA is so respected and typically-spot-on in predicting Google rankings success that this would appear to be the case.
However, it is not the case. DA looks at Google, Google doesn’t look at DA.
Moz makes the delineation on their site saying:
“Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and number of total links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time. Domain Authority is not a metric used by Google in determining search rankings and has no effect on the SERPs.”
Simply put, it helps predict SEO success, but it does not influence it.
6. You Can Optimize Your Content for RankBrain
The smartest minds in SEO have one major consensus when it comes to Google’s enigmatic machine learning ranking program: Nobody really knows how it works. Which is frustrating because Google claims that RankBrain is the third biggest ranking factor behind content and links.
AJ Kohn once wrote that we can’t optimize for RankBrain because, “RankBrain is a deep learning algorithm performing unsupervised learning. It’s creating its own rules.”
Danny Sulivan of Search Engine Land has said, “Google’s own engineers tell me and others they don’t even really understand how it works.
He added, “Ultimately, the best way to ‘rank’ for RankBrain remains that same boring thing no one wants to hear despite it being true. Have really good, descriptive content.”
That second part of the quote is particularly interesting to me because every time I read a blog that promises to show you how to optimize for RankBrain, guess what, it’s just standard SEO advice. There is nothing uniquely RankBrainy about it.
Some of these RankBrain blogs will tell you to write for human beings, not for Google. That’s great advice, but that has been a thing since long before RankBrain. Others will tell you to offer the best load speeds possible. That’s never not been a thing in SEO. It’s not unique to RankBrain.
It’s entirely possible that some people are using the rise of RankBrain as an excuse to repackage and rebrand a lot of tried and tested SEO advice or content. And that’s fine.
However, I find it hard to believe that anyone with knowledge of how to hack RankBrain isn’t using this information to take over the world and live on a private island. I certainly would.
7. More Outreach= More Links
It’s more like “Better outreach, more results.”
Yes, it is way easier to blast out 500 automated and templated emails to try to garner some links. However, your results will be poor. It will also annoy a lot of people and actually sully your brand name.
Try to put yourself in the recipients’ shoes. They’re not unlike online influencers and news directors at media outlets. Most of these people are receiving email pitches all GD day, and most of those pitches are garbage.
They most likely have their own list of pitch-related pet peeves and their own quick red flags for an email that’s a giant waste of their time. You don’t want them to look at your email and say “Spam. Delete.”
Think of it as building relationships instead of building links. You need to take the time to carefully research a site and the type of content they publish. This ensures that you can actually help them.
You also need to do manual (not automated) outreach. Yes, that is far more time consuming, but it is FAR more effective. Craft a unique message of outreach to these webmasters and bloggers to show them that they’re dealing with a human being and not an automation software. Yes, of course, you can copy and paste some boilerplate information about your company.
But, the more unique and tailored your messaging it is, the more likely it is to be read.
8. Google’s Algorithm Utilizes TrustRank
If you’re working with an SEO who says that they’re going to help you boost your TrustRank to help you boost your Google ranking… find the most expedient and polite way to fire them on the spot.
That’s like a basketball expert saying that Steph Curry needs to score more touchdowns. Basically, it’s misinformed mixed double-talked nonsense, for non-sports fans.
TrustRank is sort of a buzzword used by a lot of marketing people… a lot of marketing people who don’t know what it is.
Google has been saying TrustRank is not something they use since way back in 2011. Do they look at trustworthiness? Yes, but they have their own formula and more on that a bit later.
As a matter of fact, the origins of the term TrustRank began with Yahoo!, not Google. The first mention showed up in a joint paper between Yahoo! and Stanford University called Combating Web Spam with TrustRank.
It’s possible that people tied TrustRank to Google because of Google’s relationship with Stanford University. It’s also possible that people have tied TrustRank to Google because that report was published in 2004, right around the time Google went from a search engine to the only search engine that matters.
In either case, there is no evidence to support Google using anything like TrustRank in their algorithm, and piles and piles of things that point to them creating their own proprietary formula to measure and factor a site’s given trustworthiness.
It was first confirmed that Google looks at “trust” when their Search Quality Rating Guidelines were leaked, and then later officially made public in 2015. The guide takes a deep dive into something they call Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
The guide states that, “Websites or pages without some sort of beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating.”
So does Google’s algo look at trustworthiness? Firm yes. Does it use something called TrustRank to do so? Hard, hard no.
9. Absolutely Anything to Do With Link Building or SEO Hacks
Fun fact: You can start a fire using Doritos if you’re short of kindling. It’s a camping hack I’ve done it and it smells like heaven. However, in all my years as an SEO consultant, I’ve never actually seen a good SEO hack.
The word hack is such a buzzword right now. Its early definition was, “Really fast and cool tip that simplifies your life.” However, the blogosphere and marketers of the world soon saw the impact that the word hack had in a headline. So, pretty soon, any damn sort of advice was presented as a hack. Priming your garage before you painted it became a hack, even though it was an obvious step that took 6 hours.
A lot of the link building hacks you see advertised are often simply repackaged SEO services, much like the RankBrain optimization blogs we mentioned earlier.
Or, they could be something more dangerous. A hack could be a shortcut that someone claims will give you a link building or SEO boost. It’s important to know than any small increase you see today will likely be obliterated and punished with the next Google update.
For example, The Google Penguin update punished a lot of people using link building hacks, almost overnight.
You can’t “hack” Google. Don’t bother trying or believe anyone who says they can.
Myths in the world of SEO and link building are not always a bad thing. The fact that these myths are so popular is really good news for the people who are doing the right things. If your competition is basing their link building strategy on outdated myths, you have a serious advantage.
However, if you’re on the wrong side of a myth, you might be pumping a lot of money into link building campaigns that are doomed to fail before they even start.
If you happen to fall into the second category, I would love to help you sort out the facts from the fiction. You can talk to me any time about your link building.