Link Building for SEO: The Truth Revealed

SEO Link Building

SEO link building … is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Articles like this can be tenuous at the best of times, but even more so when the author’s background (and by that merit; credibility) is left undisclosed. For that reason I’ll include a very short introduction about my background in the SEO industry, to give you an idea of where I’m coming from.

I started doing my first bits of SEO in late 2004, and in 2007 I was hired by one of the UK’s top SEO firms, working directly alongside (not under) industry leaders such as Ammon Johns.

In 2008 I started an SEO blog called EggRage, which was recently acquired by another large UK based SEO firm called SEO Positive, after building up a significant audience.

Later in 2008 I was hired by an international extreme sports company to be their head of website development and internet marketing, before leaving in 2009 to incorporate and put all of my time into my own company; Lyrical Media.

Link Building Services

I’ve seen all sides of the industry – and while I certainly wouldn’t claim to know even close to everything… I’ve got a pretty good view of the big picture.

An Introduction to Link Building


If you already know what link building is and how it works, then you can safely skip this brief introduction if you so desire.

In a nutshell, the reason Google became so large and successful is because of the way in which it treats links on websites. Google was the first search engine that didn’t just look at site content, and meta tags, it also looked for relationships between websites. It located and analysed these relationships through links.

As an example, if you have a small online store selling socks, then Google will look at which sites are linking to you, in order to establish the importance and relevancy of your site. If you are linked to by other small sock websites then you won’t be seen as very important… but if you are linked to by Wikipedia, the BBC, CNN, and Amazon – then your site will be seen as extremely important.

In order to record the relative importance of websites, Google introduced a scale of 0 to 10 called “PageRank”. PageRank is named so not because it’s short for “Web-page Rank”, but because it was named after Google founder Larry Page (a common misconception). If you’re interested in finding out the PageRank of the sites which you visit, try installing the Search Status plugin for FireFox – which will display both PageRank and AlexaRank in the bottom right corner of the browser for every page that you visit.

Link Building Basics & Ethics


The way in which Google analyses relationships between sites is one of the largest factors present in determining rankings – which unfortunately is the reason for “link spam” being so prominent. Many people (wrongly) assume that many low quality links to their site (PR0 – PR4) are as good as a few high quality links (PR5-PR10).

There are SEO companies out there right now who do nothing but link building. You pay them a few thousand a month, and they have outsourced people in Asia spam thousands of websites with links back to your own site – the worst part is that the SEO companies frequently fail to tell clients that this is 100% against Google terms of service, and can result in a permanent ban from all search results. Mark my words, these types of SEO companies will not be around for much longer.

Right now the industry is coming to the end of a gold-rush period. In the last 5 years SEO has suddenly becoming recognised as something real, and important. As a result, thousands of individuals and companies have started selling it. There are three main problems with this:

  1. Around 80% of the so-called “SEO experts” around at the moment learned everything they know by reading tutorial articles online.
  2. The SEO industry is closed. People in don’t help each other in the same way web designers do. It’s all smoke, mirrors, and closely guarded ‘secrets’.
  3. Even if people did help each other, SEO is an art, not a science – there is no global proof or evidence of what works. If you post a piece of SEO advice on a forum, you can expect at least 2 people to vehemently disagree with you.

Knowing what I know about the industry and the companies working in it – I would never hire an SEO company, especially not for link building.

Why Traditional Link Building Doesn’t Work Anymore


A traditional link builder will tell you to leave comments on blogs, submit entries to online business directories, buy links on paid directories, buy links from other websites, participate in link exchange programs, and the list goes on.

They will also tell you that links from .edu and .gov sites are worth more than others, as well as links from white-listed sites such as Wikipedia.

Their next big seller is linkbait. Linkbait is defined as an article written and published solely for the purpose of generating inbound links. For example: You write some controversial article about (insert celebrity name) having (insert sexual act) with (insert species of animal), and try and get it featured on the homepage of StumbleUpon, Digg, Twitter, etc etc. All those links, and the further links from people who retweet and reblog are meant to be “good for SEO”.

But we haven’t yet touched on why none of these things work anymore. There are two simple reasons:

  1. The people at Google are not stupid (seriously)
  2. Even if it did work in some way, none of this stuff is in any way relevant. Let’s go into each one of these in a little more depth (it’s difficult to cover all this stuff without writing a novel).

Google is a 32 billion dollar company. It’s bigger than Intel, Toyota, and Disney. It employs some of (literally) the smartest people in the world. The techs at Google are aware of every single link building tactic, every single “trick” and “technique” to improve rankings, and every single exploit out there. They’re knuckling down on spam, and they’re doing it every day.
Over the years the algorithms have developed, and in my opinion, now a PR2 link from a relevant website to your industry is far more valuable than a PR6 link from some random directory. Why? – Because it makes sense.

So What Does Work?


In short – being real works. Not trying to game the system is the best way to make it work for you. Yes, inbound links are an important part of the ranking algorithm, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all. If you have a great site, with great content, and you interact with people in your industry, then not only will you get links that improve your rankings, but you’ll develop real relationships to help your business.

Write good blog posts, not as linkbait, but because you genuinely have something that you want to say. Talk to people on Twitter, not because you want to spam your website link, but because you genuinely want to connect with others. Participate in forum discussions, not to further spread the link in your signature, but to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise by helping others.

All these things will lead to links. The good kind of links. And from the right sorts of places.

I have high PR links from The Web Squeeze, Web Designer Depot, Smashing Magazine, SitePoint, WooThemes, The Envato Network, Noupe, DesignMoo, Spoon Graphics, Other Web Design Agencies, and Other Web Design Freelance Blogs. What more could a web designer want?

As a result, whenever I publish a new blog post – Google indexes it within 10 minutes and I’ll rank on the 1st page of results for any keywords that I use in my title.

Link building is dead. We are now in the era of reputation building.

49 Comments on "Link Building for SEO: The Truth Revealed"

  1. John. Can I have your babies? >_>

    But on a serious note great article!

  2. rich97 says:

    Woooooo! Go John! :)

    I have a strong dislike towards the “traditional” SEO industry for the reasons you outlined. So much so that I have started to see SEO as a form of spam.

    I always believed in being real, having good or useful content. It’s no longer up to SEO companies it’s up the the developers, designers (to a limited extent), CEOs and content writers and that’s the way it should be.


  3. Nigel Swaby says:

    I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about link building recently. This article hits it right on the head that link “building” is about relationships. I believe good inbound links occur when there’s a sense of community on the site and with the site’s peers.

    This is one of the best articles on link building I’ve read recently.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Sara says:

    Link Building improves the Search Engine Ranking of your webpage if done in specific ways.Besides an improved Search Engine Ranking, there are certain other benefits that your website derives from carrying out a Link Building Campaign.
    Check some useful tips for link building

  5. web design constanta says:

    Some good advice for web designers in general. But some techniques of link building still work. And Google cannot check every link on the web to see if it’s spam or not.

  6. Michael says:

    Quality post. I learned a lot from this.

  7. JustinMarch says:

    I agree with a lot your saying about link building, all SEO is in a sense flawed as it’s all manipulation.

    Any Search Engine results become instantly flawed as soon as someone tries to manipulate the results and therefore all SEO is wrong in a sense.

  8. John O'Nolan says:

    I love the people who tried to comment on this article and actually put in a key-phrase instead of their name. Hilarious! Trying to link-spam an article about link-spam!

  9. Rachel says:

    This is really useful! I’m just learning about link building and SEO

  10. Well thought out article. I started building websites back when Alta-Vista was a real search engine, you could pay for “priority indexing”, and keyword meta-tags meant something. SEO techniques come and go, but the one thing that has always worked is writing great content and building relationships with other webmasters.

  11. wow says:

    You state:
    “Around 80% of the so-called “SEO experts” around at the moment learned everything they know by reading tutorial articles online.”

    Where did you get figures from?

  12. i watched the article just when i was goggling few things. well you are 100% right about the things you mentioned. but one thing i can’t understand is still so much spam is there i mean when i search something in Google some black hate seo technique site who generates page using search term comes first and i really really hate it and i can’t understand why people do this ? i will never buy a single thing from a site who is using those irrelevant techniques like that.

    may be people are still not aware with these issues. all big bosses tells to seo’s same old thing: “i want my site first on Google” do whatever you want to do…. and then story continuous people use those techniques and when Google founds them they will be in Google hell.

  13. rich97 says:

    @wow It’s not a real figure. But it’s pretty close to the truth judging from how much link spam I see.

    John is an established SEO expert and out of all of them It would be him that I would pick. It’s pretty obvious that this is your industry and you have a week argument to derail his.

  14. John, thanks for the insight. I really like the term and the prospects behind “reputation building”.

  15. John O'Nolan says:

    Thanks for the kind words guys, I think the majority of the TWS readers are pretty savvy to this concept so it’s something that’s fairly easy to get bahind. We just need to keep pushing it out to all our respective wider networks :)

  16. SEO girl says:

    I agree with you. Most of the SEO tactics in use today may not last long. However, new skills are coming up by the day even as Google keeps outsmarting the black hats and other artificial linking tricks. Better be innovative and better even updated.

  17. Mario says:

    Everyone that has commented on the article declaring that SEO techniques are NOT effective (if they’re not too young!) probably recognizes that SEO is a technique where only the name has changed and not the technique itself. As software engineers are not stupid, referring to Google’s corporate team (and Google’s corporate team should know more about their own search engine than anyone else – they built it!), however, Google is a corporation where the heart of their business module is getting their client’s and customer’s information indexed through their search engine. As with Google’s corporate business model, the corporation (Google) as with any corporation will not effectively commit suicide. Therefore, as you may say what Google will and will not allow. Google’s art of doing business changes according to what’s current to bring in more business such as SEO. Google absorbed the techniques into it business model due to the Adwords campaign failing. Any person that has stock in Google Corp understands that statement. Website Designers also understand the term “doing business effectively.” That means making the sale, making the products or services sale, pleasing clients and customers, and improving upon or innovating technology. SEO professionals or not are nor more and no less in a position than any web designer or consultant.

  18. John O'Nolan says:

    Mario, your comment is so confusing that I genuinely can’t figure out if it’s spam – or if you’re just totally crazy :)

  19. Thanks so much John! I wish everyone who wants to market online would read this article. I will put a link on my site to this page. A honest day of SEO work is always the best way to go!

    Albert Smegal
    SEO Consultant
    Boston MA

  20. John O'Nolan says:

    Albert, if you are so enthusiastic about it – then why did you just spam that comment with a keyword instead of your name, and you business details underneath your comment? That’s the very OPPOSITE of what this post is talking about. Did you even read it?

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