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Is It OK to Call Link Building Link Building?

Is it OK to call link building link building? Yes. Doing so won’t put you in the dog house with Google, and the term link building also lets people who need to know understand what it is you are trying to accomplish, because it is a clear description of the SEO activity in question; the clearest description I know.

For the last year or so, people have shied away from the term, thinking that Google would penalize them for merely using the phrase in online content. This idea grew out of the growing emphasis Google places on so-called “natural links.” In Google’s vision:

“Keep in mind that our algorithms can distinguish natural links from unnatural links. Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors. Unnatural links to your site are placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines. Some of these types of links (such as link schemes and doorway pages) are covered in our Webmaster Guidelines.” — Google Search Console Help

This could be interpreted to mean that any proactive marketing of content to obtain links is considered “unnatural” and if undertaken, will cause Google to ignore or even penalize that content. This interpretation carries the idea too far. There is a big difference between marketing and manipulation. By reading further on the Google Search Console Help page just cited, Google will elaborate on some of the content manipulation tactics it strongly advises against using, specifically —

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Cloak pages
  • Crawler-only pages

Any legitimate SEO company knows that these three practices are not link building. They are shortcuts designed to trick search engines into giving content — almost always, inferior content — ranking position far higher than it deserves.

Legitimate link building involves hard work and skill. Big brands and B2B sectors such as the marketing industry, where participants spend a lot of time online sharing content, can indeed obtain links naturally, with little or no help from an SEO company. However, the other 99 percent of companies don’t have this luxury, and must take the initiative to let their markets know their great content exists and is worth reading.

This is what legitimate link building is all about. The SEO agency works with the client to develop topics that will help its prospects and customers save money, improve operations, or provide some other value. The agency then goes about writing or collaborating on production of the content, and then finds the right place for the content to live, on site or off site. Off-site content will contain links pointing back to the client’s domain; on-site content will be marketed to interested, relevant parties in an effort to get them to share that content via links. It is time consuming and challenging work — if you need more convincing, review this list of what an SEO staff should look like.

The underlying principle behind legitimate link building is starting with high-quality content. There must be a qualitative component to any link building effort, which takes a lot of client input, and/or an agency creative team extremely skilled in both the client’s business and also copywriting. If you don’t create content that is useful, relevant, coherent and sharable, you aren’t link building, you’re link manipulating, no matter what you call it.

For those still uncomfortable with the term link building, I’ve seen (and sometimes used) link acquisition, link earning, link development and link creation. If these terms make you feel more professional, by all means use them. It all boils down to the same thing. SEOs that market high-quality content are creating, acquiring, earning and building links. These links are extremely important to Google’s link-heavy algorithm, but the bigger client benefit to link building is not the links being built, but rather, the tremendously valuable content that establishes the client’s credibility, expertise and value in the marketplace. These are the things that in the end attract customers and keep existing ones happy.

Author Bio:

Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of Straight North, an Internet marketing firm with headquarters near Chicago. Straight North works with b2b companies helping them build link building campaigns designed to increase traffic, rankings, and leads. Brad writes frequently on B2B marketing topics with articles that have appeared Moz and Yahoo small business.