There are few search engine optimization (SEO) strategies as controversial as link building. Link building, the process of establishing inbound links on offsite publishers, is valuable for improving your domain authority. But if done incorrectly or in an inappropriate way, it could set you up for a penalty.
Accordingly, newcomers to the field often wonder, is link building for SEO truly necessary to find success?
Why Link Building Is Important
Let’s start by explaining why links are important for SEO – or at least, why people believe they’re important. SEO is all about increasing your webpages’ chances of ranking highly in search engines. Google and other search engines follow the same general formula, though their exact algorithms are kept a proprietary secret.
Google orders pages in search results based on their perceived relevance to the query and based on their level of “authority,” or trustworthiness. You can optimize your content for relevance by including target keywords and phrases, but how do you increase your authority?
Google, specifically, uses a system known as PageRank, in which the authority of different domains (domain authority) and pages (page authority) is calculated based on the number and value of links pointing to them. In other words, Domain A with 100 high-quality links would rank higher than Domain B with 50 high-quality links or Domain C with 100 low-quality links.
Link building is a way to steadily increase your authority, so you can keep ranking higher.
Link building also comes with a host of peripheral “bonus” benefits. For example, each new link has the potential to send new traffic to your site, and you can develop higher brand visibility and a better reputation depending on how you build them.
Ranking Without Links
Is it possible to rank highly without the use of links?
The short answer is no. You can increase the perceived authority of your site to some degree by writing high-quality content on a regular basis and adhering to all of Google’s recommended technical guidelines. You can also optimize all the pages of your site for specific keywords and phrases likely to be valuable to your organization. However, without the authority-building power of links, you’ll have a hard time generating momentum.
Earning Links Without Link Building
Links are important, but you may not need a formal link building strategy to acquire them. Many organizations attempt to generate links to their domain as naturally as possible, by earning them. The link earning process requires you to create high-quality, detailed content, often with original research, that other writers and publishers will want to link to. If you do a good job promoting and syndicating this content, it could get picked up, and earn ample links on its own. As you gain notoriety as an expert in your field, it will get easier and easier to earn high-quality links.
There are a few downsides to this approach, however. For example, you’ll be putting your strategy’s fate in the hands of others; there’s no guarantee other writers will choose to link to your work, even if they value it, so it can be incredibly hard to make consistent progress. You could spend months, or even years trying to develop a link earning strategy and never see the results you want.
It’s also worth noting that link earning is considered by many to be included as a “link building” strategy.
Additional SEO Strategies
If you didn’t use link building to support your SEO strategy, which strategies and techniques would you use?
These are some of the most important:
Onsite content optimization
You’ll need to research various keywords, targeting the words and phrases most likely to bring value to your organization (and with the smallest level of competition). Then you’ll need to optimize your core onsite content to include those keywords.
Technical onsite optimization
You’ll also need to optimize your site for a litany of technical factors. For example, it will need to be optimized for mobile devices, it should run as quickly as possible, and it should be easy for search engines to crawl.
Additionally, you’ll want to write detailed, valuable pieces of content for your onsite blog – which can serve as targets for future links.
Note that even if you’re relying on a link building strategy as the foundation of your campaign, you’ll need to integrate these tactics.
The Bottom Line
Links are an essential part of any SEO strategy, since they’re practically required to increase your authority, which is in turn required to support higher rankings. That said, link building is just one of many different tactics you’ll need to be successful—and there are many different ways to go about it. Consider your link building options carefully when planning your next campaign.