Is Link Building Just a Numbers Game?

by on May 09, 2013

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In short, the answer is yes. Although it might not necessarily be the numbers you’re thinking of.  The total number of backlinks to your site does matter, but not nearly as much as the quality of the links themselves, which are measured through other systems of numbers; Domain Authority, PageRank, MozRank, Alexa Rank, etc. However, it isn’t these statistics either, as helpful as they are, that we should center a link building campaign around. Instead, focus should be placed on the same numbers the client is most interested in; the ones related to their core business goals — revenue growth, traffic statistics, new leads, new sales, trial signups, positive reviews — these are the types of numbers that matter.

Link Building & the Google Algorithm 

Going after large numbers of links is a quantity over quality mindset carried over from the days of link building past when measuring backlinks through volume was an easy way to measure progress. Before the Panda and Penguin updates of Spring 2012, large volume link acquisition was still a somewhat effective strategy. These tactics lost most of their power when Google implemented the aforementioned updates to their algorithm. The end result was that cheap, lazy and highly technical approaches to link building, based almost entirely on volume and gaming pagerank and anchor text, have fallen by the wayside. The landscape of search has shifted to one that values relevancy and value to readers. One link from a relevant news article can be worth more than thousands of cheap links from forums or directories.

Link Building: Quality vs. Quantity

The shift towards relevancy and quality brought on by Panda/Penguin has greatly altered the link building landscape. At one end you have the leftover automaton style link building companies, usually small, cheap and promising great results, that prey rely on small businesses who don’t know any better, or can’t afford better services. At the other end are the large link building agencies who preach that content is king. Their ideas are mostly long-term oriented and while they are indeed effective, they’re also resource intensive and not feasible for many businesses. The middle ground between these two extremes is often a gray area where people pile on to the most popular link building tactics, attempting to stay one step ahead of Google’s changing algorithm.

So how do we stay ahead of the game and make sure we are building links in a way that is not only effective in the long term, but also scalable to various needs and sizes? To answer that question we first must look at why we are really building links in the first place.

Making the Case for Link Building

Paddy Moogan had a great piece on the need for link building to become a more respected and integral part of overall business strategy. In short, he argues that link building campaigns need to provide evidence of their positive effect on business growth. An obscure statistic from Open Site Explorer or a bar chart of backlink growth may be good milestones for a link building campaign, but its real world value is low, particularly for those who aren’t immersed in the world of SEO. It is much more impressive if we can show how an improvement in search rankings is leading to increased traffic and increased sales.

That final step of linking SEO data to business goals often requires increased tracking and greater client involvement, and can be somewhat difficult to pull off. However, clients will often be receptive if you can show them actual positive business gains that are the result of a link building campaign. Carrying this idea further, beyond numbers, the purpose of link building should ultimately be centered around a business’ growth rather than purely as a means for improving SEO statistics and rankings. Not every link building campaign needs to boost search engine rankings or improve sales, but they all need to show that they are providing value and producing a clear return on investment. 

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