In 2014, Google seems to be more relentless about penalizing webmasters than ever before.

The ongoing target right now is link building, and more accurately, unnatural link building.

Now, the big problem about it is that Google isn’t exactly clear about what they think is an unnatural link. And while it doesn’t make our job easier, it’s actually very understandable. Whenever there’s room for interpretation, Google can take individual actions and make their decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Nevertheless, currently, one of the few official definitions available is this:

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

(A good way to stay updated regarding Google’s guidelines is bookmarking this thread for reference.)

The Problem With Good-Guy Methods

There are (or were) some methods in SEO that have been considered good and natural for a long time. Things like guest blogging, for example.

However, quite recently, two things happened. First, Matt Cutts published this delusional opinion about guest blogging as a whole. In it, he basically says that guest blogging is bad, and somehow damaging the industry.

Next, Google punished the largest guest blogging community on the web – MyBlogGuest. Actually, it’s not only that got penalized; various members of the community reported that they also received manual penalties on their sites, purely because of being part of MyBlogGuest.

In short, the future of guest blogging for SEO doesn’t look good, but we’re not going to cry about that.

The thing we want to convey here is that all existing and well-known SEO methods and link building tactics will all fall eventually. No matter what new method you find, over time, Google will acknowledge it and then include it on their list of prohibited practices.

So the art of link building isn’t that much about finding new ways to build links that are not mentioned in the webmaster guidelines, but to do what is already out there and get away with it.

So is it really dying? Yes and no.

Why Link Building Is Dying

Techniques come and go. So if the only way you’re getting traffic is by relying on Google to not notice what you’re doing, you will have a very hard time sustaining this.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, the guys at Authority Hacker decided to ditch traditional link building entirely (described at SEMrush), and instead try alternative methods for traffic. The results? They got more of it.

Here’s what they did:

  1. They stopped chasing links altogether. This means not outreaching to other site owners and asking them for publicity.
  2. They reinvested in content production by taking everything they didn’t spend on link building.
  3. They grew their social presence by actively connecting with people.
  4. They promoted other people’s work and then let them know they promoted them.

This is just a general overview, and a detailed process was created for each step. For example, here’s what they did to grow their Pinterest traffic from 69 visits/day to 292.

  1. They started by tuning their profile and making sure that the logo and all other graphics look attractive.
  2. They created custom graphics for their best posts – the kind of graphics that tend to work well on Pinterest (example below).
  3. They started interacting with people (commenting, re-pinning, etc.).
  4. They joined relevant boards and started sharing their images there.

As you can see, such an approach can be very time consuming and surely isn’t an easier way to get recognition (or shares and traffic). But the reason why people do such things nowadays is exactly because they want to find an alternative to Google.

Why Link Building ISN’T Dying

As much as Google wants us to believe that links don’t play a huge role in ranking anymore, this isn’t the case.

The last credible data we have is for 2013:

Please look what’s no.3 on the list. Yes, it’s links.

For that reason alone, link building will remain alive for SEO. The only way for it do die off entirely is if “number of backlinks” stops being a factor completely.

Until this happens, we will either have to take part in some form of link building, or complain about our competitors doing it.

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