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Why Google devalues link building, and bad content doesn't work

I don't like the words “link building”.

I've been writing on the web for a number of years, and during that time I've written with an understanding that SEO is important. However, I've never had to follow practices like stuffing keywords in my copy. I always write with the understanding that if it's good content, people will read and share, potentially linking to it.

For me, link building has negative connotations. It brings to mind SEO agencies creating links as an activity rather than as an outcome. This means creating content on a website only with the specific aim of getting links back, or worse still, buying links. It's a reason why web writing has become a commodity – many businesses approach content creation with the view that quantity is more important than quality, and techniques like anchor-text optimisation are more important – an SEO technique used to make a website rank higher through the clickable text in a hyperlink.

You might ask what the problem is with creating content simply for the aim of getting linked? To me it results in bad content – content created for cynical reasons without any thought of how relevant it is to your audience or how useful it can be. In journalism, some publications work on the premise that traffic and link building is more important than the quality of the content – but that's a different argument.

Link earning is something which makes more sense to me. Instead of thinking about building links, a natural way of “earning” links is needed. Companies need to follow a holistic marketing strategy – including PR, outreach, video and social media – and couple it with content that really works for each medium. This needs creativity, budget, resources and commitment. Writing the odd post for SEO just isn't enough.

Look at the way Google is heading. With the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates, unnatural and artificial links are penalised severely, wrecking the SEO strategies of businesses that prioritise link building above creating quality content.

More recently, it warned companies about over-optimising press releases for SEOwhen distributing them through PR syndication services. It also said bad things will happen if you create large-scale marketing campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links

For example, imagine you’re guest blogging for a website that’s not your own. If the main intent is to build links without much thought about the quality of what you’re writing, and you’re doing it on a large scale, Google will take a dim view and may take action.

Google puts it best. Take from their link scheme guidelines: "The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it."

But it’s not enough to write a blog and create tons of content that nobody wants to read. Creativity and a deep knowledge of your audience are key if you want to be successful. That’s not easy to achieve without expert help, but it’s well worth the investment.