If you’ve been in the SEO game for a while, you might remember the good old days of link building – all you really had to do was submit your site/article/details to a few directories and BAM – you had 100 links inside 24 hours. Good times.

Though times changes, and SEOers should be the ones that understand this most (atleast the ones that lasted anyway). For many however, bad link building habits are lingering are continue to exists like that weird ex you still see sometimes.

Link building is no longer focused on the link. You must harness the internet to solicit a solid mention from a relevant quality site that drives traffic and sales. For us marketers, this equates to finding the right sites, finding the right people, and perhaps most important of all – letting go of those bad habits we’ve built up over the years.

1. The infamous directory submissions

Not all directories are bad. Sometimes you’ll find a really good, non-spammy directory that’s right up our site’s street. The problem with directories occurs when you begin submitting your site to websites that aren’t relevant to your business at all.

In their hay-day, directories helped search engines find sites, and the links involved helped such sites rank. This is true no more. Search engines don’t rely on directories anymore, and directories with large amounts of backlinks are being penalised like never before.

When should you submit to a directory? A business should submit to a directory when they know their customers are using it.

Unless the directory adds value to your site and is relevant, just say no.

2. PageRank – be skeptical

PageRank is a score, from 1-10, that your website is assessed by and is used by Google to measure a page’s value. Generally speaking, the higher the page rank, the more valuable a link from the site will be.

“Hey, I got a link from a PageRank 7 website!”

If someone said this to me 6-10 years I would’ve said “Great! Well done”. Now though it’s so different. You have to ask, “What is the nature of the website? What type of site is it? Is it relevant to your business? Is it a press link, a blog link… a mention from a reputable source?”

This also serves as a greater lesson too: always question your links. Be skeptical of the people linking to your website.

Focus on the site overall versus the PageRank. Some questions to consider when evaluating a website include:

  • Is the site reputable?
  • Are the authors reputable?
  • Does the site have good incoming links?
  • Does the site have a positive web presence?
  • Is the content on the site well written?

3. Anchor text-spam

Using keyword-specific anchor text was originally done as a means of telling the user and the search engine what they could expect to find on that next page. As SEOs, we also thought that if we placed our links on our target keyword text or sites would rank, as a sort-of double-barreled optimisation tactic. So we did this. A lot. And thus… enter the over-optimisation penalty, named “Penguin” – one of Google’s babies.

Search engines have gotten smarter though. We’ve said this a million times. They no longer need us telling them so black and white what they can expect to find on the page – they’ve become better at correlating words with site, and they even understand relationships between semantically-linked words.

Now, some people do say that text links don’t help a site and that Google understands implied links very well. I just don’t believe this to be true, though the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. I believe a link of any kind is valuable. But how valuable is it?

Here’s my rule of thumb: if there’s an opportunity to have a keyword-focused link, take it. However, more often than not, you’re going to get a branded link or a straight-up URL – this is perhaps just as good. As long as it’s a good site linking to you, don’t be too concerned about what your link says. If the New York Times wants to link to me, they can use whatever anchor text they want.