How many times have you heard the statement “SEO is dead”?

The answer, probably, is more than once.

The truth is SEO is not dead, and nor will it ever die. For as long as search engines exist, so too will the practice of optimising websites as way of improving search visibility. While the exact science behind search engine algorithms will continue to change over time, the simple concept of ‘best page wins’ will most likely remain forever.

Of all the hundreds of signals that determine what ‘best page’ actually looks like, undoubtedly the most complex – and as a result the most discussed – is links.

The dirty world of links

The evolution of link building has been turbulent to say the least. Even the term ‘link building’ itself sounds a bit dirty nowadays. For many it conjures up disturbing memories of mass directory submissions, spun articles and keyword-riddled anchor text. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Urgghhhh

Urgghhhh

The roll out of Google’s Penguin algorithm back in 2012, and the subsequent launch out of the disavow tool, were an indication of just how severe and widespread the issue of low quality link building had become by that point.

As a result of these updates, link building as we used to know it is thankfully, for the most part, dead. The role of links in SEO however, is still very much alive.

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From Moz’ Search Engine Ranking Factors 2015

Links: a by-product of good PR

Speak to any self respecting digital marketer nowadays and they’ll tell you links should be earned and not built. Quality over quantity, etc.

I don’t think anyone would argue with this, but while the concept of ‘link earning’ is slowly starting to sink into the minds of marketers, putting it into practice is a whole other challenge.

From where I’m standing, the major barrier between marketers and successful link acquisition is the fact there is still too much emphasis on links and not enough on the earning part – everyone knows what good links looks like, but very few know how to go about obtaining them, or simply aren’t prepared to put in the effort.

Obtaining links is undoubtedly harder than it used to be as it requires an entirely fresh way of thinking – there are very few ‘quick wins’ anymore, or at least very few that offer any real long-term value. In order to successfully earn links, one must take off the SEO hat, and approach things with a PR mentality.

Successful SEO is all about brand authority; having a voice, getting mentioned in the right places, in front of the right people. There are no set rules with regard to how this is achieved, but if done well the links will naturally follow.

They say the best links are the ones that are hardest to obtain. I’d argue the best links are the ones you weren’t even expecting – the ones that occur naturally as a result of ‘doing good stuff’.

To say that marketers need to forget about link building altogether may sound counterproductive, but as long as links are top of the agenda, they’ll remain incredibly difficult to obtain.