Not too long ago, a webmaster could pay a few hundred bucks to dominate search results. It was highly frowned upon, but buying hundreds or thousands of low-quality links just plain worked. It’s hard to argue against an easy practice that works, even if the results are bound to plummet at some point.

Those days are long gone and things will never be the same. Google’s Penguin algorithm update penalizes websites with suspect inbound link profiles. Most of the sites are spammy, but there are plenty of quality sites that have been unjustly punished.

These past few years have been confusing for SEOs. Links that used to be valuable no longer do sites any good and, what’s more, they can actually trigger penalties. These include links from:

  • Press releases
  • Guest blog posts
  • Partner sites
  • Client sites (especially if they’re in the footer)
  • Directories
  • Widgets
  • Article directories

Then there are the links that would have landed you in hot water, even years ago, such as paid directories and link farms. The percentage of links that Google thinks is ok is shrinking rapidly and even the most seasoned experts are scratching their heads.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, insists that links are still important. In a recent video on Google’s Webmaster Tools YouTube channel, he said Google has experimented with doing away with links as a ranking factor, but the results are no good. So, for now, links are still of paramount importance.

So, what should you do to link build?

  • Produce quality content that people will want to link to and share – that you’d actually want to read.
  • Ignore requests for guest blog posts, unless they’re relevant to your industry and the content is quality.
  • Focus on your own site’s content, but stay open to guest blogging opportunities on high-profile blogs.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask webmasters to link to your site if you think their readers can benefit from it.
  • Don’t send out mass emails requesting link exchanges.
  • Post your link in blog posts only if you have something to add to the conversation – not just to have a link (that’s nofollow anyway).
  • Instead of cranking out press releases, develop relationships with local news outlets and trade publications that cover your industry. Nothing beats an editorial link.

Have any questions? Feel free to ask in the comment section below.