5 Bad Link Building Habits To Break Now

say_no_shutterstockFor those who have been in the SEO industry for a while, you may remember the glory days of link building — you simply submitted your site/article/address/name, etc., and had 100 links within 24 hours. That sure was awesome.

Unfortunately, those days are over — yet for many, bad link building habits are lingering.

How many times have you seen an easy link and thought to yourself, “Just this one submission won’t hurt my site,” or, “My competitors are doing it, so I can, too”?

If the answer is more than once, then you’d better keep reading.

These days, link building is no longer just about the link. It’s about soliciting a solid mention from a relevant and quality site that drives traffic and sales.

For marketers, this means taking the time to find the right sites, taking the time to find the right people, and most importantly, letting go of those bad habits we’ve built up over the years.

1. Directory Submissions

Let me start by saying that not all directories are bad. In fact, I’ve previously advocated for directories right here on Search Engine Land. The problem happens when you start placing your site in directories that aren’t relevant to your business.

Bad Directory

(Click to enlarge.)

Back in the day, directories helped the search engines find sites, and those links helped sites rank. No longer. Search engines no longer need those directories, and sites with large amounts of directory links are being penalized.

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

For example, we had an Atlanta-based technology client that wasn’t listed in an Atlanta technology company directory, so we recommended they seek inclusion. The directory was high-quality, local and related to their business.

Just remember: unless that directory is going to hold real business value to you, just say no.

2. Generic Outreach Emails

If you’ve never done a search for [the worst outreach emails], I suggest you go ahead and do so now. It’s actually pretty amazing how terrible some people’s outreach emails are.

But what might be worse than a really bad outreach email is a generic one.

Generic Outreach Email

Example courtesy of especially bloggers.

When conducting outreach, take the time to find out exactly whom it is you are reaching out to. Before you even think of sending that email, you should know:

  • Who is the owner of the site?
  • What are they interested in?
  • How do they like to be reached?

Most importantly, make sure that person wants to be reached. It’s hard enough getting a response to an unsolicited email, but if the person doesn’t even want to be emailed, fall back to our trusty motto and just say no.

Need some help with your outreach strategy? Here are a few helpful posts on better blogger outreach and author identification:

3. PageRank

If you aren’t familiar, PageRank is used by Google to measure a page’s value. As link builders, our goal used to be to find pages with a high value (or PageRank) to link back to our site. Link building services actually used to (and still do, according to a recent email I received) charge not just by the link but the PageRank of that link. The higher the PR, the more costly the link.

We got them a PR7 link.”

If someone said that to me eight years ago, I’d think that was great. If someone said that to me now, I’d smile and ask them what it means for their business. Is it press? Is it going to send leads? Is it a major industry site? If yes, then those things are exciting. If someone is excited simply because it’s a PR7 site, that’s the wrong way to look at it.

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?

Neil Patel has some additional tips on identifying good sites that are worth reading through if you aren’t sure on what to look for.

4. Keyword-Specific Anchor Text

The original goal of using keyword-specific anchor text was to tell the user and the search engine what they could expect to find on that next page. Of course, as SEOs, we also figured out that if we placed our links on our target keyword text, our sites would rank. And so, we tried to add keyword-specific anchor text everywhere we could… enter the Penguin over-optimization penalty.

As search engines have gotten smarter, they’ve become better at correlating words with sites. They no longer need us telling them what they can expect to find on the page and they may no longer even need a link to know that a mention is about you.

Now, I don’t buy that text links don’t help a site (see Rand’s latest) and I don’t buy that Google understands implied links yet. However, I do believe that a link of any kind is valuable.

Anchor Text Rand Fishkin

Here’s what I tell my clients: If there’s an opportunity to have a keyword-focused link, go ahead and take it. But more often than not, you are going to get a branded link or a straight-up URL, and that’s just as good. As long as it’s a good site linking to you, don’t be concerned about what your link says. Heck, if the New York Times wants to link to me, they can use whatever anchor text they want. 

5. Fear

While this is more of a new habit instilled into us, it’s important to not be scared of link building. We know you’re trying to scare us, Google!

While link building can be a tough and somewhat daunting task, by creating a sound strategy that focuses on overall results and not on building an arsenal of links quickly, we can be successful and don’t have to live in fear of the next algorithm update.

Have you gotten out of your old ways yet? Okay, probably not. Like anything, it’s easy to fall back on what we know. But the next time you think about submitting to an article directory or sending that email about a guest post, think long and hard about what you want the result to be.