March 6, 2021

Link building? Is it still worth it?

8 min read

Link building? Is it still worth it?

Link building? Is it still worth it?

The subsequent discussion in various media and conversations was not a new one for those familiar with the SEO scene. The question of whether link building is worthwhile is asked anew every year. And it is often put wrong.


The question is not whether link building is worthwhile, whether it is dead, whether SEOs should still do link building. The more important question is which link building is worthwhile for which customers. Our answer: Link building can be worthwhile if one sensibly combines customer-specific long-term strategies with short-term measures.

Links are important


Despite all prophecies of doom, link building still works from a purely technical point of view. Counting and evaluating links as references and recommendations is still firmly anchored in Google’s algorithms. Due to Google’s corporate policy, no clearly verifiable statements are possible here, but we can assume a few things with a high degree of probability.


With a probability bordering on certainty, the programmers at Google also use the old mantra “Never change a running system”. Even the Panda update, which significantly changed link building – some say “killed” – probably did not change the basic function of the link rating or even switched it off. Instead, new evaluation and devaluation algorithms were built around the core algorithm.


Even machine learning is unlikely to change that much. On the one hand, counting links is so simple and efficient from a purely economic point of view that it will continue to play a role in pre-sorting before complex RankBrain analyzes. On the other hand, based on the learning data, a learning machine will classify links as very important.


Links are complex


There is nothing to be changed about this statement. Earning links takes time and effort. Buying links takes money and experience – and is punished as spam. On the one hand, Google is explicitly against buying links and is taking countermeasures. On the other hand, the year-long “link market” with supply and demand has ensured that almost all potential link providers expect something in return.


In order to grasp the situation and the possible procedure in link building, one often falls back on the division into bought and earned links:


Link building and link building: Paid Links & Earned Links


Conceptually, a distinction can be made between paid links and earned links (paid vs. earned). The term paid “link building” is often compared with organic “link building”. Google also likes to emphasize the value of earned links while combating link buying. In practice, however, the differences are less clear. And the term “earned” is misleading: Ultimately, every link costs – even if it’s just the time to write an email to a friendly website operator.


Earned links also want to be paid for indirectly. Organically earned links need high-quality, elaborately created content and an existing (or to be developed) awareness for this content. Not only the creation of such “link-bait” content, but also its distribution, the “seeding”, is complex. Because at the beginning you have to look for individual contact points and establish personal contact. Generic mass emails rarely achieve their goal here. In the worst case, one tries to earn links with a lot of effort, only to pay the contacted linkers an additional expense allowance at the end.


With earned links, seeding can become a sure-fire success at some point after building a corresponding reputation. But there is no guarantee of that. Paid link building, on the other hand, is easier to plan. On the other hand, the effort and costs for purchased links are not reduced by growth or reputation.


The opponents of link building are also right here: earned link building is complex and difficult to plan. Paid link building ties in budget and has largely constant costs per link. Both models have weaknesses.

Change of perspective: not “paid vs. earned “, but” long-term & short-term “


In order to recognize which link building is now worthwhile for your own company, you have to break away from the distinction between paid and earned links. And also leave behind the conceptual separation of “link building” and “link building”.


To make good use of the advantages of links in SEO, it comes down to the right combination. And that’s hard to find if you focus on the categories of “paid” and “earned”.


A better classification is that of short-term measures and long-term strategies. The direct payment for backlinks is only one of many measures to generate links in the short term. However, all long-term strategies are based on organically earned links.


With this distinction, it becomes clearer that it makes sense to develop a long-term link strategy that suits the company, target group, and offer. This strategy may need to be adjusted, but it must not be rashly discarded if success is a long time coming.


At the same time, we always have several short-term measures available to support and accelerate the strategy. However, they must also be tested in each individual case and expanded or dismantled depending on their success. And both have to be evaluated differently for the question “Is it worth it?”.

Long-term strategies in link building

  • High entry costs & slow impact
  • Well scalable, earn links “on the side” over time
  • No risk of penalties from search engines

There are five approaches to long-term link strategies. None is easy and none is quick. But they all have in common that the workload per link reliably decreases with increasing success. This success goes hand in hand with brand awareness and building an expert reputation.


In the community approach, you turn your own website, in whole or in part, into a platform for user-created content and encourage users to share and seed their content themselves. Due to moderation, copyright, and data protection requirements, however, the effort increases with a growing community.


In the press approach, you look for a topic that connects your own keywords with interests in the press and other multipliers such as bloggers. Then you create targeted and regular content that is interesting for this press target group, also with controversies but worthy of industry news. The aim is to become the most important point of contact for this type of information over time.


The embedding approach is a bit more special and requires companies with an affinity for development: you develop an offer that fits the desired keyword and can be embedded on third-party websites. Because embedded functions also contain a link to the original page. Spreading the embedded function strengthens your own website.


The partnership approach aims more at the B2B area and it is the most practical approach on a day-to-day basis. Link building becomes an integral part of all business contacts. You secure links and the right to adapt the links through standardized agreements or parts of contracts from all partners, customers, and suppliers.


Last but not least, there is of course the well-known content marketing approach. It is similar to the press approach and it can be argued that content marketing encompasses almost all of the other approaches. In this list, however, the content marketing approach differs from the others because it targets a broader audience. You have to reach them through active seeding on various channels so that the target group can multiply the reach and develop new link sources.

Short-term measures in link building

  • Effect and costs can be determined quickly
  • Poorly scalable deserves links directly related to the effort
  • Depending on the individual measure, the risk of being punished as spam

Especially at the beginning, even in the best long-term strategy, there are fault lines: points where things get stuck and development stagnates. This is exactly where long-term strategies need short-term measures, which ideally have already been created and tested beforehand. Of the many possible measures, I will show just a few examples here, all of which work without the classic purchase of links:

  • Recycle content
  • Acquire guest contributions
  • Open up regional link options
  • Target small websites/blogs
  • Write about other companies/websites that need attention
  • Offer and give testimonials
  • Publish case studies
  • Research the use of your own images and write to the user asking for a link


When is which link building worthwhile?

Long-term link strategies, as the name suggests, are only worthwhile in the long term. But then they are even more worthwhile because the costs per link keep falling.


Short-term link measures are also worthwhile if they support and accelerate the long-term link strategy. Thanks to the long-term effect of the link strategy, they also pay off.


Short-term measures can also be worthwhile if a specific SEO goal is assigned a value that justifies it’s limited – but quite high effort. Be it an awareness boost or overtaking a competitor in the search results. Informed individual decisions are required here.


Two questions to clarify whether link building is worthwhile in a specific case: 


Can we find a long-term link strategy that fits the company, its offer, and its goals?


Are there specific competitive situations or goals that justify short-term measures even without a long-term strategy?

Example scenarios


Roughly simplified, one can set up three typical example scenarios:


If your company is still not well known, it is worthwhile to create a long-term link strategy right from the start, because then, after the initial investment, it can grow with the awareness of your company with low running costs. Short-term measures also enable you to get started quickly with SEO. Link building is particularly worthwhile here because links take effect very quickly in SEO.


Many existing and online companies already have approaches that enable the development of a link strategy. The partnership approach in particular is worthwhile if your company has fewer opportunities in content-driven SEO. If you want to achieve specific goals economically, then a targeted investment in a short-term link measure can be worthwhile even without a link strategy, but should not become a habit: Many measures cannot be repeated at will.


You have the best status with companies that are already well known in their branch. With an appropriate network and the company’s existing specialist knowledge, the foundations for successful link strategies are laid that pay off comparatively quickly. In order for them to succeed, however, it takes courage, patience, and expert support for individual solutions.



What is not worthwhile about link building is the stringing together of short-term measures without a scalable strategy.


Strategies that do not fit the character and goals of your company are doomed to fail.

Since long-term link building only pays off after a few years, the relevant decisions and investments must be firmly anchored in the company.

Link building with the right mix of long-term and short-term elements is worthwhile – if it is implemented individually, strategically, and patiently.


Author Bio – Vishal Garg has several years of experience in digital marketing. With good expertise in advanced marketing and promotional strategies, he has helped numerous brands establish their online niche with his out of the box internet marketing strategies and lead generation capabilities. Currently, he is running a successful digital marketing company in Jaipur

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