What exactly is link building?
It's the process of building external hyperlinks (backlinks) from other websites to your own.
And it's a necessary evil.
While link building has earned a reputation for being a spammy tactic that will land your website penalized by the great and powerful Google, high-quality backlinks are the most important off-page search engine ranking factor.
A link from a high quality, authoritative website to your webpage validates your content's quality. Google rewards high quality content with higher rankings, so the search engine pays close attention to the links that point to your website.
There are a bunch of different techniques and strategies for building backlinks. These techniques vary in difficulty, but all of them take time to foster ranking results.
Some techniques fall under the category of "black hat SEO", spammy tactics that try to undercut Google's ranking algorithm and search updates.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on where you fall on the spectrum of SEO ethics) Google has released update after update to penalize spammy link building.
Once upon a time, quantity ruled over quality. If you had a high number of backlinks, no matter where they were coming from, you would rank high in search engines. This is no longer the case.
Now, quality is king. To score ranking juice, backlinks must come from websites that Google has deemed high in quality, and there must be a correlation between the two sites (similar content topics, for example). If you break Google's rules, you'll be penalized.
Below, are two easy, safe and scalable ways to build links and keep Google happy.
Just Straight Up Ask for Backlinks
Except, be less straight up and more subtle about it. Keep it simple. Send emails to fellow content editors, who post content relevant to your audience, like:
I just mentioned you in this blog post that went up today: *insert link"
It's a nice way of saying, "I scratched your back, now scratch mine?"
Don't send this to just anyone though. Send it to people you know personally, and you're success rate will be high.
Guest Blog, but be Careful
Google is not super keen on this tactic, so tread carefully. Spammy guest blogging has and will be penalized by Google. In fact, Matt Cutts, the head of Google's Webspam Team, declared that guest blogging is done and dead. But that's not entirely true. Legitimate forms of guest blogging that are Google-friendly still exist.
It's not hard to find someone that needs help producing quality online content these days. So, if someone welcomes you to write a guest blog on their website, don't spam the post with links to your own site. Instead, write high-quality content (Google's favorite) that is relevant and valuable to the audience that you're writing for. Don't think of it as only an opportunity to rack up backlinks.
Only link to your content if its relevant to your guest blog post, and if it makes 100% sense in context. If you're writing a guest blog post about keyword research best practices, feel free to link to your own website's post about keyword research no-nos. Use guest blogging as as an opportunity to be helpful and informative, and Google will appreciate your efforts.