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The SEO Paradox: How Link Building Can Make or Break Your Website

Getting backlinks to your website is still one of the best ways to boost your ranking in the search engines, but what many webmasters fail to realize is that link building is a double-edged sword. If you know how to use it properly, it can add authority to your website. On the other hand, poor understanding of link building can cause your website to be delisted from search engines — the death knell for any online enterprise.

The SEO Paradox: How Link Building Can Make or Break Your Website

Search engines are vague on the classification of links

One of the biggest challenges about determining whether or not a link is beneficial is that there are no clear search engine guidelines about it. When deciding to integrate a link to your website, much of the search engine optimization (SEO) is guesswork. There have been major changes taking place, however, that can point you in the right direction. For example, many link-building resources that were once accepted by Google suddenly became prohibited after the Panda update, including links coming from ArticlesBase and EzineArticles, two popular syndication websites. Numerous paid link-building directories also took a major blow.

Although this doesn’t give us a complete picture of what constitutes good link building practices, a few important points have become clear:

Webmasters often talk about Google’s major updates — Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird — that came out in the last three years. They forget, however, that there are minor updates to the algorithm almost every month. Although keeping track of every modification isn’t necessary, it goes to show that the guidelines can change at any time.

While some article directories are not explicitly banned, there is no guarantee that they will remain that way. If you want long-term credibility over short-term results, stay away from link-building campaigns that look suspicious. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Link-building strategies to avoid

Although search engine guidelines about links are indeed vague, there are some practices that are obviously frowned upon and need no further debate. For example, Google’s terms and conditions prohibit webmasters from getting involved in link-building programs that manipulate incoming and outgoing links. Some of these include:

.   Paid links

.   Paid write-ups with a link to the customer site

.   Excessive guest blogging and article marketing

.   Excessive link exchange

Google is not the only search engine that adheres to these policies. Yahoo! and Bing have similar regulations that you can’t afford to ignore, especially since these two deliver about 30% of the total search engine traffic. A common thread that runs through all these guidelines is that quality content will naturally attract inbound links over time, so there is no need to artificially boost your reputation by using shady link building schemes.

A sustainable link-building plan

The best thing you can do to keep search engines from penalizing you for faulty link building is to stay away from any technique that could be regarded as “unnatural.” For example, the common guideline “excessive guest blogging and article marketing” is not very clear. What does “excessive” really mean? If you look at the website MSN.com, you can find at least 50,000 low-quality links connecting to it, but MSN doesn’t seem to get punished by any search engine. This is where reputation factors in. Because MSN is extremely popular, it is unavoidable that thousands of its backlinks would come from suspicious sources. On the other hand, if a virtually unknown website with poor content contains 50,000 backlinks, then search engine algorithms would quickly figure out that it is utilizing spam techniques, and would thus promptly remove it from the rankings.

Another step you can take is to avoid blog networks that have too many low-quality posts. As your website grows, however, you will have no control over where your content is being shared even if you persistently get rid of bad backlinks that point to your website. For example, a webmaster who pays in advance for a five-year hosting plan but eventually abandons his website will likely be difficult to contact, but your content will still be hosted on his blog all the way up to the expiration date. Circumstances like these are unavoidable, and your best option is to hope that the search engine algorithms are smart enough to be able to ascertain the situation accordingly. Luckily, they often are.

Finally, take time to reach out to local businesses and people in your industry via social networks like Facebook and Twitter. By making connections to individuals that genuinely support your goals and interests, you can eventually share high-quality links between your sites. Although this type of link building is hard to achieve, it is sustainable in the long run and should allow you to sleep soundly at night without any fear of waking up to a delisted website.

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