With link building, a simple list of 10 or so items never covers everything.
But I wanted to make a simple list to help you keep your head above water, stay out of trouble, and build some effective links as you go about your work.
So I started working on the 10 Commandments of link building.
Unlike the actual 10 Commandments, these laws aren’t literally set in stone. But, like the actual 10 Commandments, you’ll be a better and more honest person if you follow them.
But, like the actual 10 Commandments, you’ll be a better and more honest person if you follow them.
I feel strongly that if you build links in an ethical way, you don’t need to worry about all of Google’s ancient stone tablets too much. You can’t ignore them, but you can focus on a simpler set of rules instead.
If you want to build great links while staying on the good side of your audience, other bloggers and webmasters, and Google itself, then these commandments should help nicely.
1. Put Humans First
In basic terms, SEO is all about search engines. But if you’re building links and only thinking about Google, you’re going to mess something up.
Every single link you build should make sense. If you sell organic cat food, you shouldn’t be placing an in-content link on a high authority blog about motocross racing. If a motocross fan clicked your cat food link and ended up on your cat food page, they’d be annoyed, and both your brand and the the motocross blog would look bad.
Google generally operates from this perspective, too. In Google’s mind, they curate and control the whole search landscape. They base their whole world on links. So when a motocross blog misleadingly links to cat food, it makes Google look bad– and it makes you look bad.
Google, much like any authority figure, hates being embarrassed. I’m sure you can relate– think of the last time you said or did something ridiculous in front of your friends and family. Time slows down, you can feel the blush in your cheeks, and the urge to break through the nearest wall like the Kool Aid Man drastically increases.
Don’t make bloggers, readers, Google, and yourself turn into a giant pitcher of sugar water.
Instead, consider people in all of your link building activities. If a link makes sense from a reader’s perspective, it’s probably a good link.
2. Treat Link Building With Respect
In days of yore, people used link building as a way to simply game the system. Before Google rolled out Penguin, Panda, and the others, link building was not always an ethical pursuit.
In fact, it was totally lawless. You could spend $100 for 2000 links on spammy domains, and you could choose any anchor text you wanted. So, imagine 2000 links with the anchor text “organic cat food” plastered all over the web on sites no human has ever visited– motocross blogs included.
And those links worked.
Before Panda and Penguin, those links boosted search engine rankings all around. Link building was quick, dirty, and easy.
But it made link builders look really, really bad in the eyes of Google, and in the eyes of more honest digital marketing professionals.
Now, not every link builder use those tactics. But the damage was still done. Even after Google’s algorithm changes, low quality link builders spammed the ever-loving heck out of bloggers and webmasters with ridiculous link requests.
We have to live with that damage, and we have to improve our own reputation.
Treat link building with respect– only ask for a link when you have something valuable to offer in return. Don’t spam anyone, and don’t build spammy links.
With your help, we can eventually arrive in a golden age where bloggers and webmasters actually want to work with link builders again.
3. Build Relevant Links Only
There will be times where you’ll walk into the valley of temptation. You’ll find the opportunity to build a quick and dirty link on a high authority site– but the relevance won’t be there.
This ties directly into the first link building commandment, but it goes a little deeper.
You want every link you build to make sense to a person who might click on it, but you also want to keep it relevant from a search engine perspective.
For instance, if you hired a good writer, they could probably fudge a link about organic cat food into a motocross blog post in a way that it made at least a little sense to the readers. They might not love that part of the post, but it wouldn’t seem super out of place. They probably just wouldn’t click it, because they’re hungry for action– not for farm-to-table fish and other authentic ingredients.
But Google would probably see through the ruse, and that puts both you and the blogger hosting your link at risk.
Don’t risk it. Instead, focus on relevance and being an honest person. If the link makes sense for your site, either because it’s industry-relevant or geographic location-relevant, then it’s a good link.
Don’t give into temptation. Always build relevant links.
4. Take a Break Once in Awhile
Link building is hard work. It takes a lot of creativity, communication skills, and brain power. And when you’re not getting the results you want, it’s tempting to beat your head against your desk in an effort to magically make new emails appear in your inbox.
I’ve never found magic to work when it comes to link building, no matter how many sacrifices you make.
When you get in too deep and things aren’t working out, take a break. I know you have quotas and deadlines– I do, too.
But you can never make someone respond to your link request. No one owes you anything, and you can’t force them into responding.
But here’s what you can do– walk away, take a deep breath, and take some time to approach the situation from another angle. Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t burn yourself out.
Do the best you can, and always remember– there are no link building emergencies.
5. Respect The Experts
Look around the internet, and you’ll find a wealth of link building knowledge.
You’ll find a lot of other things, too, but they’ll only distract you from your job.
How many hours have you lost to cat gifs already this week?
But whenever you get stuck, or whenever you have a question; chances are, there’s an answer just waiting for you.
Never be afraid to innovate, but don’t ignore the teachings of the experts.
6. Don’t Burn Bridges
When someone refuses your link request, you might get upset.
Rejection is difficult for everyone.
Whether they deny your request, they remove a link after they’ve already added it, or they just steal a piece of your content without including a link, there will be times where your patience is tested.
Take my advice– don’t lash out.
Instead, try to either resolve the conflict peacefully, or just move on.
Don’t send angry emails or threaten people over social media.
Don’t burn bridges when you’re made– both because hurting people is wrong, and because the person who “wronged” you may be able to help you in the future.
If you’re feeling vengeful, it may be appropriate to waste some time on cat gifs until you calm down.
7. Don’t Mislead Anyone
Whether you’re building links for your own business, or working for an agency, honesty is always the best policy.
When it comes time to make your report at the end of the month, don’t lie to yourself or others. Report the links you’ve actually built, and don’t lie about their quality. Your boss and/or client deserves to know what you’ve actually done for them.
If you’re in the habit of lying to clients, they’ll find you out sooner rather than later– and your reputation will tank accordingly. If you’re in the habit of lying to your boss, you’ll soon be looking for a new job– and you won’t have any good recommendations from them.
If you mess up, be honest about it. Own it. A client will forgive an honest mistake, as will most bosses.
Overall, link builders don’t have a sterling reputation for honesty and transparency. If you stay honest and trustworthy, you’ll be doing all of us a good service.
Thank you in advance.
8. Don’t Take Too Many Shortcuts
Do you remember what your parents (or grandparents) told you about the value of a hard day’s work?
Link building is hard work, and there are no innate shortcuts.
Link building isn’t just a paint-by-numbers or connect the dots affair. Every link building job is unique, and every campaign requires critical thinking. I think people look for so many easy shortcuts because the critical thinking wears them out.
If you get good at link building, though, you’ll learn to actually love the critical thinking– and learn to love getting your hands dirty.
When you put all of your brainpower and effort into the perfect link and actually earn it, you’ll want to celebrate. You’ll want to tell your friends and neighbors– not that they’ll care (or understand) about a link on the internet. But you’ll still want to shout it from the rooftops.
When you get lazy and try to take every shortcut possible, chances are you won’t be building great links.
9. Don’t Ask For a Link if Your Page Isn’t Linkworthy
I’ve said this before, but it still holds true– no one wants to link to your product page.
If you’re asking for links to page with thin content, or a page that offers absolutely nothing of value, then you’re wasting everyone’s time. The webmaster that actually reads your email and clicks over to your page is going to roll their eyes and move on. And that’s the best response you’re going to get, so you’re wasting your own time, as well.
To build links, you need at least one linkable asset. You need something actual people will find useful, informative, entertaining, or otherwise valuable.
If you’re asking a webmaster to link to an uninteresting page in the hopes of making direct sales, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You’re essentially asking for something in return for nothing.
If you ask for a link, that link has to lead somewhere interesting or useful.
10. Don’t Get Jealous of Other People’s Success
When you read one of those case studies where someone builds a thousand great links and boosts their website to the top of the SERPs it’s easy to get envious.
Envy is a feeling you have to deal with and then dismiss– you can’t give in to it. Envy leads to resentment, and living a life where you resent your peers for their success is no life at all.
You can’t compare yourself to other people, especially in the world of link building. Always remember that your project is very different than anyone else’s project.
By all means, take inspiration and advice from other link builders. Follow in their footsteps.
But don’t become jealous, and don’t become resentful.