Link building is still – and will probably always be – a critical part of every SEO agency’s strategy, but there have been some big changes since the launch of Penguin 4.0 in September 2016.
How well has your agency kept up and, more importantly, how well have they kept you in the loop?
Link building is more of an art than an exact science and, sadly, it’s easy for agencies to pull the wool over your eyes – but there’s an easy way to check if your agency is being dubious.
Start by asking yourself if you know…
How many backlinks have been acquired for your site?
There are a number of free and paid tools available that track links to your website.
Google Search Console is the best place to start, but some other great tools include:
Your SEO agency should be subscribed to a few of these and able to generate a full list of links acquired to your website at any point in time. These lists should be included in every report you get, and alarm bells should be ringing in your head if you’re not getting this basic but essential info.
Which domains are linking to you?
Links vary vastly in quality. The good ones drive successful rankings. The bad ones are a waste of time and – in bad cases – can put you at risk of a manual penalty.
The risk attached to bad links has changed since Penguin 4.0 (an updated version of the old Penguin) was released in 2016. The revised Penguin algorithm devalues bad links instead of penalizing sites, but a manual penalty is a possibility in particularly bad cases.
However, it’s still important for your SEO agency to know which domains are linking to you and to be able to separate the good from the bad, not only because the bad quality links are a waste of time, but also because knowing this information will inform your link building strategies going forward.
How? Well it shows you which webmasters will find your content interesting, provides an opportunity to build a (potentially prosperous) relationship with the linking sites and gives you a better idea of the type of leads to pursue in future.
(For a bit of background on what separates good links from bad links, have a look here).
Are your links are from relevant domains?
Google is very advanced in its interpretation of who is linking to you and whether the content on these sites is relevant to yours.
Relevancy is determined by looking at things like if the site is in the same industry, or has content on the same themes, topics, questions and so on.
If it finds that many of your links are irrelevant, they may assume these links were brokered for manipulative purposes and discount them, or potentially even punish your site if done on scale.
This means that if your agency is bragging about the number of links they’ve got for you – but none of them are relevant – those links are actually just a big fat waste of time (as they don’t count for anything) and could even be harmful to your site in the long run.
Are the sites linking to you are helping your rankings?
Certain types of links may not be helping your site a great deal – they may not have any authority of their own (other sites linking to them) or there may be technical reasons (such as links from no indexed pages or links that use the nofollow attribute) which prevent the link from passing any authority over to your site.
Whether your SEO company comments on other people’s blogs as a source of links?
As highlighted above, this is typically an unnatural and manipulative source of links and therefore a waste of valuable link building time.
That being said, commenting on blogs is permissible provided the intention is to engage with the content creator.
If some of your backlinks were paid for?
Buying links form part of Google’s definition of link schemes and should not be considered as a means of brokering backlinks.
Does your SEO agency exchange links with other domains?
Google can easily correlate link exchanges – A links to B and B links to A. They will often discount these type of links or, if done on scale, penalise the site in question.
If your agency is doing this it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Are most of the links to your domain from directories?
Directories are one of the easiest means of getting links. However, most directories have low to zero editorial discretion over the sites that they include.
There are certain directories, like DMOZ, that are certainly permissible as they have dedicated editors who follow strict criteria when considering submissions.
However, generally this a weak strategy and not worth the time spent on it.
How well did you score? If most of the above came as a surprise to you, then it’s probably time to have a sit-down with your agency.
As mentioned, link building is an important part of SEO, and while dodgy link building isn’t as dangerous as it used to be, it certainly is a big waste of time and can lead to your agency over-inflating your perception of how well their link building strategies are performing.
As always, the more transparent they are about their methods, the better.