In search engine optimization (SEO), one of the most important elements of your strategy is link building—the practice of establishing external links pointing back to your domain. This strategy is effective because links are the crux of Google’s search ranking algorithm; generally speaking, Google evaluates the subjective trustworthiness of a given site (and a given page) based on the number and quality of links pointing to it. If a page has a lot of high-quality links established for it, it’s going to rank higher than its link-less counterpart.
Accordingly, most SEO professionals dedicate significant time and resources to analyzing their current link profile and building as many links as possible to improve their domain authority. The prevailing sentiment is that building more links is always a good thing for your website—but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Why More Links Aren’t Necessarily Better
More links aren’t necessarily a good thing for your site’s rankings in search engines. Here’s why:
- High-DA links are better than low-DA links. First, understand that links from sources with high domain authority (DA) are much better than links from sources with low DA. DA has so much of an impact, that in many cases, a single link from a high-DA source is worth more than several dozen links from lower-authority sources. If you have a choice between building lots of low-value links or one high-value one, you’re almost always better off building the high-value link.
- Links from the same sources yield diminishing returns. Many newcomers to SEO attempt to build links to their site from the same source; they establish a relationship with a publisher, then try to work with that publisher many times out of convenience. While each link you build on the same source will pass additional referral traffic your way, there are diminishing returns in terms of authority. In other words, it’s much more valuable to build new links on different sources than to build additional links on sources you’ve already tapped.
- Referral traffic potential varies wildly. While link building is typically considered as an SEO strategy, ultimately meant to generate more organic traffic for your site, it’s also a useful tactic for increasing brand awareness and generating referral traffic—in other words, people who click your links in context. Some links are much better than others at generating referral traffic, thanks to their context, their value to readers, and of course, the readership of your chosen publisher. Accordingly, it’s often better to seek out sources capable of generating high volumes of referral traffic than it is to spam links indiscriminately.
- High volume link building strategies attract penalties. When SEO professionals focus on building as many links as possible, they often get greedy. They build as many links as possible, sometimes in the span of just a few weeks, and aggressively push for more opportunities. However, this strategy is counterproductive; Google explicitly warns against building too many links too quickly. If its search engine algorithm detects an unusual amount of new links pointing to your site, or if there’s a cascade of new links to your site in a short period of time, you could end up facing a penalty—erasing any gains you would have enjoyed and setting you back even further.
- Context matters. The context of your link matters as well. Remember, many readers will be encountering your brand for the first time when they see your link in an article. If you’ve clearly shoehorned your link into an irrelevant, poorly written article, they’re going to walk away with a negative impression of your brand—and you might end up facing a ranking penalty. It’s much better to develop links that provide citations or additional reading to visitors who want them, and ensure your links are a good fit for your external articles.
- Bad links break easily. “Bad” links break easily. When a publisher site isn’t well managed, or when your article isn’t interesting to readers, there’s a much higher likelihood of your links being removed or becoming non-functional. If you’re only focused on building a higher quantity of links, you won’t be paying attention to their potential staying power; accordingly, you’ll be more likely to suffer losses in the future, negating all the effort you spent building those links in the first place.
- Link value depends on destination page quality. A link is only as valuable as the page it links to. If you have a hastily written, thin page on your site, building links to it could actively harm your strategy; users who click the link will bounce, or else might never want to visit your site again. Make sure you have a solid onsite content strategy in place before you start building links.
- Link building is just one aspect of SEO. While link building is one of the best ways to boost the authority of your site, and therefore your rankings, it’s still just one element of SEO. In fact, it’s even possible to manage an SEO strategy without a link building component, assuming you have a plan to attract links naturally. If you want to rank higher in search engines, you’ll need to master your onsite optimization, which means including plenty of onsite content on your core pages, optimizing for the right keywords, coding the site properly, ensuring it’s indexed properly, and improving site speed so users have a better experience. You’ll also need to write new onsite content regularly, and ensure that content is high-quality and appealing to your audience. If you build lots of links, but these other elements of SEO aren’t in place, you’re not going to see much value.
When Link Volume Matters
Of course, if you can bear these considerations in mind, there are still some important reasons for building a greater volume of links. Assuming you’re linking to a variety of different pages, you’re using a variety of different high-DA publishers, and you’re building links with quality and context in mind, more links will almost certainly benefit you. The problem usually stems from SEO professionals choosing volume as their highest priority and allowing all other priorities to fall by the wayside. The better practice is the opposite; keep volume as a secondary priority, only after you’ve established quality and context.