Manual link building is more important than ever in 2024


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The March 2024 updates have severely impacted the search engine results pages (SERPs). Within days of the updates going live, Google issued manual actions that resulted in websites being deindexed. Google said it will remove 40% of low-quality, unoriginal content, shaping a new age in the SERPs.

However, link building is still relevant and has become more crucial than ever. 

The best way for search engines to discover new websites is to obtain natural backlinks, according to Gary Illyes, in a Search Off the Record podcast episode. Therefore, it is not only essential to engage in link building but also necessary to invest in manual link building to achieve success. 

Manual link building involves acquiring links through outreach efforts, strategic content creation, and relationship building. Unlike automated or spammy link acquisition tactics, manual link building prioritizes obtaining high-quality, relevant links from authoritative sources. 

These authoritative sources prioritize their target audience by serving valuable, helpful content, so a backlink from this site would be considered high-quality. And, in the wake of the 2024 March updates, these kinds of backlinks are more important than ever.  

Buying links is considered a spammy practice that violates Google’s guidelines. Google’s algorithm is designed to assess a website’s relevance to a query based on the quality of its backlink profile. 

When websites buy links primarily for ranking purposes, they manipulate the algorithm, rendering those links spam. The only exception to this rule is if paid links are tagged as “sponsored,” but even then, these links still need to be relevant to your site.

While buying links may seem like a good way to cut corners on time-consuming tasks, these gains are often short-lived. Once Google detects unnatural link patterns, it will likely penalize the website, leading to a drop in rankings. Other issues include:

  • Google ignores links.
  • Decreased credibility and reputation.
  • Difficulty in recovery.
  • Wasted resources (wasted money).

The SpamBrain AI system can recognize patterns of link spam and devalue the corresponding links. In 2021, Google revised its spam policies to limit link spam, which helped to clean up the SERPs.

Also, cheap links often lead users to irrelevant or low-quality content, resulting in poor user experience (UX). Google aims to prioritize websites that provide valuable and relevant information to users. If users no longer click on your site because of poor UX, Google takes this as a sign that your website should not appear in the SERPs. 

So, what should sites do instead? Focus on quality backlinks.

Ultimately, manual link building aims to earn links, not buy them, by producing content that attracts links. This approach is a sustainable way to withstand algorithm changes. 

While no two link building strategies are alike (and neither should they be), there are some foundational practices that every strategy should follow to be successful. 

Relevance, relevance, relevance

Relevant links tell search engines that your site is authoritative within its niche. 

Why? 

Take, for example, a research paper. A research paper cites relevant sources to let the reader know they understand the topic. 

Backlinks work the same way. By attracting links from relevant sources within the same niche, the website can demonstrate its authoritativeness to search engines and users interested in that topic. 

Relevant backlinks also help drive targeted traffic to your site. These visitors are more likely to engage with your content, which can lead to higher conversion rates. Relevant links can also enhance the user’s experience by providing additional resources valuable to their query. 

Obtaining relevant links can also help establish partnerships within an industry. Building these relationships with authoritative sources helps support a long-term link building strategy, lending opportunities to collaborate, which can further enhance a website’s online presence. 

Helpful, original content

Helpful, original content is the cornerstone of manual link building. It provides value to an audience by addressing their needs, answering questions, or solving problems. 

Users who find content helpful are more likely to engage with it and return to the site for more information. This helps enhance user satisfaction and builds trust and credibility for your brand – aspects that must be met to appear in the SERPs. 

High-quality content is crawled more often, according to Illyes:

“To get more URLs, that’s basically just how sought after your content is in search, because if we see that people are looking for your content and they are linking to your content, then that will naturally increase how much search wants to crawl from your site.”

Original content also sets you apart from your competitors and establishes you as a leader in your industry.

Offering unique insights demonstrates authoritativeness and expertise — characteristics that Google prioritizes in search. Websites are likelier to link to this type of content because it provides valuable information to an audience’s needs, creating a foundation for building relationships and earning relevant backlinks. 

Unfortunately, the rise of AI writers and automated content tools has created challenges in maintaining the quality and originality of online content. While these tools offer efficiency and scalability, they often produce shallow, thin content that lacks originality. 

Google values content that shows a deep knowledge of a topic. Creating thin content does not show deep topical understanding.

Manual link building heavily focuses on creating and promoting truly valuable content that stands out amongst the noise of automated content. 

A dash of strategy

Finding relevant links and creating original content can only get you so far. 

Developing a strategy for your manual link building campaign is vital to success, as it ensures you aren’t wasting any resources as you scour the web for links. 

For example, a well-thought-out strategy can help with:

  • Clear objectives: A strategy helps define clear objectives for the link building campaign, such as increasing website traffic, improving search engine rankings, or establishing authoritativeness in a particular niche. 
  • Target audience identification: This information helps tailor the link building efforts to resonate with the target audience, increasing the likelihood of acquiring relevant and high-quality backlinks.
  • Competitive analysis: Understanding competitor strategies can inform decision-making and help differentiate the link building approach to gain a competitive advantage.
  • Content planning: High-quality, valuable content is essential for attracting natural backlinks and establishing credibility within the industry.
  • Relationship building: Building genuine relationships with key industry players can lead to natural link acquisition opportunities through collaborations, guest posting, interviews, and content partnerships.
  • Diversification of link sources: Diversification reduces the risk of penalties from search engines and enhances the overall resilience of the link building efforts.
  • Measurement and analysis: Regular monitoring and analysis of performance data help identify what is working well and what needs adjustment, enabling continuous optimization and improvement.

By taking a comprehensive and customized approach to link building, incorporating competitor analysis, backlink analysis, and other tactics, you can develop a strategic plan that maximizes your chances of success and drives tangible results for your website.

Digital PR: The next frontier

With a renewed focus on manual link building, obtaining high-quality backlinks will be more challenging than ever. As more people try to claim these links, the competition will be fierce. 

How can brands stand out?

Digital PR represents the next frontier for manual link building. Its focus on building relationships, generating brand exposure and creating content that capitalizes on E-E-A-T guidelines makes it one of the safest and most valuable link building tactics moving forward. 

This strategy involves establishing relationships with key people in your industry, effectively increasing the ability to secure valuable backlinks from reputable sources. These key people include journalists, bloggers and relevant influencers. 

Additionally, digital PR assets can help boost brand visibility, reaching a broader audience and leading to more backlinks from interested parties. 

Ultimately, digital PR offers a comprehensive approach to manual link building, combining relationship building, brand exposure, content collaboration, and long-term brand-building efforts to generate sustained link building opportunities and enhance a website’s visibility, credibility, and search engine rankings.

To achieve success, websites must focus on building relevant links through outreach efforts and relationship building. 

By following these foundational practices, websites can demonstrate their authoritativeness to search engines and establish partnerships within their industry. 

Ultimately, manual link building is a sustainable way to withstand algorithm changes and attract targeted traffic to your site.

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