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July 14, 2016

The Truth About Backlinks in 2016

Image courtesy of [Stuart Miles] /

Today, the word “backlink” probably makes most marketers who are in the know think of spammy sites and black-hat SEO.


Well, not too long ago, sneaky SEOs used purchased or manipulatively constructed backlinks to create webs to trap users and search engines and artificially boost the ranking of their sites. In some places around the Internet, it’s still going on.

Thankfully, these dark times of SEO are mostly over and, today, most SEOs are good SEOs, using earned and legitimate backlinks to organically boost the authority of their sites.

While the tide of the SEO community as a whole may have changed, some of the old, misguided wisdom about backlinks is still floating around out there, waiting to damage anyone who comes into contact with it.

While backlink buying and building used to be a favorite tactic for boosting site traffic, it’s a tragically bad one, and I’m here to tell you why. Read on to learn more.

The Great Backlink Buying/Building Tragedy: What it is and Why it’s Still So Popular

To understand why backlink buying and building doesn’t work, it’s critical to figure out why people think it does. To start off, gaining visibility for a site can be hard, and some people will do anything in their power to make it happen.

All too often, new or inexperienced business owners spend hours and weeks building a site. They launch it, they blog for it, they work to perfect it, and nothing happens. Weeks go by and nothing happens. In addition to the fact that nobody is discovering the site via organic search, nobody is even coming to it via links from other sites.

Unfortunately, being in the midst of a situation like this doesn’t leave business owners with many options.

Because of this, many find themselves struggling to gain notoriety. In these cases, it’s easy to go astray — the temptation of black-hat backlink strategies can just be too strong. While some popular wisdom advises that business owners in this situation purchase directory links that point people to their social platforms, this is a terrible tactic, and it’s one that will eventually wind up in Google penalties and short-lived traffic.

While these strategies may have worked for SEOs in times past, today’s climate renders them ineffective, unattractive to users, and, in many cases, too expensive for business owners to maintain.

As a result, confused business owners are left out in the cold, wondering how the heck they can build notoriety for their sites while also abiding by the best SEO practices of today. Seem like an insurmountable conundrum? Luckily, there’s a solution.

The Truth About Backlinks

Are you ready? I’m going to let you in on something huge.

The secret to engagement doesn’t revolve around building backlinks anymore.

It’s about earning them.

Today, it’s all about creating a wheel of engagement and interaction that your readers don’t want to walk away from, while backlinks are sort of a shortcut to this. Instead of creating great content that people wanted to talk about and link back to, yesterday’s SEOs relied, instead, on purchased and built backlinks to drive traffic and help boost the notoriety of their content.

Today, however, this is a cheap strategy that doesn’t let SEOs stand out in a positive light in an already-saturated Web.

When a SEO relies on purchased links instead of quality content, they miss out on the entire point of creating content in the first place, which is to drive engagement and provide value for readers. There’s a better way. I promise you.

10 Ways to Earn Backlinks Instead of Build Them

Instead of sinking all of your energy and resources into building backlinks that probably won’t work anyway, it’s wise to focus on a different approach: creating content and investing in what will earn natural backlinks. So, you’ll need to approach it differently.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Create custom graphics

Content with images is shared across the Web much more often than virtually any other type of content. In fact, content that includes relevant images earns an average of 94 percent more views than content without a relevant image. Because of this, investing finances and resources into creating custom graphics is often a far more effective and rewarding engagement strategy than building backlinks.

While there are dozens of different types of graphics to create, some of the most critical are infographics and post photos. Posts with photos get much more engagement than their non-photo counterparts, and it’s critical to beef yours up with visuals if you want to reap good rewards. Consider hiring a professional designer to take care of the process for you if you doubt your own ability.

2. Provide value with free tools

You’ve heard all about why you should be providing value to your audience, but did you know that one of the best ways to do this is with the help of a free tool? In addition to creating valuable, informative, engaging content that your readers love, consider building a free tool that will help drive a ton of earned links to your site.

Once you’ve built your tool, be sure to share the news about it on your social accounts, blogs and website.

3. Publish white papers

Today’s readers are starved for value, and one of the best ways to offer them value is to create valuable, long-form content they’ll love. White papers are a great place to start. In addition to boasting high-level research, white papers also include original data and statistics that you’ve mined from your own experiences and adventures into data.

Since today’s readers are hungry for research to absorb and link to, providing your own research is a great way to promote quality backlinks and plenty of engagement in the process.

4. Guest blog

Yes, you’ve heard it before. Now, you’re hearing it again. Guest posting is critical to great online engagement. By writing quality, authoritative content for guest blogs, you can establish yourself as an authority in your industry and build your audience. And, with every post, you’ll at least get one link in your bio that links back to you.

One of the greatest things about guest blogging is it even works for new bloggers. Ideal for promoting engagement and helping people connect with your content, guest blogging on high-traffic sites is an effective and exciting way to build your engagement and following.

5. Create great content

If you’re sick of hearing this one, I understand. I really do. Unfortunately, this tip can’t go away because it’s so, so critical. By creating great content, you create an engagement feedback loop in which people read it, interact with it and share it.

This goes on and, eventually, you’ve got a really solid backlink strategy that didn’t cost you anything additional outside of your time and energy that would have been dedicated to content, anyway.

The Case for Good Engagement

I won’t lie – building a good engagement strategy is tough and it’s not something that comes overnight. While backlinks used to be the place everyone looked for quality engagement that drove responses, today’s tactics come down much more to a multi-faceted approach that takes into account things like sharing, engagement, authority, and value all at once.

While it’s all well and good to want to build quality engagement, the tactics for doing it in today’s world are just different. Gone are the times of building purchased backlink webs. Instead, today, you need to take a multi-faceted approach that focuses on things like quality content and real value.

By taking steps to build your own visuals, create unique research that other people can link to, building free tools, guest posting and creating valuable, relevant, unique content, you can build a quality engagement strategy that lasts long beyond any backlink. If I seem passionate about this, you’re right. Good content is the way of the future and today’s SEOs can’t refute the fact that backlinks are no longer the way to do it. Instead, it’s critical to focus on quality first and understand that the links will come with time.


Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.