Your site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you.

"Your site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity." Google Webmaster Central

THANKS TO GOOGLE, links have influence on rankings. But, how do I manage a link building strategy? What is allowed? What is good for my rankings? What is my competition doing? All these questions can be answered in a thousand different ways. This article is an attempt to offer a guideline of sorts, to help you decide the route through which to travel.

Google Webmaster guidelines

These are the renowned guidelines provided by Google that advise all good webmasters what it is they should be doing.

"Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you feel comfortable explaining your strategy to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, 'Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?'"

Google Webmaster Central

On reading this guideline, we could assume the conclusion that link building (advertising in a way) is permitted, as we would do it even if search engines did not exist to attract users to go to our website.

"Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or 'bad neighborhoods' on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links." Google Webmaster Central.

These guidelines only tell us that we should not participate in link schemes designed to increase our rankings. To understand this better, we need to have a look at some examples of a link scheme that Google provides:

Examples of link schemes can include:
• Links intended to manipulate PageRank
• Links to web spammers or bad neighbourhoods on the web
• Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging ("Link to me and I'll link to you")

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

Links that pass PageRank are all links that are visible for search engines that do not have the rel="nofollow" attribute. Due to these examples, moderate link exchanging seems to be the only link bunding tactic allowed - link buying and selling is slricny forbidden. So, if all of this is forbidden in Google's guidelines, then what strategies are possible, and, are they enough to compete?

Obviously, you need links to rank for your keywords in the search engines, even Google says so in its guidelines, but how does one go about building them? Let us assume that every link counts and that there are differences in the quality of each one. Furthermore, let us assume that Google also sees the whole picture of the website" s link structure and can find patterns. The objective has to be getting links without showing an unnatural link mix.

Should common strategies and link building sources such as link baits, web directories, link exchanging and article links be part of your link mix?

Link baits

I have seen very clever link bait tactics - which can be considered under the guidelines - using extremely well written and developed articles which are then distributed privately to people across the web. This is a very effective but also very laborous tactic. Google seems to regard gaining links in this way as completely natural.

Web directories

Being present in web directories (http://, etc) seems to make sense for both users and search engines. Despite the fact that Google has taken action against the overuse of such web directories, they should form part of any link mix. Find industry-related directories and submit your website and, importantly, be sure to avoid duplicate content, so that all entries are unique. Remember that before search engines, there were only web directories to guide users through the Internet so it is a natural way to 'advertise' online.


A long-standing and natural way to communicate and hold discussion on the Internet is via forums. Search for forums within your industry;, www. and www. are just some examples. Do not spam them; participate and embed your website when it makes sense. Signatures and direct links from posts are the most common ways to 'advertise' your website.

Link exchanges

Having friends and referring to them is not a bad thing - even Google states that only excessive link exchanging is forbidden. Usually, I suggest not focusing on link exchanges as we do not know what is moderate and what is 'excessive'. When you do exchange links, have a look at the quality of the websites you are getting the links from. Getting links from the sites relative to yours is better than links from random websites.


When someone writes an article about your website or about your industry and refers (links) to you out of the content of this article, this is just the type of high quality link you want to have. To get these links, you either have to be popular (link bait), be a friend (link exchange), be a customer (link buying) or be the owner (own website). The stronger and cleaner the website is, the higher the impact on your rankings.

Link buying

All the different links sources mentioned can either be self-generated or bought. The outsourcing of duties is a common business strategy, so why should this be punished by Google? The answer is obvious: ranking should not be influenced by the money you invest, but by the quality of the content you provide (the same applies for how search engines are perceived by users).

However, should link buying be part of your link building strategy? This is entirely your decision, but I would recommend bearing the following pointers in mind:

• Google does punish obvious link buying
• Link buying can help your rankings
• You decide what to buy
• It is difficult to see the exact impact of your bought links
• What links does your competition have?
• Prices vary strongly

My opinion

If you keep your backlink profile balanced and natural, link buying could be part of your link building strategy. At some point, you might need more link sources than you initially expected and that is when outsourcing can help you out. But, be sure that you buy good links, even if they seem more expensive. They will have much more longevity than the cheaper ones which can end up actually hurting your rankings.

"Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you feel comfortable explaining your strategy to a website that competes with you."
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