Today, we’re going to talk about links. They’re still the currency of good Google rankings. Even though social media marketing should be a part of your overall strategy, and social signals are being used more aggressively in Google’s algorithm, links continue to define success.

That’s going to be the case for the foreseeable future.

To be sure, the types of links you build and the methods you use to build them matter. If you’re still relying on methods that were hot in 2008, you’re about to find yourself in a world of hurt. Google is devoting a substantial level of resources to closing loopholes that have made it easy to game their algorithm.

The easy stuff is going away.

With that in mind, I’m going to start a series on link-building that will give you the tools you need to grab high rankings and keep them. We’ll use a question-and-answer format so we can drill down into the nitty-gritty details. Don’t think of this series as a “how to” guide for building links. Think of it as an ongoing conversation.

In this installment, we’ll blow away a few myths and ill-conceived notions about what it takes to build links for better rankings.

#1. What is the secret to search engine optimization?

There is no secret sauce to effective SEO. There’s hard work with the good rankings that follow, and everything else. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an ultra-competitive niche like debt consolidation or a niche that is much easier to rank for, such as antique ukeleles or cat hairball sculptures.

This is worth addressing upfront because a lot of people keep falling for quick-fixes in the SEO space. They end up spinning their wheels with no lasting results to show for it. Each Google update kills their rankings and they’re forced to start over. As a result, years pass and they never seem to get off the ground.

Do things properly from the beginning. If you do, you’ll be less likely to be knocked around by random algo updates.

#2. What is the best method for building links?

The late, great movie critic Roger Ebert once said, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

That’s a great way to think about link-building for SEO. Any method that generates the right types of links is a method worth using. Any method that generates the wrong types of links is a method worth avoiding.

For example, I can show you ways to create tens of thousands of links within an hour. But those links won’t do anything for your rankings. (Actually, scratch that. They can hurt your rankings by getting your site penalized.)  By contrast, writing two or three guest blog posts each month for high-quality blogs in your niche can produce links that Google will love – now and later.

Forget about “best methods.” Pursuing them is a fool’s errand.

#3. Should I just hire someone to do my link-building for me?

That’s a tough question to answer. Here’s why:

There are two types of folks you can hire to do your link-building. The first type are the gunslingers. They come aboard for the one-time job, and then they’re off to find other clients. These are the people you’ll find for hire on Elance, GetAFreelancer, and various marketing forums.

The second type are the hired guns. Think of them as your security force. They’re on the payroll. These are the SEO agencies that are a monthly retainer. They continue building links to your site week after week, and file reports showing their progress.

Working with the first group – the gunslingers – is risky. They often focus on low-quality links because they’re easy to generate. When they improve your rankings, they do so temporarily. Unfortunately, you have very little recourse if things turn out badly for your site once they leave.

Working with the second group – the agencies – is better since they’re “on the payroll.” They’re there month after month, and thus can be held accountable for their work. But it is not without risk. Some agencies are better than others. Some are actually pretty shady, a fact that may not become clear until months down the road after your site tanks in Google.

So, should you hire someone to do your link-building? That depends on the types of links you’re building and the level of trust you have in the person or agency to build them.

#4. How important is link-building to my site’s rankings?

This seems like a simple question, but it’s actually complicated. Understanding why will help you to decide where to spend the majority of your time.

As long as Google hosts organic rankings – i.e. “natural” rankings as opposed to those you pay for – it needs a reliable way to order them. The trouble (for Google) is that links are both the most reliable method for ordering sites and the method that is easiest to game.

Google can’t simply stop using link data to rank sites. That would be cutting off its nose to spite its face. But it’s very difficult to completely lock out the folks who game the algorithm. So, Google has taken a different approach. It has begun to reduce the real estate it gives to its organic rankings. More real estate is being given to Adwords, site links, and even Google’s own affiliate links in specific niches (credit cards, travel, etc.).

Pretty savvy move!

For the business owner, this means ranking organically on the first page has become even harder than usual. There are fewer places to grab. The importance of building high-quality links to your site has never been greater. But realize that the value of having a front-page listing is slowly eroding as Google fills it with its own “stuff.”

This installment of our link-building series lays the foundation for what is coming down the pipe. We’ll get into the details of building good links next time.

Your Turn!

What link-building methods have proven to be the most effective for you this year? Are you building links on your own or have you hired the work out? Share your experiences with us in the comments section!

photo credit: Between symmetry via photopin (license)