I have been in the SEO space for what feels like an eternity, and when I look back to the beginning and think of how the past decade-plus has unfolded, it makes me incredibly proud of what I have accomplished and built.

In total, my current agency (SerpLogic), my previous agency and numerous one off projects (such as the famous Speed Rank) have seen me sell more than $10 million worth of backlinks over the past decade, and it’s something I honestly never set out to accomplish. SerpLogic for instance was not intended to be a full-service link-building agency. In fact, it began as a blog that exposed a lot of the BS and nonsense that existed in the SEO world back then.

There was a group of influential individuals that would preach whitehat “link earning” while they were part of the largest link selling operations. They would tell their audience that earning links was the only way to do it, all while they were orchestrating the sales of links from top media websites.

I set out to pull the curtain to the side and let people know that links were still the top-ranking signal, and while earning them could be accomplished through outreach and creating amazing pieces of content, buying them was much easier and more effective due to the speed at which they could be acquired.

Blog readers loved the honesty and transparency – something that didn’t exist in the SEO world at the time – and they began to ask if I could help them secure links. We started small, offering a white-glove link-building service, which then snowballed into a large operation. Over the years our team and volume grew exponentially.

I’ve learned a lot over the years and some things have really stood out – things that I believe could be of value to the readers of this blog.

With that being said, here are eight pieces of key information that should help your SEO and backlinks efforts.


1. BackLinks Continue to Be the Top Ranking Boost and Authority Signal

I’m not sure how many times I have to rehash this statement, but it continues to be true. No matter what Google’s “Search Team” says or what the kiss-ass SEO industry circle jerk crew is saying, links will always be what Google uses to determine its search results.

While things like website speed, onsite optimization, and schema markup are all very important, there are just too many websites competing for the same positions that it would be impossible to rank them using that data only.

Links are the difference between a new website with little to no brand recognition, and a household name business that is more than likely what the user is searching for. Is this fair? Nothing in life is “fair” – it’s simply how it is and if you want to compete you need links. A lot of them, and only the best quality in terms of authority.

It has been this way for more than a decade. Links were the most important factor even before I started my link-building agency. Back then you could just spam hundreds of thousands of links using software and rank within a day. Old school SEOs are sure to remember the Xrumer days.


2. Google is Becoming Smarter When it Comes to Network Links

When the focus shifted from mass link building to targeted link outreach to secure blog links and guest post backlinks, a slew of private blog networks began to pop up. PBNs were the rage, and these networks were buying up expired domains that had authority and strong metrics based on their existing link profile.

They worked very well for a bit and a site could be added to a network and as soon as Google detected those links, their metrics and rankings would shoot up. But, soon these “private” networks became very public. How? Greed.

These networks began selling links on forums and marketplaces, sending their list of inventory to anyone who asked. The first time this is done the network is exposed. Were some of those requests from Google employees? I’d be willing to bet that happened a few times.

But, a public blog network like that is easy to crush, because once one site is uncovered you can quickly identify all of the participants as well as the other sites they are linked from.

Google has AI that can quickly uncover all sites in a network as well as all of the sites utilizing their links. Notice how they don’t even announce penalties like they used to? Remember the animals? Penguin. Panda. Hummingbird.

Now it’s all stealth and the algorithm is penalizing sites daily without warning. Do PBNs still work? Yes, but only if they are made exclusively for you and you are the only person that knows they exist.



3. No Automation or Tool Can Replace Manual Outreach

The majority of the websites we secure links from all have several departments – they are real businesses and not just hobby blogs. They have editorial teams, staff writers, contributors, and even content coordinators.

The only way you are going to secure a link from one of these websites is through an existing connection and relationship. The days of blasting out a generic pitch to 100 email addresses and getting 1-2 bites are long over.

These websites are being spammed to death so they don’t even read the pitches any longer. This is why I stress the importance of relationship-building so much. Over the past decade, we have spent so much time and effort building strong relationships. This is why we are able to secure links for our clients in such a short period of time.

When you have those relationships established and combine them with timely story pitches, it results in secured links. This type of manual work cannot be replaced by any tool or software. I see so many “PR” tools and SaaS applications advertised, but those are just glorified spam tools and they don’t work.

Editors and writers can detect an SEO pitch from a mile away. Those who already have the relationships built and the “in” have a severe advantage.


4. Links Alone Won’t Cut it Anymore

If you only focus on building links you might rank your website high, but that doesn’t guarantee sales and conversions will follow. Years ago a consumer would conduct a Google search and automatically click the first result.

If that website offered what they were looking for they would convert. The mentality was the top result was the best, therefore there was no reason to waste time on other websites. Well, consumers are more aware of how the search results work, and that the top spot isn’t always the best deal.

So, while you need a very aggressive link-building strategy to rank high in the SERPs, you also must focus on a few other strategies to get the best return from your SEO effort. Here are a few examples.

Compelling Offers: You have to have a great price, strong offer, or a unique selling proposition in order to push the visitor to convert. Every visitor your website attracts comes with a hard cost associated – so you must present them with compelling offers to increase your conversion rates.

Optimized Conversion Focused UX: Make it as simple as possible for visitors to fill out forms, request information, read content, and make purchases. If your website experience isn’t pleasant they will leave and find another option. Also, assume that 80% or more of your traffic is coming from mobile devices so create a mobile-friendly UX.

Strong Brand: Consumers will always look for reviews and feedback on your business. You must have a strong brand online. From encouraging more reviews to suppressing unfavorable content in the search results – make an effort to have a strong brand presence on the first few pages of Google.



5. Anchor Text Rule: General Offsite and More Descriptive Onsite

Back in the day links were built using exact match anchor text. If you wanted to rank for “best SEO company” you would build links that had the exact search term as the anchor text. Google then started penalizing websites that had very spammy anchor text in their link profiles.

This caused everyone to get on the “natural” anchor text bandwagon. Anchors like “here” and “this blog post” became the norm. While it did pass the authority, it wasn’t as effective as exact match phrases used to be.

But, it’s also important to understand that consumer search intent has changed a lot. As more people use voice search and perform more detailed and specific searches, it limits the number of keyword searches.

Smart SEOs still build anchor text links, but they do so when interlinking blog content onsite. You can get away with it more, as it makes more “sense” since you are describing a specific product or service and linking to your own website. This strategy still passes authority and spreads it throughout your website and also helps Google understand what your content is about.


6. Consistency and Patience Lead to Long-Term Rankings

Throughout the years we have built a lot of links and worked with a lot of clients. $10 million is a lot of links, and throughout the years we have worked with many websites. Some have disappeared after a few years and many online businesses have been clients since the beginning.

The main difference between those that went out of business and those that are thriving now is being consistent with their SEO strategy, even if that meant starting small. Over the past decade, I have seen some businesses start strong with a $10,000 monthly SEO budget, but after a few months, they decided to pause it, whereas some businesses started small, with $1,000 a month, but never took their foot off the gas.

As their results improved and revenue increased, they allocated more towards their SEO and link-building budget. This type of consistency has rewarded them with strong rankings and the benefit of organic traffic 24/7.

Understand that link building will not deliver overnight results, but if you stay consistent it can be the best ROI across all digital marketing channels.


7. Competition Increases While the Number of Link Opportunities Decreases

Every day there are hundreds and thousands of new blogs and websites are launched, from stay-at-home mom blogs to e-commerce stores that are selling their own products and drop shipping from suppliers.

The competition for visibility on Google goes up every day, while the number of opportunities for both links and exposure decreases. Why is it becoming more difficult to rank on top?

Competition: As mentioned above, every day new websites are competing for a share of the same audience. As starting online businesses becomes easier and has a low barrier of entry, this will continue to contribute to this reality.

Fewer Link Opportunities: Blogs and websites are sick of spam requests. Many have closed their contributor programs because they are aware of link selling and staff writers are watched very carefully. With fewer guest posting and contributor opportunities, it makes securing links more difficult.

Less SERP Organic Real Estate: Look at Google’s results for common searches. The ads dominate the top, there are now ‘position zero’ and other top result snippets, along with local maps, etc. There are just far fewer organic positions to fight for.


8. 90% of Our Competition Has Disappeared (And Their Clients’)

While selling $10 million worth of links is a major accomplishment, the biggest achievement is our longevity. The majority of SEO agencies and link sellers that we have competed against throughout the years are gone now.

Why? Because most agencies spring up thinking the game is easy and they soon realize that it’s not as simple as it appears. Not only have they disappeared, but their clients’ have suffered the fate of working with inexperienced SEOs.

I cannot stress the importance of working with an agency that has your best interest in mind. Our sales volume could be even more impressive if we took on every client that approached us wanting to buy links.

I’m proud of how our ethics and approach to link building have remained strong over the years, with our number one goal being to help businesses and brands succeed online by rolling out intelligent and results-focused link-building efforts.

While there is a lot of fly-by-night agencies that pop up, I’m thankful to those that have trusted us with their link needs and continue to use us as their vendor. We have a strong anchor planted in the SEO industry and we plan to continue to stand out above the rest.



Final Thoughts

Some of these things weren’t even considered back in the day when I first began selling links. For example, user experience was never considered or even talked about. It was all about ranking – imagine if we focused on user experience back then? That would have led to increased conversions and revenue.

But, we learn as we go, and search engine optimization strategies and best practices change to deliver the best results according to the end goal of a particular campaign. It’s almost crazy to think that “SEO packages” were a thing in the past. Today, campaigns have to be created custom, according to the goal of the campaign as well as the desired action when traffic hits particular web pages.

Read through the information above and find ways to integrate it with your current SEO effort. While ever-changing, these are things that you need to fully understand and embrace if you want to experience great results. Competition is higher than ever and the amount of organic real estate on Google continues to get smaller.

If you have any link-building questions drop them in the comments below. I’ve seen a lot over the years, and I’m more than happy to try to help you understand the different aspects of link building and organic search marketing.

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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