Why Manual Link Building is No Longer A Good SEO Strategy

manual link building

It is without a doubt that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been a critical component of digital marketing and remains one of the most popular ways for businesses to increase their online presence. Although SEO has evolved, various SEO strategies are utilized today, which particularly fall under the categories of On-page SEO and Off-page SEO. In this article, we will briefly go over the main differences between the two and explain why we think manual link-building is no longer a sound strategy.


On-Page Vs. Off-Page SEO

On-page SEO focuses on optimizing elements within the website itself, such as content, meta tags, and user experience, to improve relevance and user experience. Off-page SEO involves practices that utilize external sources to enhance the website’s authority and credibility such as manual link building, reviews or social media. Additionally, On-page SEO is controlled internally and aims to optimize your website, whereas off-site link building relies on external factors and involves influencing other websites to link back to yours.

While both of these types of SEO can be effective, Off-page SEO, Manual backlink building specifically, has long been a subject of scrutiny and debate. While proponents argue that it is an essential strategy for improving a website’s search engine ranking and visibility, critics point out several significant flaws that raise ethical and practical concerns.


The Downfalls of Manual Link Building

Now that we have a fundamental understanding of the types of SEO, let’s dive into the main issues with manual link building. 


1) Manual Backlinking Has Become Susceptible to Manipulation and Abuse

One of the primary issues with manual link-building is its susceptibility to manipulation and abuse. In the pursuit of higher search engine rankings, many marketers resort to unethical tactics such as buying links, participating in link schemes, or spamming websites with low-quality content stuffed with links. 


On the flip side, many webmasters and editors of popular websites have widely adopted a “pay-to-play” model. As a result, hardworking businesses and bloggers fall victim to paying large ransoms for one measly backlink to their websites. Those who don’t want to participate in these tactics must resort to acquiring manual backlinks from free, low-quality sites that can often do more harm to their site’s authority than good. 


These tactics not only violate search engine guidelines but also undermine the integrity of the web by artificially inflating the importance of certain websites, and Google has been catching on.


2) Google is Increasingly Discouraging Manual Backlinking

Google has been responding to the influence of black-hat SEO tactics on search rankings for years, by implementing a series of algorithm updates since 2005:


  • In 2005, the Jagger update targeted practices such as purchasing sitewide links, engaging in irrelevant reciprocal link exchanges, and obtaining links from link farms. 


  • The Panda update in 2011 particularly impacted “article marketing,” where low-quality articles were published on platforms like ezinearticles.com for link building. 


  • In 2012, Google introduced Penguin, aimed at combating link spam and manipulative link building strategies. 


  • The introduction of RankBrain in 2015 brought machine learning into the equation, adapting search result rankings based on various factors, including backlinks, depending on the industry, niche, or query. For instance, RankBrain prioritizes “timeliness” over “backlinks” in news-related searches due to the urgency of fresh content. 


  • In 2016, Google launched Penguin 4.0 as a core algorithm update to tackle the growing trend of manipulating search results through black hat link building methods. Webmasters were tasked with regularly monitoring their backlinks, removing or disavowing low-quality links to avoid penalties or being de-indexed by Google.


The purpose of these algorithm updates was not to eliminate the entire concept of manual backlinking itself, but to prevent or discourage black-hat link building schemes. However, in doing so, Google has created an environment where backlinks no longer have the same SEO impact that they once did. 


3) Backlinks Are Not As Important As They Used to Be

Recent insights highlight a shifting landscape in the significance of backlinks for Google rankings. 


Many believe that backlinks no longer have the same impact as they once did. A poll conducted in 2022 underscores this trend, with SEO professionals acknowledging a decrease in the impact of link-building on search rankings. The poll uncovered that 60% of SEOs think link building is less effective compared to the past, whereas 40% found it to be just as effective as before. 


What’s more, Google’s own have admitted that backlinks no longer have the same influence in rankings as in previous years. In a Google office hours video, Duy Nguyen, a member of Google’s search quality team, admitted this at the 6:08 mark of the video, saying”backlinks as a signal has a lot less significant impact compared to when Google Search first started out many years ago.” He then went on to criticize the use of link building campaigns by SEOs, saying they are “wasting money”. 


This sentiment is not new, as even Matt Cutts, a former Googler, said backlinks would be less important in the future, and that was back in 2014. Over time, there has been a noticeable decrease in the weight attributed to backlinks in Google’s ranking algorithms. 


This trend has persisted, with John Mueller of Google asserting in 2020 that “links are definitely not the most important SEO factor.”


These findings suggest that while backlinks still hold some importance, their influence on Google rankings has diminished compared to other ranking factors in today’s SEO landscape.


Building Links Naturally

So what is the alternative to manual link building? We believe in building links naturally. 


Building links naturally without manual intervention involves creating high-quality, valuable content that naturally attracts backlinks from other websites. The key is to focus on producing content that is informative, engaging, and relevant to your target audience. By consistently publishing content that addresses common questions, solves problems, or provides unique insights, you can naturally attract attention from other website owners and bloggers who may reference or link to your content as a valuable resource. 


Additionally, actively engaging with your audience through social media and other forms of networking can help increase visibility and encourage organic sharing and linking. By prioritizing content quality, audience engagement, and providing genuine value, you can cultivate a strong link profile organically, leading to improved search engine rankings and increased website authority over time.


At Metapixel, we believe that producing quality content and engaging with our audience is the best way to naturally build links. While it may take a little more time to build in the short term, this will have an invaluable positive impact on your brand’s long term online presence. This is especially true when it comes to ranking, authority and credibility on popular search engines. Remember,  search engines such as Google are focused on the end-user’s experience and prioritize content that is relevant and high quality for the audience. 


While manual link-building may offer short-term gains in search engine visibility, its flaws make it an unsustainable and risky strategy in the long run. Instead, marketers should focus on creating high-quality, valuable content that naturally attracts links from reputable sources, thereby building a strong and sustainable online presence.

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