The State of Link Building in 2016

Nicholas Chimonas

Nicholas Chimonas is head of Research and Development at Page One Power. In this role, Nicholas is responsible for ensuring that Page One Power’s link building methodology remains cutting-edge, effective and within the parameters of Google’s quality guidelines. Through a combination of data-driven analysis and thorough testing of marketing tools and link building tactics, Nicholas ensures that Page One Power remains at the forefront of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.

An important milestone of this evolution occurred when the Penguin algorithm was introduced by Google. Because many websites were penalized by this algorithm, a lot of companies that previously relied upon link-building strategies started paying more attention to content marketing techniques. Despite the fact that there is a huge crossover between link building and content marketing, getting links requires additional efforts. When content marketing started to grow in popularity in 2012−2013, a lot of marketers believed earning links to be a kind of side effect of a well-executed content marketing campaign. Many thought they could simply create great content, amplify it, grow their network and, as a result, get links. However, this is a delusion. Link building requires focused outreach.

To understand, how link building execution evolved from 2014 to 2015 — 2016, a survey was conducted. Four hundred and thirty-five respondents were asked to answer questions concerning link building. Who participated? You can see in the following chart.

Source: Nicholas Simons' presentation at Digital Olympus

As you can see, the largest portion of the respondents were agencies — 41 percent, which is not surprising, as link building is a service typically offered by agencies. Also, different segments of in-house digital marketers were presented: SEO (27 percent), content marketers (9 percent) and PR (1 percent). The other respondents were freelancers and consultants (12 percent) and business owners (9 percent).

How much money is spent on link building on average? The respondents were asked to calculate their total spend on link building:

Source: Nicholas Simons' presentation at Digital Olympus

These expenses are supposed to include the salaries of link-building employees. A large number of respondents spend under $ 1,000 per month for link building, which indicates that link building is often an integral part of wider strategy, and that link building employees also have other duties.

Respondents were also asked what part of their overall SEO budget is spent on link building. In the chart below you can see the distribution:

Source: Nicholas Simons' presentation at Digital Olympus

In general, the survey showed that respondents tended to reduce the percentage of their SEO budget dedicated to link building in 2016 compared to 2014. In the results for 2016, you can see that the majority of businesses and digital marketers spent less than 25 percent of their SEO budget on link building, while in 2014, the largest group of respondents (40 percent) admitted that they spent 51−75 percent of their SEO budget on link building. Here is the distribution from a 2014 link-building survey:

Source: Nicholas Simons' presentation at Digital Olympus

And what about link builders' professional preferences? Which link building-tactics do they use? The vast majority — 90 percent of respondents — admitted that they use content publication, its promotion, guest posting:

Source: Nicholas Simons' presentation at Digital Olympus

Such results mean that a lot of link builders only use content marketing techniques.

All of the other white-hat techniques are used by around 50 percent of respondents: resource pages, digital PR, infographics, etc. This is interesting because 23 percent of respondents still use old school techniques like press releases and social bookmarking. This question was followed by «Which link-building tactics do you feel are the most effective?» There was a very curious distribution of answers:

Source: Nicholas Simons' presentation at Digital Olympus

Such answers indicate that link builders often use different white-hat techniques even though they doubt these techniques will yield tangible results. In fact, around half of link builders responded to this survey use resource pages, mentions, infographics, and broken link building do not believe in their effectiveness. Such a disconnected between the techniques that are often used and the ones that are believed to be effective indicates that a lot of link-building campaigns lack a detailed road map and a means of measuring the campaign’s effectiveness.

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