Inbound links have been an important part of getting found online since the beginning of search engines. Google, founded by academics, determined in the early days that links pointing to a website were like a works cited section of an academic paper. If you were cited by several people, especially credible people, then that must mean you are an authority. So search engines ranked a website higher on a search engine results page if a website had more links pointing to it.
But while inbound links have always been important for determining website rankings, what kinds of links worked or didn't work to improve ranks and how links were acquired have changed markedly over time.
As Internet marketers, inbound links are very important to the services we provide our clients. Many of the prospective and existing clients we speak to are generally informed about the state of inbound linking, but people aren’t always aware of the transformation it has gone through over time.
It’s important to know the transformation link building has gone through because it informs the current state of affairs, and it influences our daily efforts as link builders. The tactics we utilize for our clients and the results that we expect are shaped by the history of the discipline. So let’s review the journey link building has gone through since the beginning.
Most link building historical timelines focus on Google’s algorithmic changes because Google dominates the search engine market. So we’ll follow this pattern providing some helpful visual resources for your understanding.
You can see through the visual guides that SEOs have taken a variety of tactics over the years, generally with the same theme of trying to game the system. Whether you’re embedding invisible links, requesting or paying for links in irrelevant places, or spamming people, the concept is the same. You are trying to get link credibility without the honest work of creating great content that people will want to reference on their own.
So what’s the takeaway?
Should we try to continue to beat the system and find new ways of getting results without the honest work of developing quality content? Or should we be doing the work of building great content, establishing positive brand recognition, and amplifying our online presence through engagement and interaction with our target market? And if we do this, when people learn about us and see our great content, perhaps they’ll want to share it on their own?