Semalt Tells About The Evolution Of Link Building

Many SEO professionals agree with us that link building has indeed come a long way. In the SEO world, link building has become a constantly and rapidly developing sub-specialty. While a significant reason why link building has become so important is Google, we would like to mention that link building was an SEO practice even before Google. 

It is important that we understand how link building has developed up until this point, especially because most SEO professionals have realized that link building is and will continue to be an essential part of modern SEO. 

Learning of its origin gives us a stronger foundation to make the best decisions and develop the best link-building strategies. It also helps us distinguish between myths and link-building truths. 

Let's get into how link building developed over the years dating as far back as the pre-Google era. You must admit that imagining a world without Google must seem strange. LOL


Many clients assume link building is a practice that started after Google. But that isn't 100% correct. While Google ushered in link building as a way websites could optimize for their search engine, link building did exist. Link building before Google's link-based algorithm Backrub didn't just play a role in SEO. 

Pre-Google link building was used as a way to drive visitors directly to a website rather than using links to rank higher in SERP. Back then, webrings were the name of the tactics we used where a website owner published pages of links to other related websites. 

Websites did this for several reasons. They did this to:
  • Help themselves 
  • Help other websites in their industry
  • Help visitors
Unlike what you have today, back then, search engines sucked, and it was actually difficult to find what you were looking for. So website owners placed those links so that people could find through them interesting and useful websites to visit. At that time, that wasn't a black hat technique or a link-building practice,  it was actually a good thing for Internet users. 

Considering that there were no Webmaster Guidelines and no incentive to build those links for selfish reasons, they had no relevant impact on websites and their rankings. Websites were focused on a user-centric approach back then because that was all that really mattered. 

First Steps In Link Building For SEO

The birth of link building for SEO began with the development of Google. It may be strange to think that this multi-billion dollar search engine was once the research project of two college students. 

From being an average project, Google grew quickly, and in no time, became the search engine Yahoo relied on for accurate search results, and now, it is the largest search engine in the world. 

Unlike Yahoo, Google took a different approach in finding top-quality content for its search queries. Rather than relying on links to tell which articles were most suited, Google looked for inbound links. When SEO experts learned of this new development, they began building and acquiring inbound links so their websites could rank better by all means possible. 

Overnight, link building developed from being a user-friendly item web admins had on their websites to a tactic for ranking on search engines. And as with many new SEO tactics, SEO professionals wasted no time in discovering new ways to bend and abuse it. 

We discovered ways to build and exploit links while trying to manipulate Google on a large scale. Of course, Google knew what was happening, and in no time, Google launched its catastrophic Penguin algorithm. This algorithm had just one mission, which we will discuss later on. 

For Now, Let's Discuss How We Acquired Links In Its Earlier Days

Reciprocal Links

This tactic was an adaptation of the older webring concept. For this to work, web owners basically exchanged links. If website A publishes new content, they will link to website B and vice versa. 

Directory Links 

Growing up before the 2000s meant we had to read encyclopedias, phone books, and dictionaries to learn. Today, search engines have made it possible for users to learn and get correct answers to queries instantly. But between where we are with search engines today and when we had to use books, there was this period between these two eras where we had to blend search engines with hard copy books. At that point, search engines weren't so reliable, so both books and search engines were rolled into one portal. Search engines like Yahoo, AltaVista, AOL, and several other search engines used this tactic. 

A website could submit its websites to be included in a directory, or the owner of the directory could add a website if the information it provides is appreciated.

Guest Book Links

Guestbook list is something we did in the early days of having the Internet. Today, however, it will be considered weird. Guestbooks were a place for visitors to drop comments or notes to the world when they visited a site. It was like scrawling "Dan was here" but on the Internet with your keyboard and not with spraypaint. 

When visitors filled a form, their response will get published on the website's guestbook so the world could see it. It was fun and interesting at first, but not long after it became a trend, marketers began insulting it. 

Paid-Link Building

Buying links is one SEO-building tactic that has stood the test of time. Paying for links is one effective black hat tactic websites still use to develop their link-building efforts. And frankly, it's easier than having to cold email thousands of websites for free links. If you've tried acquiring a link on your own, you should have noticed that many websites require a fee to link to your website regardless of how good your contents are. 

Black Hat Link Building  

Most SEO professionals categorize themselves as either white hat or black hat SEO experts. What many SEO professionals fail to realize is that they are either lying or wrong. We say this because white hat SEO experts adhere to all of the search engine's webmaster guidelines, and a black hat means you break the rules. This means that actively chasing to acquire links to your website pushes you towards the grey area between these two categories. 

According to Google's Webmaster Guidelines, SEO professionals shouldn't be participating in link schemes. 

Link Schemes are links collected with the intention of manipulating PageRank or links collected to influence sites ranking in Google search results. In essence, what this says is that you shouldn't actively seek out inbound links. This means practically every PR campaign or request for a link has made you and us black hat SEO professionals. But come on, most logical people will consider more severe link acquisitions schemes such as:
  • Profile links 
  • Reciprocal links 
  • Private blog networdks 
  • Guest posting with spun content
  • Buying links 
  • Widget links 
  • Etc.
These schemes are what should be considered black hat techniques. 

What is important in staying on the good side of Google bots is understanding the things you can do and get away with, and as long as you don't go for easy or easily automated links, you'd be fine. 

Does This Mean Link Building Is Dead?

Once every few years, we hear another SEO professional claim that SEO link building is dead. What's shocking is that we still run link-building campaigns for our clients, and it goes a long way in helping their website rank. When you hear such claims, you must understand that these people make these claims just for popularity. In PR -101, we learn how anything controversial and shocking will get people talking. 

There is another crackpot theory of how link building will evolve. One which we disregard completely is that search engines will somehow learn how to infer meaning from a piece of content and use that as a ranking factor rather than looking for links. 

These are the kinds of misleading myths young businesses and inexperienced SEO practitioners fall victims to. 

One important message you must carry with you as this piece comes to an end is that Link building is far from being dead. And this isn't just the opinion of Semalt. Many other SEO experts agree on this matter. 


Link building provides true long-term value in digital PR. Quality links contribute significantly to the success of your website. they: 
  • Expose a brand.
  • Gain the trust of the audience through implied endorsement.
  • Can help a website generate more links.
  • Solidify or improve your position in the SERPs for the brand.
  • Increase your branded search. 
All of these will continue delivering results for the coming months or even years. Once you have enough links, you will be considered an authority website!

For more information, contact us immediately and we'll discover your SEO potential! 

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