Content producers are still focusing on link building for SEO, but Google officials say it's an outdated marketing strategy.

Links have always been an important part of SEO. To acquire more links faster, a lot of companies purchase links and build strategies exclusively to earn links, but it seems the times are turning. In a recent Google+ Hangout, Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller said link building is something you should generally avoid because it can do more harm than good.

“We do use links as part of our algorithm but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your web site than actually help,” said Mueller.

Despite all of this foreshadowing, 73 percent of marketing professionals told Moz they planned to spend more on link building in the next 12 months. This was on top of the 81 percent who said they’d already increased their budgets for link building in the past year. So contrary to what Google advises, most companies are upping the ante on link building every year.

Marketers link building

Here are some other instances when Google made similar statements:

Cutts tells SEOs to stop focusing so much on link building

Why content marketing is the only link building that counts – #SESNY

Don’t build links, earn them: Google targets private blog networks

It’s not smart for any business to put all of its eggs in one SEO basket. As Mueller stated, Google’s algorithm uses too many factors to control for, and search trends move quickly. What’s rewarded one year might not be the next. While Google has said links aren’t going anywhere soon, this isn’t the first warning that marketers should decrease their dependance on links for SEO.

Fortunately, Moz’s survey survey found there’s also a better understanding of what link-building tactics aren’t just ineffective – they’re harmful, such as:

  • Paid links
  • Article directories
  • Web directories

And as marketers move away from these strategies, they’re investing in the GOOD kinds of link building, like infographic promotion and content creation.

“[If] you are really sure that your content kind of stands on its own … make it easy [for people to link to it],” Mueller said in the Hangout. “Maybe, put a little widget on your page [to show people], if you like this, this is how you can link to it. Make sure that the URLs on your web site are easy to copy and paste.”

Organic links are a testament that your content is useful, and that readers want to share your valuable information with their own social circles. This digital version of word-of-mouth marketing isn’t something that can be purchased, it must be earned with a smart strategy that’s focused on the end-user, not the search ranking you’re hoping to reach.

Still have questions about link building? Check out our Penguin infographic and guide to squeaky clean link building tactics.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.