Just as keywords are about what your searchers are actually looking for (not what you think they should be searching for), links are about driving relevant traffic to your site (not manipulating search rankings). Now the furore around paid links has died down, Im starting to see a few articles poking their heads up above the throng and reminding us that while it may not be 1996 anymore, we should be linking like it is.
Links are the ties that bind the web together. They create relevant internal navigation within a large site to help users find what they are looking for. Links create a larger network of relevancy for users. Links lead users from relevant content to related content, blazing a path of relevancy through the myriad of sites populating cyberspace. OK, possibly not that dramatic but linking is still one of the best ways to drive traffic to your site when used properly.
Link building has become big business. I know of companies who have whole networks of websites, each with a speciality, and they very carefully scrape a wide range of changing content, never link to unrelated sites they own, and work hard to create sites that will provide quality links over the longer term. However these companies ultimately aim at manipulating rankings and not always driving traffic.
If I imagine a world where Google goes offline for a day (or excludes links from their 200 ranking factors), where else am I getting our traffic from? Site stats showing how important links are for us with a substantial amount of users and traffic coming in from links. Links can and do provide valuable traffic for us – not just elevated rankings.
Looking at the site I work with, links in from Wikipedia lead users from wiki pages to relevant articles on our site. Fan sites and newsgroups lead people to our site when links to our articles posted there by other fans. StumbleUpon has helped people find us. Link building is not just just basic SEO. Linking needs to be approached like it is 1996 again for driving traffic.
Link building is about traffic, not rank. Focus on quality, relevant link building to drive traffic to relevant, quality landing pages and the users will come. And you’ll make me smile.