Have you been wondering how to align your link building strategy in 2024?
To help you make more informed decisions, we have put together a link building survey to figure out what experienced SEOs think about backlinks, their impact on rankings and which tactics they consider the most effective.
Link building has changed a lot throughout the years. To better understand where it is now, we have set up a link building survey.
In this article:
How we collected the data
The SEO industry is very diverse. There are agencies, in-house SEO, freelancers, newcomers, old crowd, etc. Our goal was to segment our results as much as we could. With that in mind, here’s what we did:
I reached out to SEO service providers I know and trust, with at least 10 years of experience. I didn’t reach out to link-building-only agencies.
I also reached out to in-house SEOs with at least 10 years of SEO experience
Overall, we got responses from more than 300 SEO professions, none of who was specializing in link building services only.
➡ Guest blogging is going strong as one of the most popular link building tactics across all segments.
➡ Most SEOs still believe links are a powerful factor but the majority of us no longer think it is the strongest factor (I think this is a big change!)
➡ Most SEOs still see the correlations between new solid links and better rankings (but everyone admits the correlation is harder and harder to spot with so much going on, including updates, other factors, etc.)
➡ Creating linkable content is becoming a priority, especially for bigger brands and agencies.
➡ Traditional PR seems to come back as one of the most popular tactic as more brands are willing to invest into outsourcing it.
Here are our results at a glance:
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<center><a href="https://www.smarty.marketing/?p=9953"><img title="The State of Link Building Industry 2023" src="https://www.smarty.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/state-of-link-building-industry-2023.png" alt="The State of Link Building Industry 2023 - Infographic" width="600" /></a><br /><a title="Smarty Marketing" href="https://www.smarty.marketing/">By Smarty Marketing</a></center>
Survey results and highlights
Wider pool: 71.5% of respondents are in-house SEOs
[Manual outreach] In-house SEOs: 72.92% of SEOs work for a company with 70+ employees
[Manual outreach] Agencies: 30% of participating SEOs work at agencies with 2-10 employees and 23% work for large marketing agencies with 70+ employees
Overall, we surveyed more than 300 SEO professionals.
Medium-sized agencies are more willing to provide link building services
Wider pool: 59.2% of SEOs build links to their or clients’ sites
70% of large agencies (70+ employees) are not providing link building services and are not outsourcing them to third-party providers. Likewise, in-house-SEO teams of 70+-employee companies are not actively building links.
Half of the medium-sized agencies (26-70 employees) and 70% of smaller companies (up to 25 employees) provide link building services
Most popular link building services
Wider pool: Guest blogging is the most popular tactic to build links, with 38.4% of SEOs using it as a link building tactic. 34.8% of SEOs also invest in creating linkable content, 30.5% utilize forums / Q&A sites and 27.4% build links via link exchanges
Creating linkable content (infographics, surveys, lists, etc.) is the most popular link building service: 67% of agencies offer it. 41.86% of in-house SEO invest in this tactic.
Guest blogging holds the #2 spot with 50% of agencies providing the service
Traditional PR is the most popular link building strategy for in-house teams (58%). This service is provided by 35% of surveyed agencies.
Here are a few comments from our respondents:
More content asset focus/evergreen
The easy stuff like industry and local-specific directories, partners, and broken link opportunities.
Provide resources that the ideal prospect wants but almost no one in the industry is making.
We advise internal PR teams on how to approach their role with SEO in mind.
Citation building, local sponsorships
Most popular link building services being outsourced
Guest blogging is the most popular service being outsourced (~56%)
Blogger outreach and traditional PR are both being outsourced by marketing agencies pretty often (49% and 44%). 35% of in-house SEO teams outsource blogger outreach to third-party providers.
39% of the surveyed agencies outsource paid link building services
61% of agencies admit that their link building methods have changed within the past 10 years. 54% of in-house SEO did NOT change their link building tactics over the past 10 years.
More content and PR based, I call it authority building instead of link building
They are more targeted. For example, if we create a business cartoon based on a news story, we will pitch the editor of the news story to include it in the story.
Our link building has become more strategic. The most effective campaigns usually either leverage a valued content asset or bring real-world efforts online.
Larger focus on quality over quantity. More importance is placed on topical relevance vs just chasing authority metrics
99% of what we do now is ‘link earning’ through content
Less outreach as the response has declined
I don’t think the core principles have changed much, though the mediums and how we reach out to potential sites for links has shifted. More social, more tailored, it’s more difficult than ever to get links from local publications, etc.
We utilize content marketing more than anything else to build and “attract” inbound links.
We include visuals — including videos and photos — with the stories that we pitch.
It’s largely shifted from quantity to quality of links. The quality links are much, much harder to acquire without significant effort. As an agency, we’ve deprioritized that as we’ve found other actions more impactful.
There are probably lots of things we did 10 years ago and don’t anymore, like submitting to directories, creating WordPress themes, click-bait content, etc. These days, we mostly do guest blogging, product reviews, and HARO responses.
Impact of Backlinks on Rankings
Most SEOs see the correlation between new links and rankings within the following timeframes:
Wider pool: A bit more than half of SEOs (52%) think that new backlinks help improve rankings but there’s no strong correlation
Here’s how quickly SEOs see the correlation between new links and rankings:
After 2-4 weeks: 30.34%
After about 6 weeks: 25.84%
After 2 months: 14.61%
No correlation: 10.11%
Comments from our respondents:
Really depends on the type of page and how new it is; new blog posts and articles rank quickly (1 to 4 weeks) whereas commercial pages take longer (2 to 4 months)
With internal cross-linking, we see effects within a week
It depends on the nature of the links. Happens faster with high-quality links, but may not happen at all with low-quality links
I couldn’t give you an average anymore. It all depends on the industry these days in my experience.
Depends on the source. The more authoritative, the faster the results. For a top tier, it could be almost instantaneous – for less authoritative, it could take weeks to months.
It depends on the link quality and the quality of the recipient’s website. It can be as quick as 2-4 weeks or it won’t be noticeable until a certain mass has been achieved or the quality of the site has been improved.
Tough to give a consistent answer ‘It depends’ is true, lots of other variables
Impact of links on organic rankings:
59.60% of agencies believe that links are “moderately” important for rankings (Links are essential for ranking but other factors are as important)
23.23% of agencies consider backlinks “mildly important” (Other factors play a more significant role in rankings)
15.15% of agencies never saw a page without backlinks ranking for competitive terms (so they believe rankings are key for organic rankings)
Only 2% of respondents see no correlation between rankings and backlinks
27% of in-house SEOs admit that it is hard or impossible to see a clear correlation between new backlinks and rankings, but still, 45.8% of them consider links “a moderately important signal” (Links are essential for ranking but other factors are as important)
For large sites, deep links are important for crawling/indexing, so not directly related to rankings. Usually working on moving a very competitive term already ranking.
The link itself isn’t important — the context and influence of the topic authoritativeness of the link, the power, and the impact to the entire link graph are what matters.
You need at least one quality link for Google to find you and trust you enough to make it into their index. After that, they’re still very important but I am seeing query relevance, topical authority, and specific experience and expertise rise in influence.
Link building is important, but we still see most sites failing at technical SEO and have plenty of opportunities for on-page optimization as well as UI/UX and accessibility changes. We suggest that they address these before driving new traffic to their site.
Although Google says it’s no longer a “top” ranking factor, their system is fundamentally built on this. It might not be as important as it used to be but it’s still important.
To sum up…
Link building strategies have changed over the past 10 years to focus more on quality rather than quantity. There is more emphasis on content marketing and earning links naturally rather than manual outreach.
Most SEOs believe links help rankings, but there is no obvious correlation between new links and fast rankings. The quality and relevance of links matter more than quantity.
Backlinks are still considered an important ranking factor by most SEOs, though other technical and on-page factors are rising in influence. Many note links help establish trust and authority.
Ann Smarty is the co-founder of Smarty Marketing, a boutique SEO agency in New York With a career spanning over two decades in SEO, she has held various roles, including being an SEO analyst, Editor in Chief at Search Engine Journal, and SEO community manager.
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