Link building is a big part of search engine optimization, but there are good ways and bad ways to do it.  Here’s a little tale about a business that did it the wrong way and our suggestions for how to build links the right way.

A few days ago the New York Times reported an astounding story all about how J.C. Penney gamed the SEO system with black-hat tricks created to boost their search ranking. Essentially someone (the company claims they had nothing to do with the issue) optimized a way to build paid back links on sites all over the world. For the record paid back links = bad. Google will find out and you will be punished. Unfortunately for the retailer, punishment came in the form of a story the New York Times.

So how does the paid link business work? The NYTimes tracked down a black-hat operator who told the paper:

The hardest part about the link-selling business, he explained, is signing up deep-pocketed mainstream clients. Lots of them, it seems, are afraid they’ll get caught. Another difficulty is finding quality sites to post links. Whoever set up the campaign, he said, relied on some really low-rent, spammy sites — the kind with low PageRanks, as Google calls its patented measure of a site’s quality. The higher the PageRank, the more “Google juice” a site offers others to which it is linked.

Even with the so called “low-rent” sites, it appears J.C. Penney benefitted:

Search experts, however, say Penney likely reaped substantial rewards from the paid links. If you think of Google as the entrance to the planet’s largest shopping center, the links helped Penney appear as though it was the first and most inviting spot in the mall, to millions and millions of online shoppers.

But at the cost of what? A PR disaster and public scrutiny. For the record, our best practice suggestions for link building are as follows:

1. When you have something valuable to contribute to an industry knowledge, submit a comment to a blog, and, as long as it is relevant to the comment, include a site link. Alternatively – write an article to submit to a trade newsletter with optimized link(s) to your site.

2. Include a link in social media posts along with compelling content

3. Overwhelmingly, the best method to get quality inbound links is to have quality content on your site worthy of being linked to. Make it easier for the content to be shared with a Share This function and encouraging copy like,  “Consider sharing this article.”

4. Carefully research sites to determine where a link would be beneficial to your site. Contact the relevant party, preferably by phone, and explain your interest in their site. Request links from blogs or sites that have relevant, complementary, but non-competitive content to your site.

5. Include optimized (keyword anchor text) links in press releases.

Sure, all of these require a little work, but honest link building beats black-hat building any day and Google agrees.