With the recent round of Penguin updates, you may have heard some SEOs say that “link building is dead” or “forget about link building – create good content instead”. While there is no doubt that content is very important, this case study will discredit the train of thought that you can forget about link building, and show you that link building alone can still produce great results. This is as close to a completely controlled case study that you are likely to see on the effectiveness of link building.

Firstly, this case study came about by accident. We didn’t deliberately set this up to see if we could achieve good results with pure link building activity, but that’s exactly what has happened over the last 12 months.

Initially, we performed a thorough SEO audit of our client’s website and found many areas in which the site could be improved. Some of the issues this website faced were:

  • Poor onsite keyword targeting in page titles and heading tags (not completely terrible, but improvements could definitely be made)
  • Lack of content on pages (many with absolutely no text)
  • Lack of internal linking
  • Poor URL structure

When we asked for our audit recommendations to be implemented, we were told of severe restrictions with access to making any changes to the website. We were told that no changes could be implemented until the management/development of the website was managed in-house – something that wasn’t happening for another 12 months!

The major positive of working on this website was the fact that they had not previously done any SEO activity! The backlink profile was a work of art; completely natural, no exact-match anchor text, no low quality links from “SEO directories” – it was truly the stuff that SEO dreams are made of!

What could we do, knowing the restrictions with making onsite changes and improving our ability to target keywords? We had to shift more time and focus into our link building/content marketing activity!

At Search Factory, we live and breathe by the motto, “quality over quantity”. Search Factory’s focus has always been on high quality content marketing activity by working closely with bloggers and webmasters of quality, legitimate websites – not just some low quality sites that exist purely for SEO backlinking purposes.

Background: How did the Site Perform Previously?

To give you some more information on the site’s history, the previous three years saw very consistent organic traffic. Looking at a year-on-year comparison of organic traffic for the 12 months before we started, there was actually a 1.10% decrease in organic traffic – but overall, the history was very consistent.

Activity: What did we do?

Without going into really specific details, over the 12 month period we built 103 blog post/page links back to the client’s site.

Here’s a graph showing the Domain Authority spread of those links:

As you can see in this graph, 87 out of the 103 links (85%) are between DA 21 and DA 40.

Of 103 links that were built, 97 used branded anchor text. That is, the exact brand name of the client’s site and close variations of it, including variations of the URL. The remaining 6 links used “white noise” (or “junk”) terms such as “click here”, “read more”, and “visit site”.

Because we only target high quality, legitimate sites for backlinks, these sites tend to have social media accounts and usually with significant followings. The site owners are always happy to promote our published content through their social media accounts, which helps them attract more social shares.

As well as blog post/page links, we also focused on building local citations on high quality business directories in order to build authority to location pages. During the 12 months, we built 147 high quality directory listings and local citations.

Results: Is Link Building Still a Good Way to Increase Organic Traffic?

After 12 months of pure content marketing activity, we have seen an increase of 32% in organic traffic. 32% doesn’t sound that impressive, does it? Well, this was in an extremely competitive niche with high search volume and in this case 32 % meant over half-a-million visits!

Conclusion: Link Building Works!

I wouldn’t have predicted results as strong as these from the beginning, but these results give us very strong evidence to suggest that link building by itself can still produce amazing results – as long as you do it properly!