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The Largest Industry Survey Results:
How SEOs Do Link Building in 2017

Ah, link building… It has undoubtedly become the most time-consuming and frustrating SEO job lately.

How do you build backlinks? How do you do that effectively and safely? And is link building even worth your effort after all?

The SEO PowerSuite team asked SEOs to join forces in an industry survey to try to figure out what's truly working in modern link building.

We asked 628 SEOs about link building. Here's what we learned:

Who participated?
When it comes to an effective SEO strategy, there's no one-size-fits-it-all solution. What works like magic for a big SEO team can be a deadly trap for a small business. And that is why our main idea was to conduct the survey across multiple channels and attract SEOs of different caliber.
We asked SEOs at SMX Advanced 2017 in Seattle.
For those of you unfamiliar with SMX Advanced, it is one of the largest (and most trusted) events for SEO professionals in the USA.
We asked the SEO PowerSuite users and blog subscribers.
The audience here ranged from SEO agencies and in-house SEOs to small businesses making their first steps in SEO.
Here's how we can classify the respondents according to the type and size of business they're in (excluding thr "Other" group):
First and foremost…
Do SEOs believe in backlinks?

There was almost no difference in how professional and beginner SEOs treat backlinks. Regardless of their experiences:

~ 72% of SEOs believe backlinks are a significant ranking factor;
~ 24% of SEOs think backlinks are still somewhat important (while many other factors also play a part in the ranking algorithm);
~ 4% of SEOs assume backlink have little influence on rankings.

Aleh Barysevich
Co-founder and CMO
at SEO PowerSuite
For me, it was quite surprising to see that some SEO professionals consider backlinks only a minor ranking factor. It is true it's about quality now, not quantity, however:
1) Numerous SEO studies still show that backlinks correlate with rankings more than any other factor;
2) Google representatives themselves admit their algos rely on backlinks heavily;
3) And, let's be honest, there's simply no other factor now to substitute backlinks as a trust and authority factor for Google.
So, backlinks are important. But building backlinks is challenging.
What are the biggest link building challenges for SEOs these days?

Aleh Barysevich
Co-founder and CMO
at SEO PowerSuite
Some other results we came across were:
1) Proving link building ROI
2) Finding high quality link building opportunities
3) Not enough staff for link building activities
All points are quite understandable and predictable, aren't they?
Another huge challenge is keeping backlinks penalty-proof, and we wanted to see…
How many SEOs have had backlink penalties over the past 12 months?
Actually only 37 respondents mentioned they are pretty sure they've been penalized for backlinks. While as many as 503 of them have had no backlink penalties recently.
Among the 37 respondents who said they had received a penalty, manual actions were mentioned a little less frequently than Penguin (14 vs 20). However, manual penalties proved to be easier to recover from.
Aleh Barysevich
Co-founder and CMO
at SEO PowerSuite
Overall, SEOs seem to have become more discreet in their link building efforts. Thus the cases of actual penalties have become very rare. Also, in most cases SEOs managed to recover their rankings afterwards. Which means being penalized is definitely painful, however it is not a death sentence to your business.
To stay penalty-proof, you need to grow your link profile at a natural pace. but how many is not too many? We asked...
How many backlinks do SEOs build (and for how much money) per month per month?
Aleh Barysevich
Co-founder and CMO
at SEO PowerSuite
Only a few years ago these figures were times higher.
Well… SEO is the landscape that changes with supersonic speed. And now it's both dangerous and quite difficult to acquire more than 20 backlinks per month.
These were the overall stats. But we wanted to know if they differ depending on the size of the team.
Do SMBs have enough time for link building?
Unsurprisingly, smaller teams have much less resources to try out different link building tactics. While an average representative of a large SEO agency team would mention using ~14 link building tactics over the past year, an average small business owner would mention trying only 8.
Aleh Barysevich
Co-founder and CMO
at SEO PowerSuite
Even though link building got way harder than it used to be, SEOs are far from giving up on backlinks. Yet another proof link building isn't dead.
Now let's split the stats into the exact link building methods.
How often are different link building techniques used?

We asked SEOs about 23 different techniques (organized into 7 groups). Use the arrows to navigate between them:

Aleh Barysevich
Co-founder and CMO
at SEO PowerSuite
The absolute leaders in terms of popularity are social media techniques — "Including links in social media profiles" and "Sharing your content". However, this is probably explained by the fact that they are also an indispensable part of all PR and promotion efforts, rather than pure link building techniques. The least popular is old-school, gray-hat link building.
Now let's see how these techniques are being utilized by different SEO teams.
What are the top popular link building methods for different SEO teams?
Aleh Barysevich
Co-founder and CMO
at SEO PowerSuite
It's no surprise that different techniques work well for different teams. And while in-house teams, for instance, pick the methods that also influence their branding (say, industry research and press releases), an SEO agency would go for broken link building to simply earn more backlinks for their client's content.
And here comes probably the most important question:
What 5 link building techniques proved most and least efficient for SEOs?

The survey's leaders in terms of efficiency are various viral content types (research, videos, and interviews). However, it's worth noting that not all content types are created equal — for instance running webinars proved to be the least efficient method of all the 23 mentioned in the survey.

And a little extra for you from SMX Advanced:
What do leading SEO experts think about link building?

While at SMX Advanced, we used the chance to talk to 3 leading SEO experts asking them if link building was still worth it in 2017 and what link building techniques they considered the most effective (and safe).

Eric Enge
Of course, link building is important — nothing has changed, links still matter a great deal.
For me, the most important thing for building links is to create great content that's worth linking to. However it may still be safe to do things like guest posting and sharing infographics. The key to doing it the right way though is not to worry about the quantity of where you publish, but worry about the quality of where you publish. In any given market space, you might have 10, 20, maybe 30 sites that are worth publishing on. So think more about that, than masses and masses of different domains.
Bruce Clay
Founder and president, Bruce Clay, Inc.
I don't like the concept of "link building", but I like what you might call "acquiring links".

The fundamental problem with links (and Google has said this over and over again) is that if you get a link, this pretty much should be a surprise. I refer to your site because I respect that site and it's a good reference for my readers. However, what happened over time is that this concept has totally morphed into "whoever dies with the most links wins". Links became spam, and Google had to take action against it. So these days if you actively try to get links, you'd better really know what you're doing. And if you don't, you're getting things that will not count, you're getting them from junk sites that could a) not count and b) hurt you.

Our approach to link building is "Let's put out information". We publish the information, generally with social media, to the community we're targeting. And then, if they like it, they'll link to it.

In fishing, there're a couple of things you have to do. 1) You have to use the right bait; 2) you have to fish where the fish are. That is link building. You have to come up with something that your community cares about and then put it in front of them.
Marie Haynes
Is link building worth it? Yes, but only if you can get links that will actually be seen and used. If you're link building using scalable methods that get lots of links that never bring traffic, then you're probably wasting time and money. The best ways to earn links are ways in which you can actually earn links. It's ok to do promotion to tell people about your content, but if you can only get links by offering money to people or other big incentives, then you're likely doing it wrong. One of the best ways to get links is to publish original research. That's not that hard to do. Find out a question that people have in your industry and then do something to answer that question with data.
Want the survey data in a PDF report?
Download Free “Link Building 2017 Report”