Fine, I'll say it.. SEO is confusing.
One minute, you have Google clamping down on something and then the next minute, they retract it. Google clamps down on one thing, everyone does other things and then Google says we can't do things a certain way anymore. Domain names change owners and links still seem to help, which they should... or shouldn't they? It's really a mess!
Where you absolutely cannot go wrong is making sure your website provides a good user experience to your website visitors. Follow that and you're safe... for sure. This means responsive website design, fast hosting, a clean design, good navigation, site maps, lightweight code and so on. This is called "on-site SEO" and we cover this with every website we build.
Ok, we got that out of the way.
Next, there's optimizing pages and writing content based on good keyword research. This is a must. This is also very safe as long as you're putting out excellent, top-notch content (text, images and video).
Speaking of fast hosting - Google is and has been testing this a lot. Here's an article about how Google is testing out showing a "SLOW" label in search results if your website is too slow: Google Testing A Red Slow Label In The Search Results For Slower Sites (searchengineland.com)
Then we have off-site SEO, which is really things like getting links, social media and social bookmarks. This is not so safe but it needs to be done. Google used to use links as an indicator of how popular a website is, then it backed away from that (Panda updates) and then people are thinking that their results suffered when they did this and they seem to going back to using incoming links (backlinks) as an indicator.
The best links you can get are links from relevant websites. Getting links from websites that don't relate to your website look like spam and, well, they are. You also can't get links too quickly if it's a new website since that looks spammy, too.
Here are a few articles that talk about good ways to get links to your website:
5 Techniques To Safely Get Links In 2015 (searchengineland.com)
Link building is important, but it can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Today, columnist Neil Patel shares his white hat link building tips.
Google has evolved to the point where it’s simply not possible to indiscriminately build links to a site and expect ranking. Try that, and you’ll get a penalty.
All of the tips there are good. The point about branding is huge. If you get links to your website's home page using your brand (your company name), then you should be alright. The only problem there is if your company name looks like a keyword.
For example, us getting links to our home page where the link text (anchor text) is "Webstix" or "Webstix.com" or "Webstix" is fine since "webstix" isn't really a keyword - it's a brand. It's a unique word that is ours and it's something others are not trying to rank for.
If you have a company name that looks like a keyword, then you'll have a tougher time. For example, we named our business "Best Website Design, Inc." and tried to get links with the text "Best Website Design" then it'll look like we're trying to rank for that keyword, which is something people search for.
Is Link-Building Dead? (searchenginewatch.com)
In this hangout, John was asked, "Is asking for a link unnatural link-building?" The question was about a business that wanted to reach out to people who had linked to their competitors and suggest that perhaps they link to them as well. John said, "In some cases I think that that definitely makes sense. But it probably makes sense also to look at the bigger picture to see who else is linking at your website. If all of the links are only links that you essentially badgered a webmaster to actually get, then that might be something where our algorithms say that this kind of link probably isn’t the most relevant. But in general, reaching out to people who are providing relevant content where you think your content might be useful for them as well, that’s something that’s possible to d…If you’re bringing this content to a webmaster and they think it’s good content, then generally that’s OK."
My interpretation: It is perfectly acceptable to Google if you contact site owners and ask them to link to content of yours that might be relevant to them. However, if this is the only kind of link that your site is able to get, then perhaps those links may not be too helpful.
It should not be a sin in Google's eyes to ask people to link to you. We ask them to share links, right?
The point here is that the rate of more links pointing to your website should look natural. If you got 1000 links overnight, that might look a little strange - although it certainly can happen if you run some sort of promotion or have something really big happen on your website or with your company that goes viral.
You need links to your website. Link building isn't bad but it has to be for a reason. If you're not publishing great content and if there are no comments on blog posts, it's going to look really strange if you, all of a sudden, get lots of links pointing to your website. You'll get smacked for that.
So first, do content development. Write awesome content that's worth sharing. Do research, answer people's questions, find related videos - all that. You're investing in great content that will keep paying off into the future in the form of traffic. You have to look at content development as an investment.
Next, start actively sharing that content and promoting it. You can often use the same content a few ways. You can produce a video or make a whitepaper or PDF from it. You can make an infographic. You could record an MP3 audio version of it.
Get active on your website and then start thinking about building links. Way too often we're seeing clients that just want the traffic without investing in content. For them, they need to go the Pay Per Click (PPC) route and continue to pay for traffic that they need. Sometimes the best strategy is two pronged - where you do both organic (SEO) and PPC so that you get traffic right away but then reduce your ad spend with PPC and rely on organic once that gets going.