It’s often said that the best “search engine optimisation” you can do nowadays is to make your information as easy to find and as comprehensive as possible: in other words, to provide everything your human visitors would want. This is the goal of the search engines, after all: to list the sites, for any given query, which human visitors would most like to find. And the search engines are getting better at this all the time.
Links to your site, whether they’re from websites or social media, are the other half of the winning formula, and in this aspect too, the search engines are trying to replicate the importance of links in the real world. That means more than ever, it’s about relevant links from well-regarded sites.
In the past, it was much more about numbers of links, regardless of quality. In this respect, one of the jobs of “SEO Agencies” was to get you hundreds of links from all over the place. Few clients seemed to care where the links were being “placed”, as long as the resulting effect was higher ranking in the search results. I was looking at the external links to a transducer manufacturer’s site the other day, and there was a huge group of odd links from completely unconnected sites, all dating from about five years ago. The links all turned out to be in blog comments pages, of the meaningless variety we’ve all seen. A typical example was the comment: “I love this blog! I hope lots of people read it” accompanied by a “user name” of “cheaper transducers”, linking to the company’s site. For the site’s readers, a completely worthless irritation.
It turned out to be a period where the company had engaged the services of an SEO agency, and this is what they’d done for the money. I’m not having a pop at the agency: this is what worked, back then. But now, these links have so little effect that you’d need thousands of them …and that carries the strong risk of incurring a penalty from Google, a disastrous state of affairs which is the opposite of what you want.
So, build links to your site, but get proper ones from mainstream, relevant sites. Putting a link to your own site in the comments of a blog, or in a social media conversation, is absolutely fine if you’re properly engaging in whatever’s going on, and it’s clearly relevant. The search engines will be fine with that …because remember, they’re trying to replicate what humans would consider important.