You understand the importance of getting inbound links to your site, and you understand the value of quality links. But if you rush your link building efforts, you could end up doing your site's rankings more harm than good. Here's why.
Intuitively, we would guess that the faster we can get links the better. After all, there is already a lag time built in between when we get those all-important links and when they effect our search engine rankings. Logically we would want to cut that lag time to a minimum by link building as much as possible immediately after the launch of a site. Unfortunately, this can be a quick way to find yourself in search engine limbo.
The key to successful link building is a natural looking link profile. This means not only that inbound links vary in text and come from sites both big and small, but also that they come at a natural-looking rate of speed. Search engines should look at your site and see what looks like a word of mouth, viral increase in popularity. This means that your site starts out like any other: with a small handful of links from a very few, modest sites. As time goes on, the links come faster, and eventually the growth goes from linear to exponential.
To achieve a natural rate of link growth, think about what a successful site in your niche looks like in its earliest days. Perhaps it may have started as someone's hobby, or an offshoot of another project. Such a site probably stated out with few links. In the beginning, when the goal is simply get indexed by the major search engines, a single link can be enough to start your link building campaign; that is all that is generally needed to announce your site's presence to Google and the others.
Whether you start with one inbound link or a handful, the rule is to go slow and steady in the early days. The first several months, your site is particularly vulnerable to looking suspicious due to overly rapid link growth. It may be frustrating to restrain yourself, but it is much worse to end up in Google's infamous “sandbox,” where web sites go to die. Remember, you are seeding your future rankings with those first few links. Too many seeds in the ground doesn't make for a successful harvest.
After a handful of links in the first month, determine a slow but steady rate for your link building, and stick to it for several months. After a few months of consistent indexing, increasing rankings and perhaps even an increase in Google Page Rank (at the next PR update), you can consider speeding up your link building efforts. The combination of link building with whatever natural links you may be getting by now can turn your rate of growth exponential: the more links you build, the faster they come naturally. However, this is the time to watch out or another danger: the growth spurt.
When you finally determine that your link profile is natural looking and safe, and it's time to open the link building floodgates, it may be tempting to over-commit. You may set out to get a huge number of links, and for a while you may succeed. After a burst of link building, you take a month off to tend to something else. Then, when you have some free time, another burst of links. “It may not be steady,” you say, “but links are better than no links, right?”
Think about what the search engines see in this circumstance. Again, it's an unnatural link profile. Search engines can spot this behavior a mile away. No links for a month, followed by 100 links in a day, repeated over and over? It's a telltale signature. Just because you outgrow the “slow and steady” motto doesn't mean you should go “fast and unnatural.” Even an established site with many links should continue to seek a natural rate of growth.
Of course, you only have so much control over incoming links. However, your rate of link building should ignore organic links. If you get them (and you should), then great. Your link building sits underneath those organic links, raising your overall link profile to a higher level. Organic links will look natural all by themselves. Your job is to augment them in a way that doesn't negatively offset the gains you get from organic links.
An advanced strategy is to take your cues for link building from your organic links themselves. Keep close tabs on incoming links from organic sources, and as they naturally increase, your link building can increase as well. No matter how you determine your rate of link growth, remember that patience is key. Slow and steady really does win this race.