When I was a kid, I’d always roll my eyes when my dad decided that he was going to try a new shortcut to get somewhere. Usually it meant driving through loads of backroads in desolate areas where the only signs of life were deer lurking by the side of the road just waiting to jump in front of our big station wagon.  We’d never actually be lost, but it would take us an hour to get to a place that was originally just 10 miles away from where we started. We’d definitely see cool stuff, and I’ll never forget seeing the little volleyball play area where, if the ball got away from you, you’d have to run through some old tombstones to find it. Fun times!

Link shortcuts are no different. They might look appealing, they might appear as if they’ll save you time, and they might be really, really fun. I’ve been guilty of taking them and many of you have too, and as busy as we all are, it’s only natural that we do try and save time whenever possible. The problem with link shortcuts, though, is that not all of them will do much more than create more agony for you in the future. To be fair, some are fantastic and some work really well for certain people. Some people consider certain things to be shortcuts whereas others see them as legitimate ways to build sustainable links. In considering all of this, I’ve tried to come up with just three shortcuts that I personally view as sub-optimal.

1. Considering rankings before, or in place of, traffic.

While it’s true that rankings are affected by links (and other things, remember, please please remember this) it’s not a good idea to only view links as being a way to make you rise to the top of the SERPs. Ever noticed how many fluctuations there are? If you get caught up in rankings, you’ll go crazy when you drop from number 5 to number 7, and even if it lasts for a day, there’s 24 hours of stress that you don’t need.

I do completely realize that for some sites, the difference in Google positions can indeed mean a massive loss of profit, and obviously if you’re in that boat, of course you need to consider rankings. I am also not saying that rankings aren’t important, only (remember) that building links to boost rankings is not as effective a long-term strategy as building links to boost traffic.

You know one really easy way to not get caught up in this? Don’t focus on metrics alone. If you find a great, relevant site that has regular posts, good social traction with relevant comments, and it’s a PR 0? Go for it. That PR 5 site in a completely unrelated niche, the one with content last updated 2 years ago…that might not be your best bet for traffic.

2. Copying the profile of a competitor.

This tactic has always really bothered me, as it’s based on the overly-simplified assumption that if something works for one site, it will work for you. It’s just not usually true. Looking only at a competitor’s backlink profile tells you nothing about the site itself. Maybe the site has amazing content and is being promoted very well on social media accounts that reach a massive amount of targeted users. Maybe the user experience on the site is off the charts amazing, maybe they offer great discounts to people who sign up for their email list, maybe they just have a better brand than you do. If you look at their links only, you cannot tell any of this. You cannot ignore on-page SEO, even if you’re doing what’s usually a mostly off-page method.

I do think that competitive analysis is very worthwhile…I just don’t think that you can copy a profile, only seek links from the same sites that link to your competitor, and get the same results. Even if you could do that, what happens when they change something? Do you change too, and keep following them around, or do you develop your own method of building links? I’d much rather do my own thing than copy someone else. That’s why I’ve always had bangs, worn boots that people make fun of (hello Uggs), and have never been afraid to play some Salt-N-Pepa on the jukebox.

3. Not fully vetting a site before approaching them for a link.

You can’t control who links to you (although you can disavow them in Bing! Bless their little hearts) but if you’re actively pursuing links by asking for them, don’t just ask anyone. Until fairly recently, I truly did not believe that crappy links could hurt you. I thought they might not help you, but that was before Google started warning webmasters and showing us that yes, bad links could harm you. If you’re going to approach a site and ask for a link, check it out thoroughly before you do. If it’s full of poorly written and useless content, if it’s changed hands 10 times in the last few years, if it’s clearly there just to host links…don’t bother. Go buy a Dickens book cover so people don’t realize you’re reading Fifty Shades of Gray or The Da Vinci Code.

And oddly enough, here’s something that can sometimes be the last thing you notice…really poor writing. I don’t mean poor writing like the afore-mentioned books (and for the record I have not read about Mr Gray nor shall I but I did read Dan Brown and am still taking antibiotics for it), I mean writing that is obviously the result of either cranking out nonsense just to fill up space or reworded and respun content. You should actually read a post on a blog you want to approach and not just think “oh wow, they have a lot of headlines about Kraftwerk and the site has some robots on it, I think, or maybe they’re dogs” because let me tell you, not paying attention to something as fundamental as the quality of the content on the site can bite you in the bum, big-time.

To summarize (which is kind of a shortcut really), don’t do these things unless you’re happy cleaning up messes and chasing something that you can’t catch. To be fair there are cases where people are perfectly happy just kind of flying blind on link building, and they do enjoy success with it. If you’re that guy, go for it. If you’re not (like most of us) then do try and figure out how to make things easier of course, but realize that some shortcuts just aren’t worth taking.

I’d love to hear examples of what you guys think are both good and bad shortcuts, so chime in if you can!!