Link building is one of those challenging subjects that carries a lot of technical undertones. It's a subject that often requires some explanation, depending on the audience, as to why it is so important to begin with.
The importance of building links to a site is something that SEO (search engine optimization) practitioners understand all too well. It's not just a quantity thing, but a qualitative measure. Links aren't just a conduit for traffic; they serve as an important signal to search engines. Of course, it is the significance and understanding of this signaling that often steers the explanation of link building into a much more technical discussion.
Just last week I was in New York for an on-site training with the Institute for International Research. IIR is a great organization to work with and very interesting from an SEO perspective. IIR puts on large-scale events on a wide array of topics and an even wider array of industries, like the upcoming conference that search engine optimization expert Stephan Spencer will be speaking at called The Conference On Marketing.
So I found myself explaining link building to an audience that was nearly as diverse as their topics...varying responsibilities, positions, and technical expertise. This meant discussing the importance of quality versus quantity--that links from pages and sites that are authoritative within their topical area, with thematically relevant anchor text, hopefully from pages with lower numbers of outbound links, and higher PageRank may carry more value than other links. Of course, all of this is on a relative scale, though the ideal is finding links that score high on all these, and other, signals.
On the flight back, as exhaustion was starting to settle in, I found myself trying to come up with some image that could encapsulate these concepts of link building. One of the great things about being in a state of exhaustion is that simple visuals often come to mind over more complex ones. At some point, my mind settled in on the image of a mobile...as in the sculptures you hang in the air, based on counterbalanced components. Some of these feature pieces that are larger, counterbalanced by a pair of smaller ones, and so on.
I thought this image was appropriate, how the largest piece represented that most ideal, highest-quality link. Every site has a link profile, composed of all the links coming into it. Some are highly relevant, some highly irrelevant. Some come from authoritative domains, others not so much. We really, as do search engines, expect to find a diverse mix of links, many of which we have no control over. But while those ideal links may take more effort to achieve, they often carry considerably more weight, and value, than a handful of low-quality links.
It's important, when link building, to remember that most links have value and we must find balance--spend too much time just looking for ideal links, and your link profile will remain stunted, but just building links for links' sake will leave you out of balance, with links that convey no real value, off-topic from spammy sites.
Link building, like much of SEO, is about balance.