The other day while working on a client proposal, I came to the section about link building and had to pause. While everything we include in a proposal is relevant, strategic, and in my opinion, a good tactic, I wasn’t sure I wanted to position it as link building.
As someone who has been building links for almost nine years, lately I’ve felt as if “link” building itself is becoming a thing of the past. It seems like every day there’s a new link that isn’t allowed by Google or another “link building is dead” article making the rounds. Someone I consider a very good SEO recently told me they no longer liked even reading about link building.
Is link building really becoming a thing of the past, or is it simply evolving into something bigger? Here are a few factors to consider:
“Traditional” Link Building Is Already Over
What many of us would consider to be “traditional” link building (mass directories, article submissions, link swaps, targeted anchor text, etc.) is already dead… or at least it should be.
The goal of traditional link building was to get as many links as possible to show the search engines your site mattered. Why? Links were one of the important signals for search engines, if not the biggest. However, with so many other signals now influencing search results, getting as many links as possible is really no longer necessary. In fact, we have seen examples of sites with small (but high quality) link profiles doing just fine.
The key to link building in 2014 and beyond is obtaining links from places that are relevant to the business. It’s not about mass link building but creating a larger online presence and building connections.
Bad News Rules The Airwaves
With all of the Google link penalty announcements over the past year, it’s not surprising that we are hearing more and more concerns from potential clients regarding link building.
While the methods used at my company are very white hat and we’ve never had a client penalized, I can’t fault any business for being a little concerned. The news ruling the airwaves isn’t great, and sadly, there are still a number of shady companies out there.
Search marketers have fought the snake oil stigma for as long as I’ve been in the industry, and it’s likely going to take a few more years, and much more industry awareness, for that to go away. Unfortunately, the search engines may just keep banging away at links and SEO before that has a chance to happen.
As my colleague Derek Edmond wrote in his Search Engine Land article last month, “it’s hard to undo the damage that’s already been done to the perception of link building, which is still a must needed component of an SEO program.”
We Have To Think Less Like SEOs
A few months ago, I attended an event where Wil Reynolds talked about how we as search marketers need to think more about business objectives and what actually matters to the CEO. This really struck a chord with me.
For a long time, I thought metrics like traffic, referrals, and rankings were how we should be measured. While those things are important (and a great indicator of how your campaign is performing), those statistics do not, in fact, add to the business’s bottom line.
As SEOs, we need to think less about metrics that are important to us and more about what’s important to the overall business. For link builders, this means focusing on what those links are actually doing.
PR companies get paid a lot of money to obtain press and mentions in well-known publications. Why? Press is what drives exposure and what traditionally drives sales. We need to think about links in a similar way and even more so, we need to be able to show how our efforts are performing. For example:
A link on [highly relevant site] was seen by ~[X] number of people, shared by [X] people, drove [X] referrals, and resulted in [X] sales/leads.
Link building can no longer be about the link itself. It has to be about the overall benefit to the business.
In The End…
In the end, the search marketing landscape will continue to evolve; and in turn, so will link building. We’re already seeing much more focus on relationship building and targeted outreach, and we’ll likely see more people selling “third-party outreach” or “brand building” as a service.
I love what link building really is at its core — an opportunity to connect with others, get your brand or business out there, and make it easy for your audience to find you. If a change in mindset and name is what we need, that’s just fine with me.