Is Link Building Dead?

Are We Hunters or Are We Farmers?

This past week had two major events of note. These included Google’s banning of MyBlogGuest and assessing a manual penalty on Portent, Inc. The penalty on Portent now appears to be lifted.

What are we to make of all this? Is Google seriously turning up the heat? This is something that I predicted in my 6 SEO Predictions Post for 2014 post for Search Engine Watch.

I think that we can safely say that Google is turning up the heat. Actions by Google are an outcome of more than a decade of hunter-like mentality by SEOs. What I mean by this is that many link builders played a see target: shoot target: kill target: eat target game. Vision involved nothing more than better, faster, and more efficient ways to kill more targets. [Tweet: "Google is turning up the heat on link builders"]

SEOs have been Hunters for links. Now Google is turning up the heat on them.



The problem is that are now getting depleted of game. Google has invested enormous resources in protecting their franchise, and you can expect many more of these types of occurrences throughout 2014 and on. Here are some of the lessons we need to learn:

1. Intent is Not What Matters: It is only the results that matter. Ann Smarty (the owner of MyBlogGuest) did not design her service to support spammy behavior, but it appears that much of that resulted, and this was exacerbated by the No NoFollow policy.

To Google, this ended up supporting bad link building practices by others. So regardless of Ann Smarty’s intent, Google did not like it, and they acted. [Tweet: "When cracking down on spam, Google doesn't care about your intent"]

2. This Comes on the Heels of Matt Cutts’ January 20, 2014 Rant: If you have not read Matt Cutts’ post titled The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO, go do so now. You can see the anger in it, and this is actually toned down from the way it read when he first published it. My perception is that the Webspam team is tired, frustrated, and yes, a little bit angry. [Tweet: "Google's Matt Cutts is not just anti-spam, he's now angry about spam"]

We need to view these two actions as significant shots across the bow, to serve notice that Google is going to be more proactive than ever in addressing link building practices of all kinds. To the best of their ability, they are going to force the conclusion they want, which is that link building with a hunter mentality is dead, and that links to your site should be a side effect of visibility and reputation building campaigns.

Link Builders Now Must Adopt a Farmer Mentality

3. Changes in Reconsideration Requests: For the first time recently here at Stone Temple Consulting we saw a client get a message that Google was not going to take any more reconsideration requests from them for a few weeks.

The note basically was serving notice that this client was not doing enough to clean up links, and that they needed to cut much deeper than they had been. In addition, the note suggested that dealing with reconsideration requests was demanding on Google’s time (so please stop wasting it with premature requests). [Tweet: "Google is losing patience with repeated reconsideration requests from penalized sites."]

Implications

It is time for SEOs to abandon their hunter mentality. Historically, most SEOs learned what things worked, and they went and did lots of that. There was no attempt to look at the big picture of marketing at all. In the case of guest posting, the goal was links from as as many different domains as possible.

If you think about it, this inevitably drives you to lower and lower quality sites and/or lower and lower relevance domains over time. This is not just about guest posting, but it is about link building as a practice. Time to get real. Let’s talk about some immediate actions you should take:

  1. STOP: putting rich anchor text links in any guest posts you do. Don’t argue with me. DO IT NOW.
  2. STOP: treating link building as a standalone practice. Get focused on marketing your business. As AJ Kohn says, “Links are the Result, Not the Goal”.
  3. STOP: focusing on the number of links. Quality is what matters most, by far. In fact, that volume approach is likely to directly hurt you!
  4. STOP: seeking links that no user is likely to ever click on.
  5. START: focusing on content marketing. More on this below.
  6. START: reviewing any past link building campaigns and get out in front of this. Clean it up before you get hit.

Content Marketing is the Way Forward

I say that with some trepidation as I know a bunch of people are going to rush out there, say they are doing content marketing and they are going to screw it up. Don’t treat content marketing as same s— different day. That is not going to work for you.

Content marketing needs to be about building your visibility and reputation online, and that’s the beginning and end of the story. If you do that well, you will inevitably do better in Google’s and Bing’s search results. Recall what Matt Cutts said in the interview I did with him in July of 2012.

By doing things that help build your own reputation, you are focusing on the right types of activity. Those are the signals we want to find and value the most anyway.

Successful content marketing programs will use a farmer mentality. Historically, farmers had to look at the big picture. They had to think ahead, plan for water shortages, rotate crops, find ways to store food for long periods of time, and more. Without the big picture, they did not prosper (credit goes to Sean Jackson for the hunter-farmer analogy). [Tweet this]

What are the sites most likely to build your reputation the most? How can you partner with them to create awesome content that really engages relevant audiences? How much traffic can you get through those links you get? Is it going to be received well in social media? Will people engage with it? Will they be more pre-disposed to trust you and want to buy your product? [Tweet this]

Link building is dead. The free money days of SEO are gone. If you made lots of money during those days, sit back for a second, celebrate your good fortune, sigh, and then focus forward on a new future.

This creates a fantastic opportunity for you. A lot of people are not going to get this transition right. You can. You can do it now. Embrace it. Make it yours. Rock on.

Comments

  1. Darren DeMatas says:

    Eric,

    Link building is dead. Link earning is a byproduct of good marketing. The end game is to build your brand and get visibility. This type of “SEO” takes a much longer time. I have employed many of the strategies you discuss above in a long term effort that now has my client ranking above Amazon for some of their products.

    I’m putting it all down into a post that I will share with everyone soon. To summarize, it took about 7 months of an integrated marketing strategy (not link building). Yes, we did get links; but that was not what I was “after.”

    • Eric Enge says:

      Hi Darren – it does get to semantics pretty quickly doesn’t it? My fear is that no matter what we call it, there will be people who abuse it. It will happen with content marketing soon enough! In the meantime, those of us who know better (like you) need to continue to leverage clean tactics and keep building our businesses.

  2. I see absolutely no sign that link building is dead. And all these “end of link building days” articles are not really addressing the problem. People turned to links because they didn’t believe in the power of content. Most of the “content marketing” being sold and blogged about these days is largely nonsense that calls for links to do the job that the content is not doing.

    Link building is fine. You’re allowed to build links and you SHOULD build links. But people have to get out of this “links drive rankings” mentality. Until all the SEO bloggers agree that anyone can make really useful content without faking it, we’ll continue to be inundated with reams of advice on how to fake it — and that means people will continue to fall back on links to support their weak content.

    • Eric Enge says:

      Exactly right – fake it until you make it doesn’t work. Developing links for traffic, visibility, and reputation is definitely the way to go. Those are the links that Google actually wants to value the most anyway.

      • I will have to only partially agree with you. First let me say that I 100% agree that you should get links on sites that are likely to get clicks to your own site, traffic and more importantly is the name of the game after all.

        The part I do not agree with is that you should not build links directly to boost rankings. Content marketing is great but I have still seem a ton of positive results using tiered linking setups and building out blog networks to control the first level of links to a website.

        Link building is not dead or dying, you just have to progress with the times and be smarter about it. If Google wants to see editorial links as your primary source, find a way to make those links happen.

        Great post by the way.

        • Hallo,
          Thank for the Great Post :)
          you are right ! Quality is more better than quantity ,and this want google !
          But without Links we can ‘t overtake our competitive?
          Thank

  3. A key component of link earning is EARNED CREDIBILITY. Link building is very tempting because it is quicker. Building credibility so potential link sources would TRUST you takes time. I think this is the way to go. It filters out players who want to cut corners. It filters out the Fiverr ‘linkbuilders.’

  4. Nice read. Thanks. However I want to elaborate on content marketing. I am seeing a lot of articles around content marketing saying it is the way to go. It allows people to naturally link to and share your content which is exactly what Google wants. Yes this works for big brands and there is no need for link building here but what about the smaller companies or start ups? Who is even going to find their content unless they have some awesome social media strategies in play? This is where link building comes info effect and I do think that start up companies need this unless they have a massive budget for marketing and PR. No harm in link building unless it is abused and spammed. Everyone hates spammers! Especially our best friend, the penguin.

    • Deniz,

      Small businesses can do just as well as big brands — it’s about quality and niche. If you write high quality content for your audience — even if it’s just a couple hundred people — and those people share it, comment on it, etc. etc. — then you’re good.

      I know, because I do this for clients and I do it for me — and it works. Am I getting hundreds or thousands of shares or comments? No. But I get enough due to posting what I know my audience finds valuable.

      • Deniz says:

        Yes this is true. I am just saying that it may be a lot harder to reach this audience for start ups. Couple of hundred of visits and some shares is fantastic :)

  5. Another interesting article Eric. There seems to still be value in finite link building for small, local, specific industries, but the long-term outlook, or any scale has to go through link development/content marketing. Businesses (and marketers) will have to wake up to the fact that there are no easy or quick answers for Search results – it takes time and a commitment of resources.

  6. First off, Eric, excellent article.

    Some excellent information from a few posters, where I believe it really is about finding that happy medium. Links? If they are useful and of value, sure. Content? Sure, again, if it adds value. I think sometimes, individuals may be to quick to react to information published and swing heavily to one opinion or direction prematurely.

    It really all boils down to BEING ‘natural’ and not ACTING ‘natural’ while creating a value for users.

    Just my two cents.

    Michael.

    • Eric Enge says:

      Hi Michael – I think links should bring you one or more of the following benefits:

      1. Relevant traffic
      2. Relevant visibility
      3. Increased reputation with your target audience.

      If you get one of more of these, the link is worth getting.

  7. Excellent read Eric. 100% agree with the content strategy and I do think rankings are going to be heavily based on your brand, reputation and communication with the searching audience. Publish wisely!

  8. Seriously i can say google is going to kill the SEO ,this can affect the professional people who works in link building and Guest posting to get exposure for clients site

  9. Without links Ranking? but only Content ?
    yes i want it but no really !

  10. Hello Eric,
    Is linkbuilding dead ?

    My answer is NO .

    Linkbuilding is still alive & running very successfully, YES, this is fine that SPAMMY & old school link building techniques has been died. SEO community has been in trouble to find new ways to create links.

    Links are still food & oxygen of Search engines spiders.

    All advices you told us is really very good.

  11. This is truly some of the best advice given. If you focus more on quality content, you win even if you do not rank.

  12. I agree with you that we need to stop thinking about individual ‘strategies’ and start thinking about marketing more holistically. Like we know we have to content market, but that means something different for each business. Each businesses customers are different and they digest content differently, so the the ‘strategies’ are so diverse that if we think about them as a part of a whole marketing campaign it is easier to integrate the parts and how they will work together!

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