Link Building – Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

It is a long shot I know, but someday I hope Google releases an algorithm update that completely changes how Link Building works. From my experience of digital marketing and more specifically SEO, Google and the SEO industry have been in an arms race, where SEOs develop a new link building tactic and Google then counters with an algorithm update.

This ‘gaming’ of the system exploits the fundamental principle that links count as a ‘vote’ in favour of a particular webpage. As a result link building has revolved around ‘voting’ for pages using optimised anchor texts, through such methods as directory submissions, article marketing and paid linking. If I’m honest, it’s a practice that I have never wholly agreed with because I find myself asking where and how this adds any value apart from temporarily improving rankings in the SERPs.

Algorithm Updates

At some point in their career, all SEOs have used these tactics and have had to adapt as Google has changed the ‘game.’ Herein lies another issue with ‘gaming’ the system, Google have the power to undo all the hard work invested in such tactics in a single algorithm update, take the Google Panda update for example.

I’ve never been too worried that my sites would fall foul of these updates, even when the world started receiving Webmaster Tools notifications warning of “unnatural link profiles”. This is because:

  1. On the scale of ‘white hat’ to ‘black hat’ link building, everything I do is firmly in the white camp. If Google are going to do anything, they will focus on those shady black hat SEOs.
  2. If by any chance I would get hit, it would force not only me, but all SEOs to clean up their act and come up with a system that is a little more honest and a lot more useful.

The latest buzzword in the industry is ‘Content Marketing’ and if I’m honest I’m none too thrilled about it. I love the idea of creating awesome, original content but still we are gaming the system. I would love to sit and tell you that I create this content because it’s useful to consumers, but it isn’t really is it? Maybe 1 piece of content in 20 will be truly awesome. We are doing it for the links. That is all. Link building should be a great source of relevant, valuable referrals for your clients, not a graveyard of content (that is rarely written by the professional in that industry) with links that eventually do more harm than good.

And do you know the worst thing about it? The companies with the bigger budgets can afford to spend the most money on higher quantities of content. The result? The bigger brands win.

On a completely related side note I will say that I loved the Venice update. Thanks Google!!

Conclusion or Result

So now I’m coming to the part of this post where I am sure you are expecting some sort of conclusion or result. Well I don’t have either of those. What I do have however is a deep longing for a difference in the link algorithm. This is where I believe Citation links and Co-Occurrence can help me out.

Currently if I want a link I will identify the site I want the link from and perform a nice bit of outreach to see if I can get it. Usually by offering something in return (a guest post usually). Consider how many people are doing this every single day? How on earth is this a fair and just system?

How about this:

Mr Smith is writing a marketing report for his site and wants to reference within the report a conference his company attended. Mr SEO knows that this conference was a big deal in the industry and as such has created a piece of content which demonstrates a truly wonderful breakdown of the day on a client’s site. Through the glory of social media Mr Smith finds this content and without even contacting Mr SEO decides to link to it. This then catches on with further links and interactions on social media to the client’s site.

All Mr SEO has done, is create an excellent piece of content and allowed it to be found.

I have read many blog posts over the last year (especially on SEOmoz) and there is a lot of talk regarding ‘content marketing’ with the main message being very much the Field of Dreams tagline “If you build it, they will come”.

Let’s hope this becomes an actual practice instead of a tagline.