Don’t Just Earn Links, Build Links Too
With the advent of Hummingbird and the inevitable (not provided) update over the last week or so (from an announcement perspective at least), Google appears to be fully flexing its monopolistic muscles and reminding us SEOs of our rightful place in the organic world.
Whenever Google shakes the industry up a little bit, I often find that we hear more evangelising of how to keep SEO ‘pure’, ensuring we play within whiter than white guidelines and the age old adage ‘Content is King’. I also get an influx of emails and clients from colleagues, friends, clients and family members alike re-confirming what is and what isn’t allowed when it comes to keeping Google happy. Should we nofollow all links just in case? What would Google do?
I’ve in been in SEO for a relatively long time by this industry’s standards meaning I’ve seen techniques that used to be considered perfectly rational and above board gradually become dirty words whispered in dark corners – think ‘PR Release’ or ‘guest blog’. The thing is these techniques have become devalued and/or punishable because too many SEOs continue to abuse them to within an inch of their existence. Short cuts are taken, high quantity/low quality links are pushed out to all the wrong places and Google catches in to these relatively easily detectable techniques. That doesn’t mean that we should all stop being SEOs and overnight become ‘content marketers’ who only produce great content because great will always magically go viral, get shared and bring you lots of lovely genuine links and traffic. If I read one more post entitled ‘Earn Links, Don’t Build Them’ – I may get violent.
I wholeheartedly support the use of great content as part of your SEO strategy. Emphasis on the ‘part of’. I don’t agree that content and ‘earning’ links is the solution to our organic woes. Search Engine Optimisation is one aspect of Search Marketing. The clue is in the name. Televsion, Adwords, Display, Newspapers – that marketing isn’t free and wholly ‘genuine’. Our marketing isn’t either.
We shouldn’t be mistaking ‘high quality’ with ‘genuine’. We can’t simply ‘earn’ links by making great content and hoping for the best. We have to build them. Because links are a source of our own brand of marketing, whether it be for algorithmic purposes, referral traffic or the possible expansion of citation-style led algorithms that use mentions and links as indicators or quality/relevance.
I recently saw a really great video campaign by a popular fashion brand that barely brought in any visitors to the site. This was because it wasn’t properly marketed across any of its digital channels. That includes above-the-line promotion as well as other down to earth practical things such as optimising YouTube tags, hosting it on its own page within the website, or even bidding on the campaign name. If you build it, they won’t come until they are told about it. And when they’re told about it, it’s linked to.
In another example, a colleague of mine asked me if we should nofollow all the PR we do when we run competitions on behalf of a client of ours. We work with relevant bloggers who have their own style of voice. We don’t dictate product links or use exact match anchor text. We run real-life product competitions that require engagement and actual reading of the post. This is similar to all sorts of PR agencies out there who are looking for visibility, engagement and audience impact. Those PR agencies have never even heard of ‘nofollow’ and link back to a brand because it’s just a good old fashioned helpful link that the reader might want to follow. Should every link on the internet no be nofollow because everyone might just possibly maybe link building? No matter how relevant that standard piece of marketing is? Would we nofollow a street address for the same store in the real world? Am I endangering my site by thinking this way? Perhaps.
Where does marketing stop and so-called link schemes begin?
Everyday companies undertake other forms of marketing that could potentially help their organic presence as a natural side product, if correctly considered. Requesting a link back from these activities is good old fashioned ‘link building’. There’s no baiting, it’s predominately about getting a strong link back to the target domain, there’s no long-term strategy involved and it’s not content driven.
</rant> I’ll leave you with some thoughts on link building wins that aren’t earned and are in fact just ‘built’ but which are both relevant and a natural part of a brand’s marketing.
– Partnership media campaigns should include a link back to your site – e.g. paid for a radio advert? Get a page on the radio station’s site linking to yours.
– Companies regularly using your products or services will receive a discount if they list your as a ‘Preferred Partner’. Create your own page on their site, add a discount code or encourage them as an affiliate. It’s win/win.
– Customer reviews. If your product is great, and it’s helped your customers achieve what they wanted. Do they have a blog? Are you approaching them and finding out about the possibility of getting a genuine review post up there?
– Offline events. Is there an equivalent page promoting the event on that company’s site? All too often I see great offline massively promoted events with no online publicity. Two different marketing departments that aren’t talking to one another. Be the bridge!
Image credit: Androvm.org