What Happened to Link Building?

When I started my business in digital marketing my first thought was link building is too easy and isn’t this creating a lot of junk out there on the internet? I learned that truly this was an accepted way of “advertising” a website on the internet. It was also incredibly easy and unbelievably cheap. There were hundreds of offshore sources that would build these links using directory submissions, social bookmarkings, article postings and press releases for pennies each. The mark-ups were very high and it worked for our clients so we sold them.

Link Building became a staple in the search engine optimization business because it was effective and very profitable. However, common sense told me this was too good to be true and it wouldn’t last long because it was cheating. I am fortunate to have a mentor who is well ahead of the curve. He was constantly professing the virtues of content marketing. His point was and continues to be content will always be the foundation of SEO. It is the only way for a business to establish true credibility and authority online that will create lasting value. He was right and happily the primary focus of my SEO strategy for clients has always been based on good content.

I have a friend that started a new business a couple of years ago that like all new business owners has had his share of struggles. Recently, he reached an agreement with an offshore SEO service firm to provide services in exchange for a small share of his business. This piqued my curiosity so I did a little research on his company’s Internet presence. I found the company is invisible (remember that word) under there primary keywords. I shared my findings with him and he shared his most recent SEO report with me. The word “invisible” came from this report.

I have a number of issues with the SEO providers methodology but the primary one is the focus on mass directory listings, social bookmarking, press releases and article posting all of which have been invalidated by Google. These are the methodologies that Google has been warning us to avoid for some time now. The final word came recently with the Hummingbird update. So my friend has given up a share of the equity in his business to receive a service that is probably detrimental to his success in getting the Internet presences he so desperately needs.

The lesson is that Google is many things but most of all they are logical. There logical intent with back linking was to create a channel that would authenticate a webpage or blog post by citing a reference outside of the website or post. This was intended to work like a footnote in a book. However, the technologists quickly discovered how to game the system by creating artificial or unrelated back links which invalidated the concept in the digital environment. This also created a huge amount of spam that is housed in servers all over the world. It really cluttered things up out there in cyberspace. It made it much more difficult for Google to answer the age old question, “is it real or is it memorex”. (If you’re under the age of 50 you need to Google that)

Be mindful that these bulk back linking firms are under an enormous amount of pressure to maintain the status quo. They are facing the demise of their businesses because the level of customization and sophistication needed to convert to a content based systems is very difficult. The biggest challenge is the work cannot be mass produced by low skilled workers at a high profit margin. Skilled writers are required that can communicate well the the clients language. If you know someone that can write and is looking for a career that is expanding and in need of skilled workers this is a job to consider.

Google has advanced the search algorithm to the point that it can evaluate the credibility and the merit of each and every webpage and blog post it reads. It does a couple of core things (this is way over simplified). It compares and measures website and blog content to similar content it finds on your competitors websites. It also looks for validation by evaluating the level of engagement you have with your readers. Engagement is indicated by increasing website traffic, more pages visited, more time on site, lower bounce rates, likes, shares, Google +1 and comments to name a few.

Google’s logic is, the spontaneous and organic nature of social media and website visitor data is a better measure of quality and relevance. In the past, a big part of the measure has been monopolized by those that gamed the system from far away places. Today’s measure is really a pure marketing challenge. How can we create and distribute compelling and credible information that represents our core values, products and services in a way that will engage our community both on and off-line?

To me this has always been the primary challenge for any sales or marketing program. The difference is in the past we stimulated the market with direct mail, print, radio, TV and outdoor ads in hopes of getting prospects to talk about us around the water cooler at work. This works which is why it is part of the DNA of every successful marketing program today. Much of that is still part of the strategy however, the focus has shifted to engaging people online through social media.

This change is no secret in the digital marketing world. It is sad to see there are firms still selling invalidated services to unknowing clients.

Be careful out there.

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