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The Demise of Traditional Link Building
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Back in November 2012 I was at Pubcon in Las Vegas and I remember hearing Google's Matt Cutts mentions something about "make your first link count.."  He also mentioned that a major fight against web spam was coming.  He is a man of his word as a little less than two months we began to see a series of algorithm updates including the start of the Google Panda algorithm update.  In the Spring of 2012 Google released a number of messages surrounding "unnatural links" to Webmaster via Google Webmaster Tools.  This was followed up by another major update with Google Penguin.  The Penguin update was geared more towards sites that try to spam or over-optimize to gain presence in the search engines.  Part of this spam included the artificial inflation of a site's link inventory.  Excuse me but isn't that exactly what link building is?  Bing too has changed their algorithms to devalue link authority as a ranking signal (yet still use it as one of their major ranking factors).  Bing's Duane Forrester recently commented on the notion of what if links aren't as important as you think with an interesting post on the fact that links as a ranking signal have evolved.  He comments, " By and large, building links the right way is beyond your control." - see there is something to link bait after all.  Content marketing feeds right into link acquisition. Relevant, informational content is going to get shared, one way or another.  Let;s be frank, traditional link building sucks!!!

In the past, I've discussed the fact that at some point link popularity should be devalued as it is a mechanism that spammers have and will continue to exploit with the end result of poorer quality search results.  Traditional link building through the use of link solicitation has never made sense to me.  I mean I get why people do it as it used to be a way to jump onto the first page of results for a given query, but once people figure out that some basic optimization and link building could get you greater visibility it just seemed like a temporary solution.  Don't tell that to the black hat link builders out there.  When I first started in the search industry (a decade ago), one of the first tasks that I was given was to identify sources of links and do old school link requests.  I must have spent hours on this only to get a few links in return.  I thought then, just as I do now that link building in this sense was a waste of time.  I quickly realized that if you could create a meaningful piece of content and it got picked up by another site or aggregator that you would "naturally" acquire links.  No harm in that is there?  The idea of link bait when done without worrying about the algorithms just seemed and seems like the way to go.  The problem with that is that people by nature are lazy.  They need a quick fix.  Herein lies the problem with traditional link building.

The Demise of (Traditional) Link Building

I want to share some straight ahead facts with you.
  1. Traditional link building / link solicitation is time consuming.
  2. Almost everyone at some point was doing old school link building and as a result your competitors and you were most likely targeting the same linking sources.
  3. It is quality over quantity - just because you can acquire a large number of links does not mean you will improve in the search results.
  4. The return from traditional link building in 2012 is very little.  In fact you can do more harm than good.
  5. Traditional link building is a black hat technique that is used to artificially inflate your backlink inventory.
For any organizations that are dedicating resources at traditional link building, I would really think strongly about discontinuing the efforts.  The risk is simply too great.  Google has even come out a indirectly said that the upcoming Penguin algorithm updates are going to become more "jolting" for some sites.  If you are over-optimizing your site and are artificially inflating your link inventories you will get caught at some point.  The demise of traditional link building has started.  In 2012, the implementation of the Google Penguin algorithm update has raised the stakes further still, with tens of thousands of websites (a lot of them very credible and authoritative) receiving unnatural link warnings and penalties.  This is just the beginning as Google will take an even harder stance on link spam.

Quite honestly link solicitation in 2012 really does not make a lot of sense.  I mean there may be some value in acquiring a relevant link from say a CNN (but that's a paid link right?).  As Eric Ward states, "you need to increase awareness of your web content, be it through click traffic, social media, mobile or organic search...".  Eric Ward is one of the few highly successful "link builders".  He develops ethical strategies that help drive links to your content.  Keep in mind it starts with your content.

For the amount of time, money, resources that you spend on link analysis, and old school link building you would be better off in enhancing your content and developing strategies for having others promote your content for you whether it be through social or their own web properties.  There is no question that there has been too much emphasis placed on "traditional link building".    The search engines, lead by Google will continue to lead the charge on link spam.  They have to as the quality of their organic search results will suffer.  Links should be based on merit not on how much you paid for them.  Traditional link building is futile.  What you think that you are the only one trying to get links from these sources?  Like honestly people be creative.  Write exceptional copy, look for the best avenues to promote your content.  Get social and provide mechanism for people to promote your content for you.

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posted by Jody @ Thursday, August 23, 2012  
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Name: Jody
Home: Kelowna, BC, Canada
About Me: SEO guy by day, family man 24/7.
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