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Is link building hurting your marketing?

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If you’ve been paying attention to what Google has been doing the last few years, you know that SEO has turned into an all-out war on spammers. If you’re still thinking that all-out link-building campaigns are the route to success, it’s time to re-evaluate, despite the long-standing advice that link building is the best method for increasing your site’s “Google juice.” The truth is not only that link building might be wasting your time, it might actually be hurting your marketing.

Link Building is no longer needed for PR Now
Photo credit: Mark Kens

Google has had a series of changes in recent years that have been targeted at improving the quality of their search results. The Panda update unleashed human raters on search results. The Penguin update went after “unnatural optimization”–that includes over-enthusiastic link building. Both of these updates have themselves been updated numerous times to continue the battle against spammers.

But it isn’t just spammers. Many marketers with link-building campaigns have been informed that their link patterns look suspicious. And no wonder–they are unnatural because that is what link building does. It creates links that would not have naturally occurred.

So, link building can hurt your SEO. Got it. But I would argue that there is an even bigger danger from link building.

If you think about what you need to do to get past the unnatural link building of the past, you need to create content that is of such high quality and such popularity that it naturally attracts links, as well as social shares. So, what if you actually try to do that?

Once you start creating different kinds of content, one of your questions will be, “Which content is working better than others?” And how would you judge that? You’d probably look to see which ones are getting more social shares and links. With social, you know which shares are your own, so you’d be looking for shares from others. But if you are doing a lot of link building, you might think that your content is doing well when, in fact, it isn’t.

How could that happen? If you just look at total links, then you are seeing the links that you solicited and the ones that happened naturally, so it might obscure which content is actually working. Now, if you are doing the link building yourself, then you will probably be able to identify which links are yours and which ones happened naturally.

But I usually find that isn’t how it happens. You hire someone to build links for you and they provide a report each month of how many links your content has received. They’ll claim credit for everything that happens and they won’t make any information available about what they actually did. The proof’s in the pudding–more links means they did a good job, no matter how they did it.

So you are back with the same problem. If you want to use links as a measure of which content is working better, then having a link-building campaign actually makes things worse, because it hides the quality of content and shows you the quality of link building instead.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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