Last week we were extremely fortunate to have a special edition of The Backlink Show, in which we were joined by none other than the Link Moses Eric Ward. Eric has been a thought leader in the link building space since before Google became the dominant search engine.
Page One Power was founded on the principles Eric Ward outlines in his link building newsletter, and helped our founder Jon and Zach understand the importance of white hat, natural, long term solutions when it comes to link building.
The Future of SEO and Link Building
Jon Ball and Eric Ward start off the podcast talking about the recent Matt Cutts Webmaster Video concerning "Will Backlinks Lose their Importance in Ranking?"
Eric's (and our own) take on the situation is that many are struggling with Google's recent updates in the last few years, making old tactics outdated. Many are wondering what's left, and where to turn for rankings today. This leads to questions about links and what the next big signal might be, since more and more links are being devalued.
Eric's personal perspective and ethos is that links shouldn't be built with the direct intention of higher rankings - any link that's built with the intention of manipulating Google will eventually be devalued.
"You don't build backlinks to rank higher. You build backlinks or you pursue attention for your website from others in relevant industries or related industries who would find your content valuable and want to share it. And when that takes place, what ends up happening is you end up attracting the kind of links you wanted anyways...Google rankings are kind of like the residue of really strong content shared with the exact right people who can then do something with it." - Eric Ward
The reality is that links can't be your only online strategy. In fact, Eric believes that for extremely competitive niches, links alone won't be enough to move the needle. The amount of links you would need to rank a new site in a competitive niche would be extremely unnatural, and likely removed from Google within 24 hours (if it survived that long).
So, does that mean that Google will move to alternative signals? Maybe, in some cases - but links will likely always matter, Eric and Jon conclude.
To explain this reasoning, Eric and Jon discuss Google Authorship. Specifically, how determining authorities via authorship isn't possible in every niche. Eric points out that for local businesses, constantly writing and publishing content to develop authority simply isn't viable, citing a specific client who owns a small scuba diving shop in Florida.
Regardless, there's no doubt that alternative signals will continue to matter - even if they don't replace the link.
This led Jon and Eric to discuss social, which was long heralded as the replacement of the link.
Social Signals in SEO
First, let's be clear about social in SEO before we get too far in: social signals have no direct impact in search - they are not used in Google's algorithm. Matt Cutts said so plainly:
Furthermore, social is unlikely to be used as a ranking signal for quite a while due to a variety of pitfalls. However, Eric notes that social still plays an important role in engagement, amplification, and connecting with an audience.
"For me, the power of social, is not about directly influencing organic rank, it's about being able to connect with key influencers, or people who have a passion for a topic to such an extent that they're on twitter, sharing content about it, et cetera." - Eric Ward
Jon points out that Google has strong financial reason to not make huge alterations to their algorithm - why fix it if it's not broken?
Eric says that sharability on-site is incredibly important, and something he always checks for when doing website consultations.
Guest Posting - What's the Future?
Eric and Jon discussed the recent guest blogging fiasco in depth.
Unfortunately, most SEOs did indeed see guest posting abuse increase, with more and more guest posts created solely for a link to manipulate Google's algorithm. Does this mean that guest posting is completely off limits? Not according to Eric.
However, as with many link building tactics, guest posting's viability depends on implementation. As Eric says:
"There are opportunities for links and awareness building for any vertical, and guest posting in my opinion is still viable, so long as you recognize how to go about it...give me the tactic and I can make it black hat or I can make it white hat." - Eric Ward
Eric does recommend avoiding services such as MyBlogGuest, even though he disagrees labeling them as a link network (and the penalty they received). Unfortunately however, these services have become polluted, and Google's targeted them.
What Eric recommends is going after authority sites that represent a challenge, where you have to really earn a link, and offers potential referral traffic.
"Seek attention, links, and awareness from other sites, in a way that even if you were never rewarded by Google, you would still want that attention, and link from that site. Because that means you're perceiving there to be an important audience on that site, or other reasons that you want people on that site to know who you are. In other words, "I want the link, regardless of what Google thinks, or if Google rewards me for it." - Eric Ward
Google's Ethics, Morals, and Responsibilities
Last but not least, Jon and Eric discussed Josh Bachynski's post on themoralconcept.net, and whether Google had any moral obligations to webmaster and business owners who depend on traffic from search.
Eric, although he sympathizes with Josh's perspective, doesn't believe Google owes anyone anything. His perspective is that when they became a public company, their only obligation was to their shareholders - and that only obligation is to make money.
Furthermore, despite all his years reviewing websites and consulting, he's never seen a 100% unfair penalty. The fact is SEOs have abused links and manipulated Google for a long time, and when Google makes algorithmic adjustments it can't be perfect. There will be collateral damage.
Eric urges everyone to diversity both your links and traffic sources - Google's not perfect, and you can't rely on them completely. And if you think you can manipulate their algorithm and get away with it forever? They're hiring the best and the brightest PhDs in computer science.
Check out the full audio clip here: http://linkarati.com/link-building-podcast-backlink-show-episode-6-eric-ward/