Link Building: Myths and Misconceptions
Nobody likes to hear their line of business being publicly disparaged. Nonetheless, name a profession and you can find people talking smack about it: from bankers to farmers and anything in between. If you’re in the SEO or digital marketing world, you’re probably used to it. If you’re a link builder, the death knell has been rung so many times, you’re probably made of Teflon by now.
The crux of the issue is, why are SEO and link building being slighted? The answer is probably pretty simple: those who are throwing rocks at these industries either don’t really understand what we do, or they’re mistaking us for someone else. Some shadowy phantom from 2009 who sells six thousand backlinks for $80 or something.
People are still building links. For companies that need them. Because it works. And they’re proud of it. Yes, a rather unseemly history surrounds link building. We are aware. Similar to the earliest days of the advertising industry, SEO didn’t necessarily start out focusing on the user. Truth be told, it was simply a rank-at-any-cost spam-a-thon. But the people won. Things changed. And we’re all better off.
Misconceptions and myths still abound in the strange world of SEO. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the commonly heard questions regarding link building...
Isn’t link building for spammers and scammers?
Offering or requesting a link, to or from anywhere, is not a scheme. It is not manipulative. I’m not sure why some people act as though reaching out to webmasters and blog editors is some shrewd ploy with Machiavellian undertones. This is one human talking to another human. In the digital realm, it doesn’t get more ‘natural’ than that.
Let’s say there are four restaurants on one block. One week, they each get a visit from the ol’ health inspector. One of them flunks with flying colors. Does your average hungry human say, “Well, one of these restaurants undercooks their pork and has raging bacteria in their soup, I guess I won’t eat anywhere on this block, ever again…”
They certainly do not. They stop patronizing the offending business and only dine at establishments with sanitary practices and sterile kitchens. Bringing it all back together, some people who “build links” are snakes who run scams, abuse best practice guidelines, and essentially throw their clients under the bus with their detrimental methods.
Every industry has cheaters, crooks, and lazy corner-cutters. I wish we could change that, but we simply cannot. What it comes down to is: the problems of some are not the problems of all. The majority of my professional contemporaries are busy kicking ass and building killer links. And I’m waxing philosophical about people with no moral compass who suck at their jobs. Clearly, I need to get back to work.
So, does Google hate links or what?
Of course not. Google loves links. Google makes money from links. It’s possible that Google wants all the links for themselves. Every time you search something and click on a result…well, you just demonstrated that links are the basic mode of transportation on the internet. There are over one billion websites out there. If we could find everything we were looking for by simply navigating from one website to another, we wouldn’t need a search engine. But that’s not the case.
Are crappy links really the worst offender out there? Compared to malicious spyware, corrupt trolls and hackers, social platforms built for teenage bullying, websites that cater to sex traffickers or other forms of cruelty… Now those are problems on the internet.
People who work at Google aren’t the ‘internet cops’. Unless, of course, you’re trying to rank for something like “best lawyer in Boca Raton” with exact-match anchor text on hundreds of spam sites. Then your ass is going down and your business might even be going under. A Google employee saying people should “avoid links” last week garnered a collective eye roll from the SEO industry at large. Why? Because THERE IS NOTHING INHERENTLY SPAMMY ABOUT ASKING SOMEONE FOR A LINK.
We’re not sure who started the rumor that building links of any kind incurs Google penalties. If you’re building links the right way, the results are quite the opposite. Many SEOs have examples of clients who skyrocketed in the rankings after algorithm updates.
Which is better: link building or link earning?
Jargon and semantic buzzwords reign supreme in the marketing and advertising worlds, no doubt about it. But usually, things don’t actually change. Just what we call these things change. So let’s get this out of the way:
Your company “earns” the link, our company “builds” the link.
Let’s say your intention is to build…a treehouse.
You picked out a lovely oak with perfect boughs. You own the property. You’ve spent years honing your carpentry skills. You bought good lumber, fastening hardware, roofing tiles, the whole shebang. You fastidiously drew up detailed plans. You’re ready. You’ve earned it!
So why isn’t this treehouse building itself? Unfortunately, painstaking preparation and being deserving of promotion, social shares, and copious links isn’t the end of the road. You still need to grab some power tools and start hammering away.
Being awesome and working hard, in general, is very likely to score you some solid unsolicited links. But then are are instances such as:
- Someone mentions your brand name contextually within an article, but didn’t link to it.
- A blog is using your images, infographic, or statistics without attribution.
- A list of helpful rodeo resources is a perfect home for your ‘tips for trailering horses’ video series...only they’ve never heard of it.
- A cited Wikipedia source is only a fraction as comprehensive as your own offering.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve “earned” it through killer content, a stellar reputation, a unique service or product. They’re not linking to you. Yet. Someone has to build those links.
Should I just hire a publicist/PR person instead?
Technical SEO, advertising, link building, public relations, content marketing, social media…the digital marketing sphere encompasses many diverse skillsets, to be sure. Time for another analog example:
Let’s say you’re throwing a big, outdoor festival. Should you hire bands? Or security? Or audio technicians? Or food and beverage vendors? Obviously, you’re going to need all of the above. You don’t expect the company you rented your giant tent from to run the sound board, check ID’s at the bar, and make sure the ice isn’t melting.
These are all vastly different jobs, even when they’re simultaneously working towards the same larger purpose. Link building is one of many prongs in the digital marketing vein. Each of these branches should be working in a complementary fashion. It’s never been a matter of “one or the other”.
The expert(s) you ultimately hire depends on the type of expert(s) you actually need.
Why do link builders care about search engines?
Above all else, because PEOPLE use them.
As a link building firm, we are a niche within a niche. Though our scope is often much larger, we specialize in one aspect of the digital marketing realm.
As my colleague Nicholas Chimonas mentioned in a webinar we held on February 24th, the moment we hear the phrase, “From an SEO perspective…” we quit listening. Nothing should be done solely for search engines. Generally, our client’s goals are to simply bring in more traffic, therefore more revenue, from organic search. Not, “I want to rank #1 for these seven keywords”.
To use a phrase I’m not a fan of, we don’t obsess over “link juice”. Algorithmic ranking factors are almost an afterthought. It’s all about the “human juice”. If a listing or article doesn’t end up getting the traffic or shares we wholeheartedly believed it deserved, well, at the very least, it’s still sending a high-quality and authoritative signal to the spiders. The link is there because it deserves to be there – end of story.
Who actually uses link building services?
Every website needs links. They’re essential to any online marketing effort. At Page One Power, our clientele varies from mom n’ pop startups to billion dollar multinationals. I can’t speak for every link building company, but we serve clients across the globe.
A portion of our workload comes from partnering with various SEO, marketing, and PR firms -- we build links for their clients, so they can focus on the other services they offer. Sometimes we work with our clients to develop link-worthy content. And much more.
You can call it whatever you want, but we’re sticking with the term “link building”. Sure, some sites need more of a “link architect” (a brand new business, perhaps). Some need a “link doctor” (like a website that used spammy ranking tactics in the past). Some of our duties could reasonably fall under the title “link coach” (when we teach companies how to build their own killer links).
No matter what terminology you slap on it, the root remains the same: the end goal of a link building campaign is simply...building great links. Links that matter in a number of different ways. We do that by getting your message or brand in front of the relevant audience. We strive to do so only in ways that are organic and sensible. Your goals become our goals and we all grow together.
If this sounds like rosy idealism, worry not – we temper our optimism with a healthy, realistic approach. Both of those actually grow on trees over here in Idaho…