By MeghanCahill
31 Dec 2014

Why Link Building is NOT Advertising

Link Building


"Sally, 'bespoke Transylvanian capes' only costs three cents per click!"

I’ve surrendered to the fact that many people I meet don’t understand what I do. To an ear unfamiliar with any digital marketing verbiage, stating that I’m a “link builder” can sound like...I don’t know, like I play with Legos for a living or something.

Truth is, the SEO and online marketing industries are in such a state of constant fluctuation, sometimes I think even the people within them aren’t entirely sure “what we do”. Other than adapt, or course. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that when you say “digital marketing” occasionally people assume what you mean is “online advertising”.

No. Nah, man. These are entirely separate beasts. But what happens when this specific confusion takes place in a company’s marketing plan?

Uh-oh. Now we’re in trouble.

Blurring the lines of an SEO campaign and an advertising campaign will essentially render both of these efforts useless. They’re related; they’re just not synonymous. SEO? Part of marketing. Advertising? Yep, part of marketing, too. Link building, content development? It all falls under the larger, more general umbrella of “marketing”. SEO and advertising are individual mechanisms that are executed separately for good reason. Meanwhile, marketing is the entire machine. Let’s take a look at what can happen when you use a ‘nut’ where you needed ‘bolt’...

An Example:

Before “content marketing” was an industry buzz-phrase, I spoke with a company who’d been writing 1,500-word blog posts (by themselves, in-house) about their very specific industry. This company was a long-established authority and a Mom-and-Pop frontrunner in their niche. They had the goods, were well-respected, had a great website with a variety of interactive and engaging components for their community at large. The ideal site and company to ‘optimize’ for, no?

But...the blog posts. Primarily guest posts, no less. It hurt to read them. Just dismal. Unfortunately, I'm sure we're all familiar with articles like this. Yes, my example is purposefully vague, but here’s the gist: this company’s subject matter was right up my alley and they were talking about product I might actually purchase myself -- so, technically I should be interested in these blog posts. Right? I wasn’t.


"Is that...another listicle in broken English?"

The posts provided no value, offered no engagement and, worst of all, they were written in the voice of an As-Seen-On-TV commercial. You know, “Why wait?! Buy one TODAY!” It wasn’t even decent as pure advertising copy.

Were the nice folks who ran this business “scammers and spammers”, churning out recycled “thin, spammy content” in attempts to game the system and boost their rankings? They certainly were not! They were simply ill-informed and honestly thought they were doing the right thing. They also weren’t writers (while it’s possible your teenage niece is the best ‘content strategist’ around...somehow, I doubt it).

This company was turning off their potential customer base with claptrap, irrelevant content. People don’t want to be told something is an “article” when it is, in fact, blatant promotion. We feel misled. When you see this poorly veiled self-promotion, you start to wonder what else the company is doing poorly? You think, maybe this cloak-and-dagger stuff is all they have to rely on. Bad marketing creates bad connotations.

A Time and a Place:

When a business owner is looking to utilize search engines to bolster their web presence, increase traffic, or generate leads -- the conversation often becomes a battle of the acronyms: PPC vs. SEO? As though a comprehensive marketing campaign couldn’t include both.

There is a digital time and place for SEO, advertising, link building, content development and blogging, social media campaigns, email marketing...the tricky part is making sure all of these components stay in the right time and place.

Trust is a fine line. If that line is crossed, it can tank the efforts of your entire marketing campaign. Let’s say an e-commerce site is ramping up for a new content marketing bonanza. If their blog posts resemble ads, or conversely, if their “paid” advertisements are designed to resemble editorial content (without disclosing monetary affiliations)? We notice. We judge. We don’t buy the product or use the service if we feel some slickster in the marketing department is trying to “pull the wool over our eyes”.

It’s human nature to not want to be told what to do. We want to think we came up with the idea ourselves! If your marketing efforts can present the option, without being forceful or relying on sleight of hand -- now you’re setting yourself up for success.

Word-of-Mouth vs. Billboard:

Advertising is a fine trade with a rich, interesting history. With a lifespan of less than twenty years, SEO is still, comparatively, the new kid on the block. These are only two aspects of a wide-ranging promotional plan, but ideally, you need them to work in a complementary fashion -- without being mistaken for one another. Whatsoever.

Metaphorically, and often literally, advertising is the billboard. The realm of inbound marketing should be more akin to word-of-mouth. (Same goes for social media.) The trick here is that no one starts up a “word-of-mouth” campaign -- word spreads because your marketing and branding efforts were executed the correct way.

Opinions and points of view shared directly from human-to-human carry more weight than any device crafted solely for selling. In our brand of link building the core belief is, “Provide something relevant, something of value”. When one site links to another site, it’s a vote of confidence. It’s usually a matter of, “Here’s something useful” not “I think you should buy one of these.”

Lest you think the point I’m trying to make is that billboards are ‘bad’ and word-of-mouth is ‘good’, that is definitely not the case. What I’m trying to say is: it’s situational.


PS: Victory gardens are hip for 2015...

Billboards can be clever. Or they can be an eyesore. It all depends on the message and the way it’s presented. Marketers love to bring up Burma Shave roadside signs from days of yore. What set the shaving cream company aside wasn’t just the popular, poetic witticisms they used to sell their soapy lather -- they reached out into the community, asking them to submit their own sequential, rhyming verse. Submissions poured in by the tens of thousands. What a modern concept -- “Engaging your audience! Going viral!”

Now to be fair, word-of-mouth, just like a billboard, it isn’t necessarily guaranteed to be positive, helpful or make you money. If someone tells you Los Betos is the worst Mexican food restaurant in the Treasure Valley, that’s the most basic word-of-mouth, folks. But are those the kind of words a company really wants spread? (PS: Nuestro Pueblo. Best Mexican food in the Treasure Valley.)

Likewise, link building done the wrong way can be detrimental to your company and its trustworthiness. Essentially, when you turn link building or organic content marketing into hard-sell promos, instead of leaving them in their own realm, you are advertising. Negatively.

In Conclusion, the Eternal Question:

“Sooo...I’m a business owner with a website, do I need SEO, PPC or both? You didn’t tell me.”

Unfortunately. I can only provide the worst, most obnoxious of answers: IT DEPENDS. That’s the truth. I read an analogy once that “PPC is renting a house, SEO is buying the property”. Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but if this statement were a fact, the comparison makes more sense than I thought -- there’s a time for renting and a time for buying. One isn’t better than the other.

Some instances call specifically for word-of-mouth -- getting your audience talking by providing something useful, entertaining or generally amazing. Sometimes, you just need a big ol’ billboard to get the brand or message in front of new faces.

Most times, you need both. Just...not simultaneously.

Be careful out there. And seriously, if anyone knows where in Boise I can find a sope de adobada better than Nuestro Pueblo’s…I’m up for the challenge.



Meghan Cahill is a link-builder and content writer at Page One Power in Boise, ID. She spends far too much time collecting classic movies on VHS and quizzing total strangers about Idaho history.