By Jesse Stoler
19 Nov 2014

Pretend Google Doesn't Exist: Build Links for Users

Link Building

Yes my friends, there was a time when Google didn’t exist.

I’m old enough to have hazy recollections of what the world was like prior to Google in 1996. I turned 10 that year. My mind was too busy daydreaming about the day Patrick Ewing and I would carry the New York Knicks to their third championship, as opposed to search engines. I’m not even sure my house had Internet at the time.

I’m at least old enough to remember a time when Google wasn’t the dominant tech titan it is today. In 2001, Google did exist, but it didn’t have quite the brand power/market share back then that it does now. Case in point: I was in 9th grade in 2001, and the default search engine in our middle school library was Ask Jeeves.

Fast forward to the present and Google has successfully put at least one effete British servant out-of-work. Google is a presence in all of our lives now though. Even if it’s not your search engine of choice, it’s dominance cannot be denied. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn aren’t making a movie about how fun it is to work at Bing anytime soon. Newsflash: it’s not.

It’s hard to imagine what our world would look like without Google. I’m sure there would be search engines, just as there were search engines before Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google. Even during the holidays, I don’t want to venture into some parodied It’s a Wonderful Life scenario.

As a regular Internet user, a man who curls up in bed and watches hours of cat videos catches up on news on his laptop, I don’t want to live in a world where Google doesn’t exist. As an SEO, however, I actually encourage that mentality.

Don’t Take Me Too Literally

I understand that would seem like a peculiar mentality. Imagine if you told someone in the television advertising industry, “Film an ad pretending television didn’t exist.” Width ratios would go out the window, and every ambitious film school grad would attempt to turn Crest toothpaste ads into Lawrence of Arabia.

Of course when I say, “Pretend Google doesn’t exist,” I don’t mean this literally. This is the age of the Internet, and Google is the most powerful website. Unless you plan on pulling a Ron Swanson anytime soon, Google is going to be a presence in your life. Heck, if even if you DO pull a Ron Swanson, Google is a presence in your life, albeit a surreptitious, surveillancey kind of presence.

Parks and Rec S04 E09 -- Internet Privacy from GoodPhun on Vimeo.

To literally pretend that Google doesn’t exist is lunacy. I’m writing this article in Google docs. What you can do--indeed SHOULD do as an SEO--is not put Google first.

Putting the User First

Why did you build a website?

You didn’t build it to amuse or inform a slew of web crawlers, did you? Unless you’re explicitly a spammer, the answer to this question should be an emphatic:


I may or may not have renewed my Netflix subscription for the winter and immediately followed the advice of Donna and Tom by treating myself to a Parks & Recreation marathon.

The owner of my agency believes--and I’m inclined to agree--that there are three ways to make money online:

  • Build a media sites that makes money by advertising to users
  • Build a lead generation site that gathers information on users that you want to convert to customers
  • Build an ecommerce sites that allow users to buy a product online

If you haven’t noticed the common thread, it’s “users.”

There are many ways to attract users to your website: social media, adsense, etc. Of course, I believe most firmly in link building. Relevant backlinks pointing to your site increase your chances of being found on Google.

Guess what though: you’re not visible exclusively to Google. Act accordingly.

What Your Links Say About You

Google didn’t make links: if anything, links made Google. Before Google turned links into algorithmic currency, links still served a vital role in the online marketplace. Sites only linked to other sites because they valued each other.

Google upped the ante on links starting in 1996, by incorporating relevant backlinks into their algorithm. In fact, it was the key element of their algorithm. As a result, Google produced better search results than their competition.

Of course, when something teeters on the edge of becoming insanely popular, surrounding forces will frequently do what they can to ruin what was so great in the first place. This applies to spammers abusing Google’s algorithm and Kings of Leon’s record label.

Ever since Google was born, the spam business has seen a considerable uptick.


Despite considerable efforts made by Google to right the ship, spam still lives. Spammers are the people who build links for Google, not users. They’re the people who build links in barren wastelands that only play shelter to the crawly spiders of search engines. The truth is sometimes this still works. But I love something Rand Fishkin had to say in a recent Inbound conversation regarding the existence of white hat link building:


I can’t verify Rand’s theory that black hat/spam isn’t as lucrative as we’ve been led to believe. I just know that Rand has been in this business a lot longer than I have, and he has a better understanding of the inner-workings/secrets of the digital marketing trade than 99% of us.

Black hat and spam belong to the “get rich quick” squad. Nobody likes those guys; nobody trusts those guys. If you’re a brand with vision and capable of enough foresight to plan for the long term, don’t play with the digital Jordan Belforts.

There’s More to Links Than This

Your link profile shouldn’t be littered with article directories just as your stock portfolio shouldn’t be a bevy of penny stocks. Build links you are proud of. More importantly: build links you are proud to show your audience.

Your links are staples of your brand. They’re blue signals of trust. Despite the tireless efforts of the black hat community to corrupt the value of links, Google continues to ride the link train because links remain a credible signal of authority. That’s because they are.

But if you want Google’s affection, it’s best to pretend they don’t exist. I don’t mean this in a “play hard to get” kind of way: I’m about the last person that should be doling about dating advice. Your users are more important. The more you keep your users in mind, Google will reward your efforts. Not only is it in your best interest to provide your customers/audience with the best possible online experience, it’s also in Google’s best interest to provide your customers/audience with best possible online experience.

Google is the most powerful website in the world, and they attained that status by enhancing the online experience. They fall within the “media site” category, the site that makes money from advertising. In Google’s case, A LOT of money. They wouldn’t maintain their satisfied customer base if they didn’t insist on making a better world wide web for all users: all they want is a little help.

But Seriously, Ignore Google!

As I’ve mentioned several times throughout this article, Google is the most powerful website there is. It gets the most traffic by a long shot. According to Alexa, you’ll find Wikipedia five spots behind. It’s the sixth most powerful site in the world.

Sixth place makes you want to cry when you’re one of only seven participants in a Tae Kwon Do competition (not that I, um, know from personal experience or anything). Sixth place out of a billion gazillion googleplex is nothing to be ashamed of. Wikipedia has a tremendous amount of authority. If I ran a website devoted to martial arts, you bet I would want a link on the Wikipedia page for Tae Kwon Do. But hold on…


All links on Wikipedia are nofollowed, which means that Google doesn’t flow pagerank to them. But you’re not going to obfuscate Wikipedia just because of a link attribute 95% of the world doesn’t begin to understand. You’re building a brand: you want a link on Wikipedia. Wikipedia may nofollow, but your audience will follow.


If you’re a brand and you want to make money online, Google is important. REALLY important. So yes, the concept of denying its existence seems pretty counterintuitive. Please don’t take this literally.

All I’m trying to say is that ranking on Google isn’t your ultimate goal: it’s your penultimate goal. You want to rank on Google, and THEN you want to convert, whatever “convert” may mean for your site. The users, the people who actually put words into Google’s all-powerful search bar 3.5 billion times a day, THESE are the people that should matter to you most. When you put users first, Google will be far more inclined to put you first.

Jesse Stoler

Jesse Stoler has years of experience in the SEO industry. His hobbies include stand up comedy and pretending he has fans.