The Importance of Being Earnest with your Link Building

The human condition is to want more, more, more, and even more still. This drive has led to humanity’s achievements and our occasional ruin. If I were a football coach for example, obviously I’d want a starting quarterback who wants to wear more Super Bowl rings than even the likes of Joe Montana and Tom Brady. On the flipside, there are times when “wanting more” is an indication that you belong in a 12-step program.

When something feels good or is rewarding, our brains are hardwired to want more of that sensation. This is why the sugar industry is so profitable. It can be incredibly difficult to reject our rapacious impulses.

Believe me, I get it. It’s not like I don’t have my own personal set of vices and urges. However, oftentimes it’s necessary to quell our thirst for more.

This is especially true in the sphere of link building. It’s like what the late great Biggie used to say:

seo biggie meme

Okay, that’s obviously a misquote. And mo’ links can mean mo’ better rankings too. Can, but not always. Sometimes, more links may result in lower rankings or even a manual penalty.

In link building it is far more important to be obsessed with the quality of links, rather than the quantity.

Obsessing over quality will lend itself to a hard-nosed focus on brand messaging and audience. This is a fundamental trait of successful marketing, and link building absolutely falls under the marketing umbrella.

Obsessing over quantity, however, will lend itself to tirelessly prospecting the deepest pockets of the Internet, pockets where users only ever end up by accident. You open yourself up to opportunities that will compromise your principles and brand messaging. You may think that with more links, you’re creating more roads for users to find you. But not all roads lead to Rome: some lead to ruin.

Within your backlink profile, it’s far preferable to have a relatively scant amount of quality links, all of which are signals of authority, than a titanic heft of irrelevant, junk links. It’s the way Google would want it.

Because Google does still love links. Don’t believe the rumors you may have heard about the devaluation of links. Links are still very much a core signal of Google’s search algorithm, just as they have been since Larry Page and Sergey Brin first gave Stanford students a backrub.

Brin and Page saw the editorial power of the link, and Google WAS the first engine that built their ranking algorithm around links. When webmaster A links to webmaster B, webmaster A is telling their audience that webmaster B’s site is useful for them.

Google was created to capitalize on the democratic power of links.

Who Would Have Thought Penguins can be Scary?

Of course as Google rose to prominence, this ended up having (unintended) negative ramifications. Spammers figured out kinks in the system and started building heaps of worthless links. As a result, they were able to rank highly for competitive phrases. Was this good or not good, Lance Armstrong?

lance armstrong

Congratulations on telling the truth for once in your life.

Spam ran amok on the Internet for close to a decade. Google found minor remedies here and there, but they were fixing the potholes, not the entire dilapidated road.

That all changed with Google’s release of the Penguin algorithm. The Penguin algorithm didn’t completely kill the practice of spam – nothing really ever will. Spam was undeniably diminished though.

You CAN still rank by spamming the web, but only for a short amount of time. Google has gotten smarter and more aggressive. Think of Google as the Bryan Mills of the web:

liam neeson

Your nightmares of being hunted down by Liam Neeson aside, this is very much a good thing.

Now more than ever, in order to rank well in organic search, it’s important to go after only the kind of links that build your brand, address your niche audience, and establish authority. Links on instant-submit wastelands are worthless, maybe even harmful.

In other words, Google is forcing us as link builders to present ourselves as best as we can to our respective audiences and the Internet at large. How devastating…

boratnot

The Linking Rights Act

Google’s algorithm has often been likened to a digital democracy, the concept being that a backlink pointing to your site is a vote. In fact, I myself have run with this very metaphor in the past.

In the broadest sense, this is accurate. Links ARE considered editorial votes by the Google Election Board. But in Google’s democracy, not all votes are created equal.

I live in America, and have all my life. Even though I grow increasingly cynical with age, I still believe in our system of government. Seriously. There’s a part of me (however naive) that still believes that we are only a few fixes away from having the highest functioning democracy in the world, a democracy of which to be proud. Call it Sorkin Syndrome or something.

bartletgif

Yes, the electoral college is antiquated and yes current campaign finance laws slant the system, but one person equals only one vote. Sheldon Adelson may have the financial capacity to practically bankroll an entire presidential campaign by himself, but come the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, my vote counts just as much as his. A counter wouldn’t even know the difference between our nameless ballots.

This is NOT how Google operates. The votes are weighted. If you run a blog devoted to, say, digital marketing, Rand Fishkin’s vote for your site matters far more than mine. My vote won’t hurt you by any means, but you’d be far better off running a campaign appealing to Fishkin’s wants/needs. I’m assuming those wants/needs have to do with mustache grooming.

randchange

There are some votes that will hurt you though. If you’re campaigning for a digital marketing audience, the votes of dog bloggers are the equivalent of stuffing the ballot box. An inbound link to your digital marketing site from dachsunddays.com is going to be construed as highly suspect, and could lead to a manual penalty or a Penguin problem.

A Link is Forever Marked in Ink

We live in the 21st century, a century where it’s nearly impossible to be invisible. Somewhere out there on the web is unflattering data concerning you that you don’t want most people to know/see.

twoneymara

This is one of my favorite lines from The Social Network.

For example, when I see a link in, say, the comments section of a blog that looks like this:

creditscoregalore

The credit score trade is shady enough, but wouldn’t you be even less inclined to trust this brand if you saw them presenting themselves this way? Why do they need to interrupt a conversation about the best Nine Inch Nails song to get my attention? Note: the best NIN song is “Closer.”

Google wants you to have the links you deserve. Building links on domains that have no relevance to the qualities of your site isn’t link building, it’s spamming. Why would someone on moarbacklinks4u.com click on a link that points to your site? There is no reason, because no one is even on that site outside of web crawlers! It’s manipulation, not brand/link building.

Matt Cutts, who is currently setting the record for longest vacation, once said that real link building should require sweat, plus creativity. I couldn’t agree more. If you want the honest-to-goodness qualified traffic you deserve, you have to put in the work.

If You Give Me a BackRub, I’ll Rub Your Back

However, there is more than altruism on Google’s part here. Google’s bottom line depends on preventing widespread manipulation of their voting system. Despite the fact that Google seems to introduce a new product every week (Glass, driverless cars, sadistic anthropomorphic robots), their search engine is still very much the cash cow of the entire business.

Not only is search the cash cow, but it is likely to remain that way. In case you missed it, Glass seems to be a failure.

Even with the movement to diversify their product line, Google would collapse if it saw a major decline in advertising. Look at how many advertisements are on a page.

buffets

This was an example shared by Dr. Pete Meyers on Google+. Not one organic result above the fold. Admittedly, this is an extreme example.

Personal aside: I’m almost 30 and I had no idea a buffet was also a piece of furniture. In high school, I took a career aptitude test that told me I should be an interior decorator when I grow up. Just a reminder to never take those tests too seriously.

The point is that Google is the most widely accessed billboard in the world, and there’s oodles upon oodles upon oodles of space available.

If you thought the National Football League made bank on advertising, let me introduce you to Google’s financial tables. There are 3.5 billion searches on Google everyday. Obviously, that doesn’t mean 3.5 billion searchers. SEOs such as myself slant the curve and compensate for the Ron Swansons of the world.

It’s safe to say that millions and millions of people use Google’s search product everyday though. More people will use Google on a daily basis than the amount of people who watched the series finales of Friends, MASH, and Seinfeld combined. Take that television!

Despite competition, I imagine Google will be dominant for the foreseeable future. If they’re going to maintain their quality, they want us to build high-quality links. That’s all.

Link Building = Brand Building

I like how Eric Enge once phrased the SEO-Google relationship. He said, “Your job is to make Google look good.” The “you” he is referring to is us SEOs. That may not sound like the most flattering role for us; it sounds like we’re Lamar Odom and Google is… whichever Kardashian sister he’s married to.

But it’s the truth. Google’s goal is to dominate and monopolize the most powerful communication platform in the history of the world to better the online user experience, and it should be ours too. Don’t complain about not being able to take the easy route. Google is forcing SEOs and companies to care about our own brand building.

Conclusion – Be a Link Builder, Not a Hoarder

Allow me to talk to you briefly about a gentleman named Terrence Malick. If you know the name already, congrats: you’re a film geek like me. If you don’t know the name, congrats: you have friends.

Malick released his debut feature, the crime drama Badlands, in 1973. In the 42 years since, he’s made only five additional films. He took 20 years off. And here I thought Texans were supposed to have great work ethic.

Six movies in 42 years. In that same timespan, there have been eight Presidents. The New York Yankees have won the World Series seven times. David Bowie has changed his appearance more often than a mobster in the Witness Protection Program.

Even though his filmography is undeniably bare, you will often find Mr. Malick rank fairly highly on lists of the greatest filmmakers in movie history. Why is that Dos Equis pitchman?

dostree

Every time Malick makes a movie, it’s arguably the best one of its respective year. Two of his six movies were nominated for Best Picture. Even though there’s plenty of decade left, The Tree of Life has been labelled the best film of the decade so far by several sources. The Thin Red Line was his only film of the 90s: the International Cinephile Society named it the best film of that decade.

Now imagine if Woody Allen had stopped making movies in, say, 1990, right after Crimes and Misdemeanors capped off his extraordinary run in the 80s. Since then, there’s been the occasional gem, but for every Midnight in Paris, there are five Curse of the Jade Scorpions. Despite all of his masterful work, his legacy will be somewhat diminished because of the endless barrage of mediocrity he has produced later in life.

In so many different fields, quality trumps quantity.

It’s natural to want more, more, more. We’re humans. Our avarice has been key to the development of our kind. It has also been a detriment from time-to-time. Chasing quantity for the sake of it isn’t always impressive, and sometimes calamitous, especially when you consider the Wall Street gambles that led to the crash of ‘29. And ‘87. And 2008 really.

Don’t build links that are just links. Build links that represent your brand. Build links that provide a valuable service to the people who follow your niche. Build links that make Google look good.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Jesse Stoler

Jesse Stoler is a Content Specialist at Upspring, a full-service SEO company in Colorado Springs. His hobbies include stand-up comedy and pretending he has fans. Find him on Twitter and Google+

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4 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Earnest with your Link Building”

  1. Jesse, thanks for an amusing post that had me laughing. Nothing new here, but some good points & well put. Hopefully reinforces the message about quality over quantity when it comes to links. Good luck with the stand-up comedy!.

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for the comment and the well wishes! I won’t disagree with you that I’m not stating anything an advanced SEO should know already. The problem is that you and I both know that there are a lot of “SEOs” and business owners who still don’t get quite grasp this concept. Plus, it’s just a fun way for me to talk about Woody Allen haha. Thanks again for the comment!

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