Linkbuilding is dead, or at least dying. Slowly, mercilessly, Google’s Search Quality team has strangled the life from our beloved profession, leaving an emaciated shell, a mere shadow of its former self. Successive updates – Panda, Penguin and all the rest – have severed linkbuilding’s few remaining lifelines. A fire has not so much gone out as it has been stamped upon repeatedly. We know this because the SEO bloggers say so, because linkbuilding forums go into meltdown with each new update and because, well, building good links is pretty damn tough now. As if it wasn’t before.
It’s Not As Quite Like That, Is It?
To borrow another well-worn cliché, the death of linkbuilding has been greatly exaggerated. Yes, it’s true that the successive updates Google has rolled out over the last two years have gradually, and with crushing inevitability, emasculated many of the old school linkbuilder’s favourite tricks. But that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s Game Over for linkbuilding and linkbuilders.
For sure, Panda broke the back of many businesses built on finding profitable search niches and cornering the market. Penguin, to a great extent, killed off the sprawling blog networks underlying so much linkbuilding at agency level. Paid links are coming under more scrutiny than ever before. The SEO directory has long since had its day and it may not be too long before the venerable article and even the beloved guest blog post also take the same long march into the cold, dark night.
Being Honest With Ourselves
There’s a common thread to all of this. Slowly, surely Google and the other search engines are removing the ability to artificially manipulate their search results. And let’s not kid ourselves by really believing that most linkbuilding work intrinsically “adds value” to the sites and communities targeted, that there is some noble higher purpose to the work of many of those toiling at the coalface.
Sure there are exceptions, and some very notable ones at that, but for the most part linkbuilding activity is simply an attempt to artificially influence search results by the most effective means we know. Is it really any surprise that the search giants want to remove that power from the hands of those who would misuse it?
This is nothing new and Panda and Penguin are not unprecedented events in SEO. In scope, perhaps, but certainly not in intent. For as long as SEOs have tried to work out how to beat the algorithms, the search engines have tried to stop them. What we are seeing now is the tying up of the final loose ends. Will there be exploitable means of building links in the future? You bet. Will they last long enough to be widely abused? I wouldn’t like to call it for sure but I’d go with “No” – just look how little impact the explosion of social on the link profiles of many sites that are SEO’d up to the nines.
The point here is that the days of being able to go out and manually, painstakingly, “build” artificial links in the traditional sense are numbered.
Earn It, Don’t Build It
So where does all of this leave our humble linkbuilder? Is he or she out of a job? Well, no. Not at all, in fact. Links aren’t going away any time soon as a search quality signal. A link from the BBC or Guardian is still going to be a pretty tasty and is going to have a positive impact on your site’s performance. Similarly, you’ll still want to get as many of those juicy links from top quality blogs as you can. Yes, the influence of social signals is going to continue to grow but links will still be in the mix too. What has changed is how we actually get links
As such, what the SEO industry is facing is a paradigm shift from linkbuilding to link acquisition – or ‘link earning’ as Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand has referred to it. Similar, to an extent, but definitely not the same. It’s no longer enough to throw some generic content with sweet anchor text up on any website that will take it and expect to see your website shoot up the SERPs. Instead, the crux of link acquisition is now giving people – actual real people – reasons to link to your site. Real, tangible reasons, that go far beyond “cool free content for your blog!”.
The reasons to link to a site are many – perhaps you’re running a competition with an awesome prize, maybe you’ve just premiered a cool new ad campaign, maybe your business is in the news for the right or wrong reasons. Clearly there are hundreds, if not thousands more. Our linkbuilder’s job now involves two things; identifying an audience for a brand – people who care about it, or who might care about it in the right circumstances – and giving them reasons to link. This can be as simple as making them aware of what the brand is up to or something as complicated as producing specially tailored content for them. The possibilities are very nearly endless.
The King Is Dead. All Hail The New King
There’s no denying that thinks have changed in SEO and for some, this may be a scary, troubling reality to accept. But for the linkbuilders of old, this is a brave new dawn, a world of new opportunities and a chance to get out there and build real relationships between brands and their customers. No longer must we be subject to the tyranny or our Ctrl+V keys, no more will quantity trump quality. The king has passed in the night but in the morning, a new king shall rise.
Linkbuilding is dead. Long live linkbuilding.