Fork-proof link building
My focus on natural link building hinges on building awareness of your site/product in the minds of those likely to recommend it, either by word of mouth, social media, or links. Now more than ever the Internet Marketing Industry is considering it because of recent developments out of Google that is putting the fork into scalable link building for SEO practices. There are alternate strategies that I have introduced and published in my advanced link building newsletter but for some of the strategies the sticking point is measuring direct impact. You can track new links from counting clickthroughs (referring sites in your analytics), but for some strategies you can’t rely on a list of sites contacted to see if you created the links because many of the sites won’t have been contacted.
There was a recent article on a blog. The article is titled as about links but I think it’s more about brand and I initially thought it was kind of lame that the author claimed he didn’t have to build links because he only took on clients that had established brands. However despite the article title, I think the article is less about links and more about the power of brand. In it the author relates that he doesn’t build links. The reason he doesn’t build links is because he only consults for big brands who don’t need link building. What I enjoyed about that article is that the author does have an idea for attracting natural links and it goes way back to what Google originally used to advise way back around ten years ago: Make something good and tell others about it. (Note: this paragraph was edited to tone down the snark and then to link out to the blog post.)
About eight years ago I interviewed the guy who founded the Flying Spaghetti Monster site and posted the interview on my martinibuster.net blog (which I took offline). No doubt some SEO types didn’t understand why I chose to interview someone who had no SEO experience, a person who engaged in zero SEO activities. So why should you as an SEO be interested? His site had a PR 7 and I wanted to know what he did to get it. People like that have more to teach you about marketing than a hundred posts on Matt Cutts’ blog. That’s why! The interview is offline but I published the text of it privately because it is useful to understanding the nature of attracting Natural Links. The gist of the interview is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster latched onto a popular trend (always a good way to attract links) and gave away cool and funny web graphics for people to reproduce and pass along. His server load for hotlinked images was something along the lines of forty gigabytes per month. And he profited, with zero SEO. That’s food for thought, instructional, and inspirational. Which is why I interviewed him and republished it privately. With a few exceptions, there is more to learn about what to do from sites like Venganza than there is to learn from reading Google’s official blog.
The big hang up with that approach is measuring ROI. I discuss this in my newsletter and published some of it on Facebook. Here’s an excerpt:
The ROI of search advertising is directly measurable. The ROI of television advertising cannot be directly measured. The kinds of activities useful for attaining natural links are closer to the television advertising model in the sense that they cannot always be directly measured… The impossibility of direct measurement is not a problem inherent in the process. It’s a problem imposed upon the process from without, by Internet Marketers and clients who are accustomed to measuring ROI and choose to make it a problem.
Getting back to the blogger who only accepts big brand clients, as I see it, what put him on that track was:
1. Creating a useful product for web developers
2. Constant outreach to those likely to need his product
3. Constant outreach to those likely to need his consulting
4. Wrap it all around a brand
That’s a huge topic in itself. But it’s becoming a necessary part of attracting long lasting natural links. Brand is one way of several viable approaches that can all be mixed together. But focusing on brand, I’ve been reading an interesting book called Zag, that talks about this issue. In Zag the author states that there are several aspects of building a brand and in Zag he devotes the entirety of the book to one of these aspects, differentiation. While I found myself quibbling with the book here and there, the overall ideas are inspirational. What I mean by inspirational is that it expanded my view to apply some of the insights in my own way. Give it a read. It’s applicable to the new Internet marketing paradigm we find ourselves in.
Out of the box
I dislike how link building and crappy link building is thought of as the same thing. It’s not. Article directories and all the other “scalable” strategies are making that water down the drain sound. It was scalable and directly measurable. But it’s not good enough. The demand for measuring results through search marketing metrics have resulted in these spammy kinds of link building strategies. That’s a box SEO has put itself in. And this is the big idea of this article: ROI, direct measurement, and other traditional aspects of building links can hold back your link building and keep you from discovering new methods. You can expand that list to include worrying about anchor text, no-follow/do-follow and PageRank score as well. All of that ends up getting in the way of the original aspect of building links: Build something good and tell others about it. Which is why it’s useful to pay attention to alternative and successful methods of promotion outside the SEO box, like the guy who founded the Flying Spaghetti Monster site or the plugin developer that doesn’t rely on link building. In order to move forward with the practice of building links, it’s important to explore methods that break out of that ROI measurement box and all the other boxes and limitations. I know it sounds counterintuitive but it’s not if you pull back and reconsider what you are ultimately trying to accomplish.